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)

Joseph Sittler on Community as a Problem

Joseph Sittler on Community as a Problem

It is simply not true, as is widely affirmed these days, that the matrix of close human relationships is a theater within which fulfillment is guaranteed. Close relationships do provide an important resource—one of which we could probably use more. But there is a time when it simply will not do to declare such human bonds as the absolute, ultimate resource of the Christian gospel. There is, finally, a loneliness in every human life; I am simply not impressed with the promise that happiness in human existence will devolve from the mutuality of personal relationships. Such connections are not fulfilling; in fact, if I could push my thesis further, I would say that the community can actually get in the way by promising fulfillment. Fulfillment is finally not possible in human existence. That is why we have a gospel of divine redemption.

Because human relationships have a limit, and because even the most powerful of them leaves individual solitude uninvaded, the gospel of the divine redemption carries so astounding a promise. Is it not possible that this promise constitutes the allure of the phrase from the confessional prayer “…and from whom no secrets are hid”?

from Grace Notes and Other Fragments (Fortress, 1981), 100.

See also Rowan Williams on Solitude

Rowan Williams on Solitude

Rowan Williams on “the loneliness of each one of us”

The following is the opening of a characteristically excellent sermon from Rowan Williams. I wish I could post the sermon in full, but I’m sure the publisher would frown on that. It’d be worth seeking the text out to see how Rowan concludes the reflections he starts here.

There are plenty of subjects that Christians seem to treat with a consistent lack of seriousness, with a painful lack of imagination and sympathy. One such subject is loneliness. Most of the time we are so caught up in a bland rhetoric of “communion” and “sharing” that we fail utterly to confront that more puzzling and disturbing fact of irreducible human isolation. “We pray for the old and lonely” – words heard quite frequently in intercessions, implying that loneliness is an unfortunate condition from which some people suffer, like diabetes or color-blindness. But what about the loneliness of each one of us?

Loneliness has little to do with what we do or where we do it, whether we’re married or unmarried, optimists or pessimists, heterosexual or homosexual. Loneliness has to do with the sudden clefts we experience in every human relation, the gaps that open up with stomach-turning unexpectedness. In a brief moment, I and my brother or sister have moved away into different worlds, and there is no language we can share. It is when I see what my words or actions have done to someone else, or when I realize what picture someone else has of me. It is when things that matter to me are met with polite incomprehension, and when I cannot hear and understand the importance of what someone is trying to tell me. It is – recalling an experience I can’t forget – sitting on the floor with a nine-year-old child of normal intelligence and trying to understand what he is saying. Because he is hopelessly spastic and can’t control his tongue any more than he can his head or his limbs, I can grasp only one word in ten, and he stares at me desperately and furiously, willing me to understand with all his might, and I can’t.

from “Being Alone,” in A Ray of Darkness, 3rd Ed., (Cowley, 1995), 121.

P.S.  For the Rowan enthusiasts out there, you can now show off your admiration for the Welshman with this t-shirt.