In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles Laici, No. 37, Pope John Paul II reminded us that, "To rediscover and make others rediscover the inviolable dignity of every human person makes up an essential task, in a certain sense, the central and unifying task of the service which the Church, and the lay faithful in her, are called to render to the human family. Among all other earthly beings, only a man or a woman is a 'person', a conscious and free being and, precisely for this reason, the 'center and summit' of all that exists on the earth.
The dignity of the person is the most precious possession of an individual. As a result, the value of one person transcends all the material world. The words of Jesus, 'For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and to forfeit his life?' (Mk 8:36) contain an enlightening and stirring statement about the individual: value comes not from what a person 'has' even if the person possessed the whole world!-as much as from what a person 'is': the goods of the world do not count as much as the good of the person, the good which is the person individually.
The dignity of the person is manifested in all its radiance when the person's origin and destiny are considered: created by God in his image and likeness as well as redeemed by the most precious blood of Christ, the person is called to be a 'child in the Son' and a living temple of the Spirit, destined for the eternal life of blessed communion with God. For this reason every violation of the personal dignity of the human being cries out in vengeance to God and is an offence against the Creator of the individual.
In virtue of a personal dignity the human being is always a value as an individual, and as such demands being considered and treated as a person and never, on the contrary, considered and treated as an object to be used, or as a means, or as a thing.
The dignity of the person constitutes the foundation of the equality of all people among themselves. As a result all forms of discrimination are totally unacceptable, especially those forms which unfortunately continue to divide and degrade the human family, from those based on race or economics to those social and cultural, from political to geographic, etc. Each discrimination constitutes an absolutely intolerable injustice, not so much for the tensions and the conflicts that can be generated in the social sphere, as much as for the dishonour inflicted on the dignity of the person: not only to the dignity of the individual who is the victim of the injustice, but still more to the one who commits the injustice."
Vatican II, in its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem), has this to say: "The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ's Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord himself." (No. 3). And in No. 4, this same document explains that, "This plan for the spiritual life of the laity should take its particular character from their married or family state or their single or widowed state.."
What is the point I'm trying to make? That single people, like those whose vocation is to marriage, are also called to the apostolate. But one wouldn't know this when one examines the way in which single people are often treated in the Church. Father Pat Umberger has noted that, "Being single. For some of us it is the way we live our Vocation. For others it is a temporary state. For some it brings much joy. For others sadness and a feeling of incompleteness. Not all single folks are called to a Vocation of priesthood or consecrated life. Single people come in all age ranges, from the 20's through old age. Single people have needs and goals. We don't always fit into the society we live in. Sometimes there is a perception that we cannot be happy or fulfilled while we are single. We can buy into that perception. The Church can be quite helpful to us. Sometimes it can hinder us as well. It is true that much is said about married life, children, teenagers and other groups within the Church, but not much about single people. The Church can unconsciously discriminate against single people by sponsoring mostly "couples only" events, inviting "families" to bring up the gifts, or seeing singles as the pool from which to draw helpers to complete tasks nobody else wants to do."
I have personally experienced this through the years. Only recently I joined another parish, immediately registered, and noted both on the registration form and to the parish secretary, that I would like to volunteer at the parish. I never did hear from anyone. This is not the first time I have experienced such animus. Single people are often viewed as being somehow "inadequate," even within the Church. We are often seen as being somehow peculiar because we live celibate lives and concern ourselves primarily with building up the Kingdom of God here on earth. We are often excluded and written off at the parish level as if the Lord Jesus couldn't possibly find any use for us. This attitude is far from Catholic. Pope Benedict XVI said recently that, "The Lord has a plan for each of us; he calls each one of us by name. Our task is to learn how to listen, to perceive his call, to be courageous and faithful in following him and, when all is said and done, to be found trustworthy servants who have used well the gifts given us."
And if we are discouraged from participating in the life of the Church by those entrusted with leadership positions in the Church; if we are discriminated against because we do not measure up to their idea of "value," those who excluded us will have to render an account to the Lord Jesus and to explain why they scattered when they should have been gathering.