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LONELINESS IS A PROBLEM THAT AFFECTS US ALL. It’s something that can occur even when we’re surrounded by other people. Nothing can fill the void created by this feeling—nothing, that is, except a deep connection with God and with others. Mother Teresa once said that out of all the countries she has visited, the United States is the poorest in the world because, “America suffers from the poverty of loneliness.” How do we reach beyond the noise and bustle of our thriving society to establish the bonds that will satisfy the human heart?

 

Age-Old Problem in Modern Times

In an interview with Eugenio Scalfari for Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper, Pope Francis characterized the problem of loneliness, particularly among the elderly, as a great evil of our time—one that needs to be addressed with the utmost urgency for the good of society.

In his message delivered ahead of the 48th World Communications Day, Francis connects loneliness to certain aspects of our modern world: “A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive…. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.” But he goes on to say, “The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgment…. The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbors, from those closest to us.”

These modern dimensions merely add to a problem that is as old as the human condition. We were made to live in a profound state of love in relation to God and others. God’s very nature is one of relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the mystery of the Trinity, and He has made us in His image, so our desire for love and connection with others emanates from the deepest recesses of the soul.

The Bible teaches that man and woman were made to be helpmates for each other because God recognized it was not good for man to be alone. The family proceeds from the bond between husband and wife and provides for our most natural and foundational connections. It is through family interaction that we develop communication skills, a sense of humor, empathetic instincts, and the ability to reconcile with each other.

Our desire for connection ultimately extends beyond family to the broader community where we seek fulfillment by sharing our gifts and enjoying the gifts of others in meaningful relationships. However, in a fallen world, bonds of love can too easily disintegrate, and the ties we rely on for connection to family and community sometimes become frayed and leave us feeling isolated.

It is important to remember that God is with us in our suffering in a more profound way than at any other time in our lives. Christ’s cry of abandonment on the cross unites Him with all mankind in our deepest moments of anguish. Loneliness, like all suffering, gives us reason to draw closer to God, and we must never lose hope that good can come from any difficulty provided we turn to Him with an open heart.

 

Dark Night of the Soul

Saint John of the Cross experienced a desperate sense of isolation when he was imprisoned by members of his own Carmelite Order. He was locked in a ten-by-six-foot cell that barely allowed enough room for his body. After nine months, he escaped and made it to freedom with a collection of mystical poetry he had written in captivity.

His spiritual classics Ascent of Mount Carmel and Dark Night of the Soul expand on the ideas set forth in his poetry and explore the sense of distance that can occur in our relationship with God. He explains that sometimes God allows us to feel abandoned in order to purify our souls and draw us into a deeper experience of love.

Mother Teresa suffered from a long period of loneliness in her life. In a letter posthumously published in Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta, she wrote: “In my heart there is no faith—no love—no trust—there is so much pain—the pain of longing, the pain of not being wanted. I want God with all the powers of my soul—and yet there between us—there is terrible separation.”

Mother Teresa was clearly being invited into a Dark Night of the Soul for the purpose of achieving a more perfect union with God. She eventually wrote: “Let Him do with me whatever He wants as He wants for as long as He wants if my darkness is light to some soul even if it be nothing to nobody—I am perfectly happy to be God’s flower in the field.”

Mother Teresa’s surrender to God’s will in the face of extreme loneliness led her on a lifelong journey of service to others. She saw beauty in all people and was devoted to helping the poorest of the poor. She once found a woman lying half dead in a pile of garbage, her body bitten by rodents and insects. She took the woman to a hospital and they attempted to turn her away, insisting the woman was beyond help. Mother Teresa protested and said she wouldn’t leave until they admitted her. A long meeting followed among hospital personnel and finally they granted Mother Teresa’s request. She later recalled the incident and said, “That woman was saved.”

Towards the end of Mother Teresa’s life, her letters revealed the perspective she had gained on her deep relation with God and others. She wrote to a priest: “God is in love with us and keeps giving Himself to the world—through you—through me…. May you continue to be the sunshine of His love to your people and thus make your life something truly beautiful for God.”

  

 

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