By Karen Mannino Monday, Jan 13th
Growing up catholic, I always assumed that I would either end up married to a godly man and go on a fantastic adventure of friendship, child rearing, and holiness; or I would end up in a convent of nuns, and together we would live the life of a prayer warrior, hidden from the world but fighting its most fearsome dangers. I used to get kind of stressed out because I didn’t feel called to go research convents or orders, and it rarely occurred to me to be on the look out for a potential spouse. The time you are single, I thought, is supposed to be filled with prayer and listening; waiting for a call. When would I get my call and find my path to holiness?
A few years ago I was given the grace to see that the path to holiness was beneath my feet. My vocation is to the single life. This is not a transition, this is foundation of my life call. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be single for ever, and I’m very joyful and at peace about it.
We can think of vocations as, in the immortal words of Rogers and Hammerstein, “a dream that will need all the love you can give, every day of your life, for as long as you live.”
But seriously, vocations are about love. Who are you given to love? What love have you been given by God, to practice and share with those people who are yours to love? The single life isn’t special when it comes to the love it demands. That’s right. There is nothing special about the love of my vocation. In terms of love, the single life is primarily concerned with the kind of love that all Christians are called to.
Brotherly love, or friendship, is the kind we are all called to show our neighbors, our enemies, our family. It is the most basic love to which are added the loves that define other kinds of relationships. When it is absent from any relationship, that relationship is impoverished.
By itself, friendship is freely given, unselfish; it is not exclusive, and though it is faithful, it does not demands commitment. In very pragmatic, evolutionary terms, it is useless, like many things we can’t seem to live without. By itself it doesn’t propagate the human race, it gets in the way of natural selection all the time, and it’s not just about building social skills for use in more important relationships, because it continues to exist along side all those other relationships. The only purpose it can really have is to help the parties involved become truly themselves as God meant them to be. And again, there is nothing special about that; it is true of all love.
My life is particularly devoted to this simplest kind of love. I have a vocation to love whoever is in my life, as we all do. Unlike in marriage, no one person has a special vocation to love me. That’s hard on the ego, I must admit. This is where grace fills my lack. I can accept the grace to be happy with that. First of all, the most perfect love comes from God, and I will always have that. Secondly, God gives me the grace to know and accept who I am, the boundaries of my vocation, and the love that I am given. Am I lonely? Sometimes. But to me, friendship is the most wondrous and fulfilling love, even if it is the simplest. It’s very simplicity attracts me. Friendship is all the love I can give (every day of my life… I’ll stop now). I haven’t got anything else. God can take what I’ve got to give and turn it into his perfect agape, just like he does with every other type of love. That is where my happiness lies. That is my path to holiness.
Karen Mannino has resolved, this year, to be a student again, as she has been most of her life. While she is not enrolled in any degree granting program at the moment, (and hasn’t been since she got her BA in studio art from Aquinas College) she does have a library card and an unquenchable curiosity. We shall see how far it gets her.