The Forgotten Generation Reaching Out to Catholic Singles


As I work with single adults, I hear one question over and over: "Why haven't I ever heard this before? Why didn't I hear this sooner, before I made all of these mistakes?"

Mary Beth Bonacci

Single adults are a forgotten demographic.

I suppose there's a reason for that. After all, we're really not supposed to exist. A couple of generations ago, we didn't. Children grew up, went to college, and then got married. Some entered the seminary or the convent, but they were hardly considered "single." Very few others remained unmarried past their 25th birthdays.

Parishes, therefore, were set up accordingly. We had Catholic grade schools and Catholic high schools. When we lost the parish high schools, we started parish youth groups. And then we had marriage prep, followed by the PTA. Nothing in between.

So, as people start marrying later in life, single adults hung around the margins of their parishes. They registered as "families," attended Mass, and tried to find a place to fit in. Many dropped out all together, having grown up in an era which questions everything, and having failed to find answers to their Catholic questions in CCD programs, which too often focused on making rainbows and collages. Too Far Gone

Some parishes, to their credit, really did try. They saw these marginalized single adults and tried to help. But their early attempts at single adult ministry amounted to little more than sticking all of the unmarried parishioners in a room together in the hopes that they'd all pair off and eventually join the PTA. These programs did very little to help these single people in their faith struggles. And they obviously did nothing for the legions of single Catholics who had already dropped out.

And so I, as a single adult Catholic, go through my day running into other single people — people who "used to be" Catholic. People who "are" Catholic, but only attend Mass when they get around to it. Others consider themselves Catholic, but obviously don't believe all of those "childish," "backward," or "repressed" teachings coming from Rome. Their eighth-grade CCD "education" just isn't cutting it in the real world.

And, as a Church, I get the impression that we've given up on these people. Many of them are very sophisticated, very intelligent. We don't know what we could possibly say to bring them back. We assume that they're "too far gone" for us to reach anymore. So we basically give up on them and concentrate on the youth, hoping to avert the same mistake in the next generation.

Don't get me wrong — I have no problem with paying a lot of attention to Catholic youth. I do that myself. It's just that I think it's a little premature to give up on Catholic, or formerly Catholic, single adults. They're a lot more open than we may think.

Never too late

Single adults are, for the most part, very spiritually hungry. They often have what the rest of the world craves — lots of disposable income. And yet they, more than anybody else, realize that there must be more to life. They crave meaning, they crave connection, they crave love.

What do we as Catholics offer? We offer meaning. We offer connection. And, most importantly, we offer the source of all real love, Jesus Christ Himself. But we're not offering it to them. So they're looking elsewhere. In new age spirituality. In human relationships. In sexual activity.

I want to talk about that sexual activity for a while. I'm considered an "expert" (if there is such a thing) on chastity. I've worked for many years promoting the virtue. And I keep hearing the same thing over and over: "We've got to get to them earlier. By high school, it's too late." And yes, if we're talking about first-time loss of virginity, that sadly may be true. But since when do we believe that once somebody has sinned, it's "too late"? It's a good thing Christ didn't think that way, or Mary Magdalen's story would have ended much differently.

I must admit that, when I first began speaking on chastity, I bought into this mentality myself. I was confident in my ability to influence teenagers. But when it came to my peers I was, to be perfectly honest, a little intimidated. After all, they were much more "worldly" than I was. How could I possibly influence them?

But then it started to happen. The youth ministers standing in the back of the room would come to me after the talk. "I thought this was going to be just for the teenagers, but what you said really touched me personally." Their lives started changing. They started becoming active in my work. And so it became clear to me that there is no statute of limitations on God's plan.

Therefore I began working with single adults — the part of my work that I now enjoy most. I love sharing with them the beauty of God's plan for human sexuality. I love giving them the secret to real love — the love they've been craving and seeking in vain for so many years. I love seeing the lights go on in their minds as they begin to comprehend the reasons for their frustrated search. I love showing them the light at the end of the tunnel.

Still looking for love

As I work with single adults, I hear one question over and over: "Why haven't I ever heard this before? Why didn't I hear this sooner, before I made all of these mistakes?" Yes, they've been sexually active. Some have been very sexually active. We may think that makes it more difficult to reach them. But in a sense, that history makes them easier to reach. When I explain the emotional and spiritual consequences of extra-marital sex to youth, they have to take it on faith that I'm telling them the truth. Sexually active adults know what I'm talking about. They know from painful personal experience. They've lived those consequences. Their main problem has been that nobody ever identified the source of their pain. But once that identification comes, many are open to the message of chastity.

Human sexuality is a beautiful gift from God. It has a meaning — total, permanent self-gift. When we speak the language of sexuality honestly, it's an amazingly powerful act of love. When we try to take it outside of that meaning, it causes physical, emotional, and spiritual damage. The message of chastity is that living respect for ourselves and our sexuality is the best and surest way to find real, honest love in our lives. That message applies to everyone, in every state of life.

It also appeals to everyone, in every state of life, especially when it's presented as the beautiful, positive truth that it is. And we, as Catholics, need to stop being intimidated by what we perceive as a worldliness or a sophistication that would dismiss our message. We need to reach out to our brothers and sisters — particularly our single brothers and sisters, with the truth about love, about Christ, and about human sexuality.

They're a lot more open than we may think.


Bonacci, Mary Beth. "The Forgotten Generation Reaching Out to Catholic Singles." Lay Witness (March 2000).

Reprinted with permission of Lay Witness.


Mary Beth Bonacci is the founder of Real Love Incorporated and the the author of We're on a Mission from God: The Generation X Guide to John Paul II, the Catholic Church, and the Real Meaning of Life and Real Love: The Ultimate Dating, Marriage and Sex Question Book (Ignatius, 1996).

Copyright © 2000 Lay Witness.

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