As a single Catholic woman discerning her vocation, time and time again I have struggled with figuring out where I belong in the Catholic Church. Where does someone like me — someone who is open to God’s will yet is not a consecrated religious, consecrated virgin or married woman — fit into the Church and the Body of Christ? Sometimes I wonder, If I haven’t figured out my vocation yet, does this mean God is not calling me to any vocation?
The simple answer to the latter is no. Although the struggle to feel included in the Church is very real, I know my primary vocation is to holiness. As stated in Lumen Gentium (the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), we all have received the universal call to holiness. Yet, even with this truth held close to my heart, and as I strive to follow God’s will in my daily life, there are days when I still feel a bit uneasy knowing I do not — and may never — fit into one of the secondary vocations.
While mine is not a traditional story, neither is it unique for many Catholic women. After feeling a call to the consecrated life, I entered two convents, but God’s will ultimately was not for me to remain there. Some women discern away from this vocation when God calls them in a different direction, but others, such as myself, experienced the woundedness that many, though not all, religious orders are suffering from — wounds caused by the broken humanity of those within the order. Unfortunately for me, despite my desire to become a religious sister, such wounds prevented me from following my vocational calling. What does it mean for those of us who have not turned away from a vocation to the consecrated life but have experienced roadblocks and wounds in the process?
Similarly, what about women who are drawn to a vocation to consecrated virginity but who don’t have the opportunity within their diocese, or who feel discouraged when the process is long and burdensome, or when the expectations for how to live the vocation are not realistic given the world we live in? Both are true scenarios that I have either personally experienced or witnessed from my friends when it comes to these consecrated vocations.
But this vocational crisis is not isolated to religious and consecrated life. What about women who are open to marriage but have not found a good, Christ-loving man to marry? While the Church promotes and encourages the vocation to marriage, finding a spouse who is a practicing Catholic and has a genuine love of the Faith can feel like finding a needle in a haystack, especially in our post-Christian society. There are so many men who call themselves “Catholic” yet find the very tenets of the Church laughable — such as going to Mass every Sunday, saving sex for marriage and not using contraception. Does this mean Catholic women who are faithful to the Church need to lower their standards to be able to get married? Surely not.
Yet, the big question remains: Where does this leave a single Catholic woman like myself, women who may never enter into an earthly vocation?
Each woman has to answer this question for herself. While I wish I could spend my days working in a parish and be of any assistance to the pastor, similar to my apostolate in my former religious community, the reality is that I cannot afford to only work in the parish. Instead, I help out when I am able, and I love every minute of it, grateful that God has permitted me to keep doing what I love, even in a smaller way. And that has to be enough for me.
St. Catherine of Sienna once said, “Be who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” This has become my life’s motto. As a single Catholic woman I am striving to become holy, and continue to follow my beloved Lord, Jesus Christ. I may not be a bride of Christ as a religious sister, but I am a bride of Christ as a member of the Church. Regardless of whether or not I one day stand before an altar and profess public vows, Christ will always be the beloved of my heart and my spouse. And he is enough.