Not long ago, when the editors of St. Anthony Messengerdiscussed article topics relating to Catholic families, I wasn’t shy with my suggestion. “I’d like an article about unmarried or divorced Catholics, single parents, childless couples—something like that.”
Agonizing seconds passed before a colleague chimed in, “Maybe that could be an editorial or blog topic.” So here we are.
At first, I wondered why my idea didn’t catch fire (as all my ideas should). But then I remembered that Catholics who fall into the unmarried, divorced, single-parent, or married-but-childless categories sometimes feel forgotten—like we’re on the Island of Misfit Toys.
How many singles have fielded the marriage question? How many childless couples have been quizzed about when they’ll be starting a family? Our society, even in this diverse century, rarely knows what to do with us. The Church doesn’t always either. But it's not from a lack of trying. Pope Francis assembled a synod for Catholic families in 2016, where they discussed issues that Catholic families face. Perhaps they should have started by broadening the definition of family.
OPEN TO LIFE
It’s not difficult to admire married people with children. There is no harder job in this life. But we should also honor single parents who, because of death or divorce, must rear their children alone.
And let’s not forget couples who, irrespective of the circumstance, are a family of two. Unmarried folks may not toil with midnight feedings or PTA meetings, but they are active members of urban families. God is in those homes, too.
The synod’s document reads: “In Europe and North America in particular (but also among some countries in South Asia), the instances of couples or single persons, who lack a mentality of an openness to life, are increasing . . . .”
I would counter that many unmarried or childless couples do not lack an openness to life. The majority simply choose to celebrate other aspects of the life God gave them. Aunts, uncles, and godparents have the luxury of acting as father and mother figures—at least for a short time. And as a bonus, they return to quiet, toy-free homes.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION
The Church should really consider those seated at Sunday Mass. And then consider those who aren’t. If pews aren’t being warmed by single Catholics, perhaps it’s because, as a demographic, they don’t always feel warmly welcomed by the parish. Of course, the fault could lie in their own lethargy and indifference.Regardless, a diverse parish is one that thrives. That includes nuclear families—yes—but also those who don’t fit neatly into that category.
The Church should think laterally. They’d be wise to remember that divorced Catholics have voices worth listening to. Couples who struggle with infertility are every bit as relevant as those with many mouths to feed. And children of “broken homes,” no strangers to conflict resolution, can help fix what’s broken in the Church.
We are, after all, one big Church family. And like all families, we have disenfranchised members. But they still have a place at the table. The Church’s doors must close to nobody.
Those of us who are childless, divorced, or unmarried are, like everybody else, imperfect children of a perfect God. Our lives may not mirror what is culturally defined as “normal,” but we, too, know struggle. We experience joy and grief, we sin, we are forgiven, and we walk among you.