Michael Altenburger on the Christian Single Life

Michael Altenburger on the Christian Single Life

Single people have the virtue of being available in a way that married and religious cannot. They are an incarnated witness to Christian values that cannot help but deepen and enrich the world encountered in their work, service, and relationships. In a period of rapid flux and shifts in popular culture, the availability of the single life might be exactly the thing required for a Church that has so much being asked of it and so few resources to respond.

To say that single people can witness in a way that married and religious cannot is something to be taken very seriously today. At the risk of a lack of charity, and while clearly friendships with religious and married couples are invaluable, it is nevertheless the case that exhortations to fidelity and hope are sometimes hard to understand apart from the benefits that marriage and priesthood grant. It is all well and good to have dinner together, but single people still go home to an empty bed. Career and ministry are wonderful, but single people still do not receive the admiration, respect, and deference that a priest or religious receives from the larger community (although they might be asking when that is supposed to actually happen). There should be no naïveté about the myriad challenges that attend all states of life but, from the perspective of singlehood, it is hard not to see just the benefits of the others.

Yet this challenge is also the source of an enormous opportunity to witness. The unique witness that single people offer to the world is that a Christian life is worth living all by itself. They witness to a type of meaning and depth that Christian faith imbues fundamentally into all life, not just in marriage, religious communities, or priesthood. The challenges of single life are so fundamentally human, so deeply connected to our most basic desires for intimacy and acceptance, that embracing those challenges in faith and charity is a radical opportunity for solidarity with others who are also isolated and suffering. Because it is so fundamental, it speaks all the more powerfully across division and dismissal. This is, in so many ways, the core of evangelization: to witness to Jesus Christ in love and fidelity through a radical availability of compassion and service.

from “Single Life Is More Fundamental for Christianity than both Married and Religious Life,” Church Life Journal (29 Nov 2017)

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