On an episode of The Inner Life, Josh Raymond recounted the story of a young woman named Katie whom he and his family met back in 2015. Katie was part of an apostolate known as Spiritus Ministries, a group that worked with middle schoolers from different parishes and schools. Josh and his wife made an instant connection with her because they had both lived in Oregon recently. After Katie ended her ministry and moved back to Oregon, Josh and his wife kept in touch with her. She ended up meeting a man who happened to also be named Josh and after falling in love, they got engaged and planned to get married in the spring of 2018.
“Very classic story: falling in love, getting married, looking ahead to the hope and excitement of spending your life together with your best friend, dreaming about starting a family, all of that. Just normal things that Katie was looking forward to with her life with Josh.” However, none of that came to pass. Just three weeks after their wedding, Josh was killed in an industrial accident at work. Katie was heartbroken and devastated. After dating for over two years, she believed that God had been calling her to married life with this man whom she had fallen madly in love with. But, just when it was getting started, it was taken away. God was calling Josh home and Katie back to the single life.
While a harsh example of someone being thrust into a vocation, at least temporarily, it’s an effective reminder that God’s plan isn’t always clear. That’s why we are all encouraged to consistently discern what it is that God is asking of us at any given moment. It may seem cruel and difficult at the moment that vocational circumstances are thrust upon us, but we are asked to trust in the divine plan for our lives. Josh welcomed Father Ethan Southard back onto the show to talk about discernment and the single life.
“I think it’s just such a beautiful topic that really touches all of us. We all have an experience; we all have a vocation, wherever we are, whether we’re single, whether we’re married, whether we’re a consecrated priest or a widow. God knows us, God loves us, and God continues to call us into union with Him,” said Father Ethan.
Josh began the discussion by addressing the term “vocation”. Generally, people think of that word in the context of how you’re employed, what you do for a living. But in the Catholic Church, it has a much deeper meaning. As Father Ethan said, God is not drawing us to a category. He is drawing us to love. God is calling us to whatever station in life at which we are best suited to serve and honor Him. And that will change throughout our lives.
Josh gave the example of his own parents who were married for twenty-five years before his father passed away from cancer. His mother, who never remarried, has now been single for longer than she was married. After she was called to marry Josh’s father and bring children into this world, God called her back to the single life. He continued, thinking about what the dialogue might be like between someone who has lost their spouse. “Maybe, you know, God is calling me to a vocation of single life and saying, ‘You know what? Yes, that person was perfect for you for this season of your life, but you can love, and you can be fully complete in Me and My love, even without that person.’”
As madly in love as we might be with our spouse or the idea of getting married, the importance of that relationship pales in comparison to our closeness with God. If we can find that love for God in the single life, that may be the avenue we are called to. St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “Indeed, I wish everyone to be as I am, but each has a particular gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Now to the unmarried and to widows, I say: it is a good thing for them to remain as they are, as I do, but if they cannot exercise self-control they should marry, for it is better to marry than to be on fire. To the married, however, I give this instruction (not I, but the Lord): A wife should not separate from her husband—and if she does separate she must either remain single or become reconciled to her husband—and a husband should not divorce his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:7-11)
The single life is a blessed vocation and as St. Paul says, “it is a good thing”. Father Ethan said that for a long time, he ran from his vocation as a priest. He was trying to figure out his life without the guidance of Our Lord and everything was going wrong. Finally, when he genuinely reflected on himself, he saw a necessity for love in his decision-making. Where was he directing his time, his efforts, and his love? God gave him the grace to make peace with his calling and embrace the priesthood.
Listen to the full conversation below:
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