The Quiet Epidemic of Lonely Catholics
by Marcel LeJeune
The more I listen to the experiences of Catholics, the more I get the sense that we are facing a quiet epidemic of loneliness.
It is found in the young people who fly to sex addiction, because they fear real people who may break their hearts.It is in spouses who stop communicating because of the pain, wounds, and repeated isolation they feel from one another.It is in the man who has never had other men he bonded with over more than sports or suface-level things that don't really matter.It is in the woman who can’t find other women that she can be vulnerable with, because she thinks she doesn't measure up.It is found in the priest, who is put on a pedestal by some in the parish (when they are face-to-face with him), only to be ripped down because nobody will trust a priest in the modern culture.It is found in the 30-something who feels like every one of their friends is now married, except them.It is found in the addict who escapes into drugs, alcohol, gambling, video games, social media, etc. It is in those stuggling with mental illness who feel all alone and that nobody understands their pain.It is in our homes, workplaces, and parishes. We need to own this loneliness and isolation and do something about it, if we are to be better disciples of Jesus and help renew the Church.
Lonely Catholics are a sign that the Church is lacking something substantial in community. Why? Because Christianity isn’t meant to be done by yourself! This means that we need to re-learn what it means to find friendship, community, and relationship with one another. Without these things, we are incomplete, because we are meant to live life with each other.
"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." -John 15:12
The epidemic is quiet, because few talk about it, and the sad thing is - who would they talk about it with? It is an epidemic, largely because we aren’t doing anything substantial about it. Few Catholic parishes are truly creating community (of course there are some exceptions).
The facts are in and it is clear that the Catholic Church has, for the most part, woven a culture where friendship, community, and meaningful relationships have largely been forgotten. We have allowed “being active”, running programs, going to events, and gathering in large groups to replace what we need, true friendship. There is nothing wrong with these things, but they can’t create meaningful relationships in and of themselves.
There are many reasons this may have happened. One of the reasons is the “me and Jesus” movement that is part of our American culture. This idea, which has long been a part of American Protestantism, has seeped into the Catholic Church. Yes, we are supposed to have a personal relationship with Jesus. But, as I have written about previously, we are also meant to have a relationship with his Church! We need both - Jesus and Me + You and Me. The problem is when you leave one relationship out, we miss something. Without Jesus, you miss everything. Without community, you miss the fullness of Jesus and what love is like on this earth.
Loneliness should not be accepted as a norm. Some of the spiritual symptoms of loneliness are laziness, despair, and spiritual desolation.
“It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.” -St Teresa of Calcutta
We could even update this quote for a modern American - “It is easier to respond to a social media post of someone halfway across the globe than to listen to a good friend across town”
We have settled for a laissez-faire kind of Christianity, which doesn't shake us up, challenge us, or push us to grow. Yes, there is that periodic conference or retreat for the really dedicated Catholic. There is also a growing number of small groups. But, even with these, there are few that really know what it means to be accountable, tell the truth, pray together, confess sins to one another (as well as in Confession), grow in holiness, and be pushed into the mission fields. That is what Christian community should really look like. It should make us want more!
So, what do we do about it? First of all, if you are lonely, you need to know your own self-worth. You are loved. You are valuable. You are worthy. You are redeemed. You are not an orphan. You are a daughter or son of a Father who loves you infinitely. Don’t ever forget these truths. Sit with them. Pray with them. Meditate upon them. Let them inform your heart, once again (or for the first time) of who you truly are. Don’t believe the lies.
Second, if you know others who are lonely and have bought into such lies, then remind them of their self-worth. Invest in them. Start to initiate in the relationship. Build a friendship, then invite deeper.
Third, it is time to get uncomfortable. The average person hates loneliness. I am not talking about being alone, but the feeling of being all alone and separated (emotionally, spiritually, etc) from others. Well, if you are to do something about it, both for yourself and others, then it is time we get uncomfortable and take a few risks. The kind of risks that need to be taken include, leading with vulnerability, inviting people to go deeper with you and Jesus, and running the risk that someone might not respond how you want them to. If you want to read more about what this kind of relationship might look like, you can find more here and here.
Fourth, if we want to build real community - the kind that can help conquer loneliness - then we need to have intentionality in our relationships. They can’t just stay on the surface, but we also can’t jump into deep issues without being patient with the process of getting to know each other, building trust, sharing vulnerability, having intimacy, then being accountable to one another. It takes time and a proper vision of where you are going. So, what is your strategy and how do you mean to use it? If you need help in developing one, then look to Jesus. He spent a lot of time with folks, grew the relationships, challenged others, held them accountable, let them fail, forgave them, gave them real opportunities to minister to others, etc. We need to do the same. If you want more concrete strategies, then read the links that are posted above.
Remember this, our ultimate goals are: -Going to Heaven. -Becoming holy. -Glorifying God. -Bringing others to heaven with us.
“You cannot live well without a friend, and if Jesus be not your friend above all else, you will be very sad and desolate. Thus, you are acting foolishly if you trust or rejoice in any other. Choose the opposition of the whole world rather than offend Jesus. Of all those who are dear to you, let Him be your special love. Let all things be loved for the sake of Jesus, but Jesus for His own sake. Jesus Christ must be loved alone with a special love for He alone, of all friends, is good and faithful. For Him and in Him you must love friends and foes alike, and pray to Him that all may know and love Him.” -Thomas a Kempis