Recently I grabbed a book off my bookshelf called, “In the Footprints of Loneliness,” by Catherine Doherty. Catherine was of Russian nobility whose family was forced to flee Russia after the communist takeover. She was affectionately referred to as “the Baroness,” and was a deeply devout woman who dedicated her life to serving the poor in Canada. She was a friend and contemporary of Dorothy Day, and started the Madonna House ministry to meet the needs of the indigent poor.
I was drawn to “In the Footprints of Loneliness” because of the numerous reports I read about an increasing loneliness in American society. It is not just a phenomenon among older Americans who may live alone, but increasingly young adults experience it, too. A recent survey by CIGNA of 20,000 Americans aged 20-80 determined that more than half of survey respondents — 54 percent — said that they always or sometimes feel that no one knows them well. Fifty-six percent reported they sometimes or always felt like the people around “are not necessarily with them.” And 2 in 5 felt like “they lack companionship,” that their “relationships aren’t meaningful” and that they “are isolated from others.” In short, most people in our country views themselves as lonely.
About loneliness, Catherine Doherty wrote, “Have you ever considered loneliness a gift of God? We all suffer from loneliness one way or another. The Lord has made this loneliness. We’re lonely because we’re separated from God. ‘My heart will not rest,’ said St. Augustine, ‘until it rests in Thee.’” She then suggested that, “…if there was ever a lonely person on earth, it was Jesus Christ. The very essence of his loneliness was in the Garden of Gethsemane, when his beloved apostles slept. She then highlights the loneliness of God and suggests that, “The loneliness of God is given to man, so that man might arise and seek God.”
How astounding to think that God’s loneliness and human loneliness are meant to bring us together in mutual intimacy and friendship. Catherine even suggests that our happiness lies in entering loneliness, in entering its belly and, there, suddenly meeting God.
As individual believers and as members of the Holy Redeemer family, our call this Lent is to reach out to those around us who feel lonely. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, just a willingness to listen and to give a little of our time. Our presence can be a balm that soothes not only the loneliness of others, but of Christ himself.
Yours in Christ,