The feeling of loneliness may be considered one of the afflictions of this present life. There are some who try to escape it by mixing with the world’s crowds among whom they hope to find recreation and distraction and to get away from themselves.
“GETTING AWAY FROM ONESELF”
No one can always get away from himself however much he may try to do so. There are times when he will realise that even amid a crowd he is in some respects a solitary and sees himself isolated and alone in a world, which in most cases is not very aware of his presence and entirely forgets him when he is absent or dead. As men and women get older and lose by death one after another of their close relations and intimate friends, this sense of loneliness is apt to be felt more and may give rise to a certain sadness and a disposition to repine that there is no one left on whose sympathy and understanding they can depend.
FEELING ALONE IN SPITE OF BEING SURROUNDED BY PEOPLE
But at all times of life loneliness is a feeling to which all are liable, irrespective of age and the circumstances and conditions of life. True and lasting, for instance, as may be the love that exists between husband and wife, creating close companionship and a certain intimacy of thought and feeling, yet there will always remain in each of them secret recesses unknown and unexplainable to the other, which produces at times a feeling of loneliness. Owing to the complex nature of the human heart and mind and to the varying moods to which men are subject, the fact is that nobody can be thoroughly and perfectly understood by another, even by his closest companion and most intimate friend.
LONELINESS IS A FEELING TO WHICH ALL OF US ARE LIABLE
And it is in God’s design that this should be so. He has created us for Himself, to find in Him the only complete happiness and satisfaction. All men consciously or – more commonly – unconsciously are ever seeking and striving after this Supreme Good. If they think to find it in creatures, they are sooner or later disillusioned and disappointed. It is then they feel most lonely. The Catholic poet, Aubrey de Vere, has expressed this in the following poem which he entitled Reality:
Love thy God and love Him only
And thy breast will ne’er be lonely.
In that one great Spirit meet
All things mighty, grave, and sweet.
Vainly strives the soul to mingle
With a being of our kind:
Vainly hearts with hearts are twined,
For the deepest still is single.
An impalpable resistance
Holds like natures still at distance.
Mortal, love that Holy One
Or dwell for aye alone.
When we are told to love God only, the meaning, of course, is not that we should not love others who are, and should be, naturally dear to us, but that our love for them should be entirely subordinate to our love of God, so that we love them only in God and for God. If we make God our absolute and supreme love, merging and therefore ennobling in it all other love, we shall become increasingly aware of God’s constant presence and so effect such a close union with Him as to make us indifferent to the loneliness sometimes experienced on earth among our fellow beings.
THE PROCESS OF BECOMING ENTIRELY INDIFFERENT TO THE LONELINESS ONE “USUALLY” WOULD EXPERIENCE
But to arrive at such a love of God is not the work of a day. It may take a lifetime to reach it in its fullness and perfection. It means a life of daily self-sacrifice and mortification, the renunciation of all things to which we are inordinately attached. An inordinate affection for any person or thing, even when there is no sin, is enough to exclude that very close union which should subsist between the Creator and the creature. In short, we are not complying fully with the terms of God’s first and greatest commandment, which says: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind”; and until we do so love God, we must feel loneliness of heart.
THE NEED TO GET RID OF INORDINATE AFFECTION
So it becomes plain that to possess a perfect love of God, we must not only get rid of all sin but of all affection to sin or of anything that may lay open the way to sin, such as an inordinate affection. As we know, this can only be done by the grace of God, which is obtained by prayer and the sacraments. By the right use of the Sacrament of Penance we will gain a truer knowledge of ourselves and our weaknesses, a greater sorrow for, and an ever-increasing horror of, sin. What helps still more effectually to the love of God is the frequent, and if possible daily, reception of the Body and Blood of Our Lord in the great Sacrament of the Eucharist. As there, Christ, the God Man, out of His infinite Love gives Himself entirely to us, and that at the price of His death upon the Cross, so we should give ourselves entirely to Him, continually making sacrifices as a proof of the love we bear Him.
VIVIFYING AND PRACTICAL REALITIES
These are familiar truths which we have often heard or read, and the mere repetition of them, as with other spiritual truths, will have little or no effect upon us unless we pray earnestly to the Holy Spirit of God that they may sink very deeply into our mind and heart and become vivifying and practical realities.
THE NOBLE PURPOSE OF FEELINGS OF LONELINESS, DISILLUSIONMENT AND DISAPPOINTMENT WITH FELLOW HUMANS
That feeling of loneliness that sometimes comes to us is one of God’s ways of drawing us more closely to Himself, as every kind of suffering which falls upon us is permitted for a like reason. God is ever pursuing us with His love to gain ours, and so He wishes to disentangle us and free us from that love of creatures that apart from Him can never satisfy us but, so often, can only hurt. So that another Catholic poet, Francis Thompson, in his great religious lyric, The Hound of Heaven, has rightly attributed to God, the “tremendous Lover”, the words:
All which I took from thee I did but take,
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home.
Rise, clasp my hand and come.
During and since the days of war, of how much of those things we have been stripped in which once we found our pleasure, comfort, and consolation. But we may reflect that even when we had them, often enough we experienced that feeling of loneliness which nothing of this earth can always dispel. It is in God’s loving design that from all our losses and afflictions we should draw good, and thereby be led always to turn to Him, the Supreme Good, in the perfect love of whom all sense of loneliness disappears.
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949