This is a fantastic question that I have been thinking about myself! Our culture seems strangely obsessed with marriage, and sometimes this can have the devastating effect of making single people feel that being single is worthless, which could not be further from the truth.
To get the technicalities out of the way first: As far as a permanent calling to the single life, it seems to me that Church teaching suggests that such a calling would take the form of consecrated virginity, but like you I haven’t been able to find anything official either way (you might check out this article as an example of what people say unofficially).
Instead, I have heard trustworthy folk refer to a “temporary vocation to single life,” which is a good way of thinking about the state of being single while waiting for and discerning a permanent vocation to marriage, religious life, or consecrated virginity.
Some people talk about single life as though it is just a time to work on yourself so that you’ll be an awesome wife/nun/consecrated virgin in the future. It’s true that single life does give you this opportunity, but I think there’s more to it than that. Our God is a God of the present. He has a plan for each day of our lives, including each day we spend as a single person.
Our God is a God of the present.
As you probably know, the word vocation literally means “calling,” as in listening to God’s call and submitting ourselves to His will every day of our lives, whether we are single, married, consecrated, or religious. If we are listening, we can experience God calling us every day, regardless of whether we have committed to a permanent vocation yet or not. It’s not as though you’re just waiting around to get married, like that’s when God will “call” you and your life of serving Him will begin. Your life has already begun! It is happening right now!
God has given you this time as a single person (however long it lasts) for a good reason. It is in no way wasted time. It is intended. Today you are single because God has determined that this is the best state for you to be in right now in order to fulfill His will today.
If you do your best to live your life according to God’s will, then everything you do throughout your day as a single person—your prayer, your job, your interactions with others, your service to those around you—is a fulfillment of God’s calling. If you do this, you are already, right now, living out your vocation.
So, with the benefit of hindsight (because I am now a wife and mother and I didn’t know what I had when I had it!), the following are some of the unique ways that the single life allows you to serve God and be “gift” to others:
As a single person, you can…
You have more flexibility, freedom, and control over your life now than you will in married or religious life. If you find that God is calling you to do something else with your life, you are free to make changes—even big ones. You can go on a pilgrimage, participate in a mission trip, take a new job, move to a new place, or join an intentional community. Now is the best and easiest time to get your life in line with God’s will since you don’t have to convince anyone else but yourself!
Intentionally cultivate a deep faith life.
This should be at the top of every Christian’s priority list of course, but as a single person, you can devote more time and attention to cultivating habits that will last your whole life. Schedule regular prayer time throughout your day, attend Mass weekly (or even daily), attend the occasional retreat, and learn about your faith by reading or taking classes at your parish. A deep faith life will help you to discern what God is calling you to do and be, both now and in the future.
Invest in a faith community.
A strong community is crucial to the spiritual life, no matter what your vocation, but it’s especially important when you’re single, and now is the time when you can really invest deeply in such friendships. So whether it’s a young adult group at your parish, the Theology on Tap crew in your diocese, or the old ladies who get coffee after daily Mass on Saturdays, find a group of faithful people to be friends with. You could even invite a couple Catholic (or otherwise Christian) friends over for wine and Bible study once a month and go from there. Don’t forget to ask God to help you find your peeps!
Commit to a parish.
Register and get involved with your local parish, both by participating in opportunities and offering whatever gifts you may have (join the choir, count the collection money, help plan the parish picnic, whatever floats your boat). Families tend to be overrun with their kids’ activities and don’t often have time to support their parish. Single people are a Godsend for parish life! Plus, getting involved with your parish can really help you feel that you belong somewhere.
One of the loveliest things I’ve heard about celibacy (whether permanent or temporary) is that you are free to love everyone around you. Finding that I couldn’t serve others in the same way I used to was a big shock to me upon getting married. I couldn’t just drop what I was doing to help someone anymore. I had to check in and coordinate with my husband, and sometimes that meant that I could not give that person the help they needed (I pray that God sent them someone else—maybe a nice single person!) Now that I have a baby, I am even more limited in the kinds of help I can give people—my baby’s needs always have to come first, plus the fact that she has to come with me means that more often than not I’m the one who needs help! As a single person, you are in a terrific position to really be present to other people and to serve them whole-heartedly.
Some final thoughts: Since you mentioned Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, you may be interested to know that Dorothy Day never married after her conversion to Catholicism, and devoted her life to working for justice and helping the poor through the Catholic Worker movement she co-founded. I have not read her biography, The Long Loneliness, but you may be interested in what she has to say in there. You may also be interested in the writings of Eve Tushnet, who draws attention to the need to reclaim Christian friendship and community in our marriage-obsessed culture (you might start with this article).
God bless you, Jessica!
Hannah blogs about how the Catholic Church is more pro-woman than feminism at Jeanette’s Torch.