If you are Catholic and single, you know by sometimes painful experience that there’s a disconnect between the ideal and the reality of community. I remember when I first began to have some inkling of this fact. I was 22, a senior at one of those “good Catholic schools,” and I was about to be thrown out into the big, bad world all on my own. I had a summer-long internship lined up in D.C., a few hours from my family, and while a few of my close friends planned to remain within a reasonable driving distance, I would be going it alone. We were all that 22-year-old once, so I won’t go into the details–you get it.
The worst of it though, from my perspective as a student at a solid Catholic college, was losing my whole community in one fell swoop. Four years of solidarity built with the professors who so readily offered advice and counsel, the fellow students, the friendships, the accountability, the shared experiences and jokes, everything…gone. And what did I have to move on to?
At least that’s what it looked like. I can’t begin to describe the enormity of that loss. If you’ve been there, you know. As I drove away from campus the weekend of my graduation, my belongings rattling in their boxes behind me, I felt like a boat that’d been set adrift. Alone, alone, alone, alone, alone.
We Catholic singles face a tough set of options in the post-college years. We can move home and live with or near parents and siblings, but for most of us that entails moving far away from good friends and good jobs. So many of us, myself included, end up living some distance away from our families in order to advance our careers and find friends, or maintain contact with old friends. It’s a heart-breaking choice to have to make, and it can also be extremely isolating. I also know many young adults in the D.C. area who have settled here specifically for the Faith formation that’s offered in the strong Arlington diocese. This was a huge factor in my decision to leave home–my spiritual life is nourished here as it simply wasn’t down in the Richmond diocese.
But as a result we find ourselves in this awkward stage of semi-belonging, no longer kids, not yet quite considered adults, and with no families to tie us in to anything. While the various social events for young adults on the parish and diocesan level are a great venue to meet like-minded singles, to form friendships, and even get dates (or at least so I’m told…), they aren’t community. I should put that in italics: they aren’t community. Natural communities aren’t formed of people who are all in roughly the same age group, nor are they based solely on getting together to have fun. So while the social events are a wonderful opportunity to enjoy ourselves (and I’m not dissing that at all! I love having a good time, and I think that’s important), they aren’t–they can’t be–a substitute for that deep-down need we all have for real community.
The question then becomes, is there any way for the single young adult to have and experience real community life?
I think there is. But in my case, discovering that I did have community meant letting go of my hard-held ideals about community. Funny that we’re like that, isn’t it? We get what we want when stop imposing conditions of perfection on things that just can’t be perfect in a fallen world. But opening myself up to community life that was different from my expectations (and yes, my wants) has been an amazing experience. I’ve gotten to know some really beautiful families at my parish church (a tip for the seeker of community: join a parish. You will be enriched by that community, I promise) through volunteering with the CCD program and the youth group. I teach some private piano lessons on the weekends, and have been blessed to get to know two amazing families that way. (One of my students received her First Communion today, and I was very touched to be included in her big day.) Even my daily interactions with people at work are a sort of community, though I’m not particularly close to most people in the office.
So do I belong to community, even as a single young adult? Yes. By the grace of God, I do, I can honestly say that. Is it ideal? No. But God doesn’t give us ideals as a rule, does he? His greatest gifts to us tend to be imperfect, hard to recognize, and they’re almost never quite what we expected. So if you’re longing for community, don’t give up hope. Pray. Pray really hard for it and never stop…and be willing to open up your eyes and take a good hard look around. You might be surprised at what you find.