When I was born, my mother had just been placed in an iron lung to combat the effects of polio. She once told me she promised God that if she and I survived, she would give me back to him. I can’t remember anything I wanted to do more than become a nun, and I entered the postulancy of the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1967. I was devastated when I realized I was not being called to community life. It was like breaking off an engagement. Later, I dated and fell in love, but I knew God was not calling me to marriage.
I knew God was inviting me to respond to his invitation of love. I just didn’t know how, since the only vocations I’d ever heard while growing up were that of marriage or religious life, and I didn’t fit either. As I entered my 30s, people were constantly telling me, ’Don’t worry, your day will come.’ I knew my day had to be now " and decided to give the religious community life another try.
I reapplied to the Sisters of St. Joseph, requesting that I be allowed to move through the process at my own pace " and God’s. I needed to know I was not in a program, but engaged in a process. I had been involved in RCIA for a long time, and I realized that journey mirrored the path I was now on. I felt I carried the same charism as the SSJs, a community to which I still have strong ties, but I wasn’t sure I belonged in community life.
During discernment, I went to the retreat center at Notre Dame for reflection, prayer and meditation. As I sat near the lake, writing in my journal, asking to know where God wanted me to be, the line came to me, ’Two roads diverged...’ Suddenly, I realized there was a third choice open to me. I was not deciding between community life and marriage " I was deciding between community life and a dedicated single life. The sense of freedom that accompanied this knowledge was breathtaking, and it was then that I dedicated my life to living singly " for God.
I have never regretted my decision, nor wished I had taken another road. My road has been paved, smooth, rocky, muddy, a freeway, a meandering lane. Just like everyone’s. I have had close, intimate friendships that have strengthened my faith and my call; I must recommit myself to it every day. I know that God called me to celibacy, but not to community. I have had the freedom to be of service at all times, to focus my call on God, and to follow where I believe he has led me. I have been blessed with opportunities for solitude and prayer, where I can draw strength from my loving relationship with Christ.
Today, as I walk closely with those who journey through the process of Christian initiation, I know that I have been blessed and have been called to be of service to others by my vocation.
I believe there is a radical difference between someone who is single and in transition " waiting to see where God is leading, and someone who has made a commitment to a single life in his service. I wish the church had a forum for an outward profession of this call; I would like to stand before my friends and family and say, ’This is what I have been called to do. I am taking the road less traveled, and it has made all the difference in my life.’
by Elaine Ouellette as told to Elizabeth Solsburg
Single people are often defined by what they are not. They are not married, not a member of a religious community. Others seem to assume that the single person simply never found the right mate or didn’t have a religious vocation. And sometimes that is the case " people are single because of a spouse’s death, a divorce, or never having found a life partner.
But some people are single as a positive state of being, as the result of a conscious decision. God calls all of us to live fully our baptismal call to holiness. Holiness is more than our status as a husband, wife, sister or priest. It is our response to God’s call " the surrender of our lives to his love. Discernment of a single vocation, like any other, requires prayer and listening, the work of the Holy Spirit.
For those who feel called by God to a single life, there are risks and rewards. Being single means being vulnerable in the world; there is no spouse to support you, no religious community to uphold you. It requires an enormous amount of trust in God and an intentional creation of a spiritually nurturing community. But being single also means freedom " the freedom to live a life of service to God and his church. Many who are called to this life have described the incredible sense of freedom they experienced when they responded to God’s call to singleness.
In a fully realized vocation, dedicated singles find themselves enriched by their parish communities, nourished by their intimate relationship with God and filled with joy in their response to this call.
by Elizabeth Solsburg