No one should have to feel lonely. Maybe no one should also have to feel sad, hungry, or hurt, but I suppose this is our fallen nature and our fallen world. Loneliness is a prominent theme of Holy Week, where Jesus ultimately has to face the cross alone: lonely, abandoned by His friends, and in great suffering.
Loneliness is a symptom of our modern society. Pope Francis talks about the consumerism and individualism that ends in loneliness all throughout Evangelii Gaudium: “Today, our challenge is not so much atheism as the need to respond adequately to many people’s thirst for God, lest they try to satisfy it with alienating solutions or with a disembodied Jesus who demands nothing of us with regard to others” (no. 89).
Our societies are becoming more and more individualistic and neighborhoods and communities are becoming more and more of a rarity. I once heard a nun speaking about how her convent helped school children (they ran a school) learn how to make friends. She said that children no longer know how to do this, they have to be helped. So when they went on field trips, the nuns wouldn’t let children play with electronics on the bus. They would tell them to turn to the child next to them and ask them questions, like “what’s your favorite color?” or “what’s your family like?” So also we as adults no longer know how to make friends and build community. We are getting lonelier and lonelier.
Mother Teresa spoke much of loneliness and the motto of her congregation was about satiating Jesus’s thirst and loneliness on the cross. Jesus said “I thirst“ (John 19:28), Mother Teresa and her sisters satiated Jesus’s thirst on the cross for love by loving the poor and the lonely. Loneliness is not restricted to Calcutta or third world countries: some of the richest countries and individuals are the loneliest. “In the West there is a loneliness, which I call the leprosy of the West. In many ways, it is worse than our poor in Calcutta” (source). And also: “Do we know who our own poor are? Do we know our neighbor, the poor of our own area? It is so easy for us to talk and talk about the poor of other places. Very often we have the suffering, we have the lonely, we have the people – old, unwanted, feeling miserable – and they are near us and we don’t even know them. We have no time to smile at them” (Come, Be My Light). Mother Teresa also suffered from a terrible inner loneliness Jesus allowed her to share with Him which is incredibly touching to read about, especially in this book Come, Be My Light. She experienced Jesus’s loneliness first hand.
Our mission as Christians is that no one should have to feel lonely. They will know we are Christians by the way we love each other (John 13:35). In a world of indifference and self-indulgence, we are called to be builders of community and friendship. We, like Mother Teresa, are also called to satiate Jesus’s thirst for love and accompany those in suffering. The truth is we were all made for communion and we have big, gaping holes in us. In Heaven we will all be one with God and with one another. It is a wedding feast, we will all belong to one another. There will be “no more tears” (Rev 21:4). So let’s build up signs of Heaven here on Earth and build communion with others.
Those that are married can open up their domestic church to those that are single or to other families; it can be a ministry. Those that are infertile, as the Church has affirmed repeatedly, could be called by God to invest in more spiritual types of parenthood, like spiritual adoption of a child threatened by abortion. So also those that aren’t married have more time to devote to the “building of community” and to the service of others. The risen Jesus was recognized by the disciples in the breaking of the bread, so also there are many opportunities to break bread with others through forms of communal living, communal projects, and simple dinner parties. Friendship is a simple opening of the heart to another. If you feel lonely like Jesus on the cross, give your love to someone, give your life to someone. To the Father, to your spouse, to your neighbor, to someone who is feeling lonely.
“I’ve got a furnished house, a diamond ring and a lonely broken heart… Full of love and I can’t even give it away” George Strait