Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bride goes before the Fall

My recent desire to understand how being created a woman can enable me to love God and my neighbor in a special way prompted me to reread a popular article by Mary Beth Bonacci on the question of whether there is single vocation.

Bonacci describes the vocations for women as either motherhood or consecration to Christ, which I think is a bit off; it's my understanding that marriage, with openness to children, is a vocation whether or not one has children. However, given her background in theology, I'm prepared to believe her when she writes that there is no officially recognized "single vocation" for women (or men) in the Catholic Church.

Her overall point is that one should not attempt to elevate unconsecrated singlehood to a vocation all its own. At the same time, she says singles can and should find fulfillment in giving — "to move outside of ourselves and to reach out in love to those around us."

Certainly, the importance of being outer-directed and growing in love of neighbor cannot be overstated, for both the married and the unmarried. However, even as I agree with Bonacci's conclusion, one of her premises disturbs me.

She writes:

"One of the consequences of sin in the world is that people who are called to marriage are having a harder time finding suitable partners. The pool is poisoned."

The pool is poisoned?

I can believe that fewer people are marrying these days, and that many of those who do are marrying later and divorcing more readily than people did in ages past — those are facts.

Likewise, faithful Christians in their 20s and 30s do have a lower chance of finding a spouse who is a regular churchgoer than they did in decades when the pews were fuller, and the odds decrease as one gets older.

But the idea that Bonacci proposes is that "God has called each and every one of us to either marriage or to consecrated religious life."

"Unfortunately," she adds, "the state of the world today has made it very difficult to fulfill that call – especially for those of us who believe we are called to marriage. Marriage requires a partner. And good, holy, committed partners who share our faith are hard to find these days."

In other words, she is saying that, since I am fairly certain that I was not called to consecrated religious life, I was predestined from the beginning of the world to be married ... until sin came along. The devil stole my hubby!

Seriously, I single out the error in this line of thinking because it is all too familiar to me. To say that "the pool is poisoned" is to plunge into the twin sins against hope, presumption and despair.

It's just another way of saying "society is to blame." Blame the homosexuals, blame the feminists, blame the secularists, blame the playboys and playgirls — most of all, as Bonacci says, blame free will and sin.

Blame anybody, it seems, but me. Personal responsibility, which is essential to fulfillment in every state of life, drops out of the equation. The die is cast and your fate is sealed. Your arms too short to box with Gloria Steinem.

The truth is, if God wanted me to be married, He could make my husband-to-be fall out of the sky (with a working parachute, please). The fact that He hasn't, and that it is possible my desire to be married may not be fulfilled, should cause me to take increasing responsibility for growing in faith and virtue, rather than waiting for someone with whom to grow. It should give me a greater impetus to become more loving to all, as Bonacci rightly advises, and resist the temptation to be what she calls a "sad sack."

It is precisely because the unmarried are, as Bonacci notes, already vulnerable to self-centeredness that hyperbole like "the pool is poisoned" is counterproductive. However well-intentioned, it effectively only serves to add an extra dose of smugness and cynicism to the single state.

Let's just do away with the pool metaphor altogether, shall we? Let it fall by the wayside along with other aquatic dating metaphors that sin against hope, like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas' claim that there are "too many fish in the sea."

If I must think in terms of the single life, or life itself, as being trapped in a body of water, I would rather remember, as I noted in The Thrill of the Chaste (borrowing from G.K. Chesterton), the true nature of Christian ichthi is to swim against the current.

"Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known."— Psalm 77:19