I remember it was the smell that hit me first. We had just been pushed out of a van with tinted windows into the middle of a block in Southeast Washington, DC. My friends of only 3 days and I had signed up for the Freshmen Orientation to Community Involvement (FOCI), an opportunity before college started to be immersed in service in one of the most crime-ridden cities in America. We were dazed by the streetlights, because the van was so dark. We were not allowed to see where we were going, since this safe house was a transition location for women and children in extremely high-risk abusive situations. There had been times that the volunteers that served these women and their children would be threatened and attacked, just for making dinner, or reading a book. When we finally got our bearings, we were rushed into the row house, and the door was barred behind us, 8 separate locks and a metal bar sealing us in. Of the 6 of us, only two were men, myself and a hulking football player named CJ. The women inside the home were so scared of us (well, probably way more CJ than me) from the violence they had experienced in their lives. The fear in their eyes, the hopelessness, was palpable.
CJ and I were only there to create what we call “Operational Security”. We were supposed to pretend that this house was just like any other on the block. If someone came to the door, we were there to protect the inhabitants of the house and call the police if something went wrong. The women and children went upstairs after dinner. They had been speaking with our female FOCI members over dinner, weary of strangers, but they could not contain their love of their kids and their desire to give them a better life. CJ and I ate dinner in the front room, away from them. It was what happened next that changed my life.
Dozing in a chair, I awoke as the entire house was shaken to its core. A “husband” had found the house at 1 AM. He pounded on the door, his weapons of choice included a handgun and a crowbar. Brandishing both, he screamed that he would be leaving with his wife and son, dead or alive. We sprang into action. The only cell phone in the house barely worked (this was before even the BlackBerry, much less today’s pervasive communications), so one of the FOCI women called 911 from the land line, and CJ and I jumped to the door. We matched the tone of this “person”, screaming back at him that we were ready to stop him if he tried to get into our house. He stumbled back, partly due to his surprise at the male voices and partly due to his intoxication. He pressed forward again, convinced that this was the location of his wife. I looked back up the stairway behind me and could see the sheer terror in the dozens of eyes looking down at us, holding back the door that was now being pounded on. We yelled that we were coming out and we were going to take care of this “man”, but the sound of the approaching police sirens must have jolted him out of his furry and he bolted from the house. CJ and I dropped to our knees and started praying. Then, I felt some hands on my shoulders. Looking up, the mother and her son had come down the stairs and were encircling both of us in their arms, praying with us and thanking us for saving their lives.
The vocation of single life is not a “placeholder” vocation. The opportunities to serve God and heed his call to love and support those that need it can be equally served by those who choose not to go into religious life, or get married. Single life may be lived out either from choice or from circumstance. Some people choose to remain single because they believe this is how they can best serve God and his people. They do not feel called to join a religious order or the priesthood. They may be lay missionaries, like a teacher or a doctor, who can more easily respond to need, wherever it is perceived, if they are not tied by an intimate relationship or family responsibilities. But equally they may be a carpenter, office worker, scientist, or truck driver, who has a fulfilling personal relationship with Jesus which they feel able to live out deeply.
Other people are single because of where they are on their life’s journey. This may be a temporary or permanent situation. For example, a young person who is contemplating their future is still called to live their life for God while they are single. A person who has been widowed or divorced and thus is no longer living the vocation of Marriage may now can live the vocation of Single Life and find new opportunities to enrich the world around them with their faith.
I can tell you that I would never have experienced that life-changing moment of the mother and son holding me and praying for their safe future if I had been married, or if I had chosen a religious life. That opportunity would not have been open to me, and if it was, I would have prioritized my time with my own family that I love above everything else in this world. Single Life is a vocation, a call to serve God and others. I hope those of you who have the opportunity to live out your Single Life vocation take the world by storm, showcasing the love and mercy of our faith to all around you.