I would briefly like to bring up a topic that many have asked about as relationships in their lives change over time — loneliness. An acquaintance of mine from my seminary studies, Fr. Peregrine O.Praem., a canon at St. Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California, has recently offered a wonderful lecture on loneliness, that I highly recommend. I will introduce the topic and let him answer the following questions:
What is the Catholic response to loneliness and what can I do with the loneliness I experience?
What can I learn about loneliness and how can I draw strength from the loneliness of Christ?
From the very beginning man is created to be in relationship with both his creator and his neighbor: “Let us create man in our own image and likeness” (Gen 2:26-28). While this is clearly seen in the manner by which we receive and begin life, over the course of our lives it sometimes occurs that we feel that we are without relationship. Loneliness is a feeling of isolation from other persons, a lack of intimacy (intellectual, social, psychological, spiritual, emotional, and/or physical). It is a feeling that occurs when we do not perceive the self as being affirmed as good for who I am, apart from anything that I may provide for another.
Yet the intimacy we speak of here is not a mere acknowledgment of my person, but an authentic response to my being that communicates that I am good and am worthy of love; nothing less will be affirming. “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us” (Timothy Keller)
Benedict XVI in his Angelus address on the Feast of the Trinity in June 2009 connects the Church’s understanding to the preceding sentiment and couches them both in terms of the inner life of the Trinity: “The strongest proof that we are made in the image of the Trinity is this: love alone makes us happy because we live in a relationship, and we live to love and to be loved. Borrowing an analogy from biology, we could say that imprinted upon his ‘genome’, the human being bears a profound mark of the Trinity, of God as Love.”
Whether one is experiencing short-term or long-term loneliness, the Church recognizes that our pain flows from a defect in our perception of our lived reality of God’s love for us and that of our neighbor. So the answer to loneliness will be found through both love of God and love of neighbor, which Fr. Peregrine will illustrate in his lecture. Enjoy!