TWENTIETH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME – C 22
“God gives the lonely a home to live in.”
You will not find that verse in the readings today. I read it in one of the psalms last Tuesday and it caught my attention because I intended to preach about loneliness. All of Scripture is about loneliness. So, whether that verse is literally in our readings today is immaterial. It is in there in other words. Our psalm today says, “I have waited, waited for the Lord, and he stooped toward me…though I am afflicted and poor, yet the Lord thinks of me.” That waiting is a longing for the Lord, for his presence, for his care and concern. We want a home to live in, a home in his heart and to know he is thinking of us.
In our spiritual poverty, we need the Lord to be there for us supplying the riches of his grace and love. “Blessed are the poor in spirit” Our Lord taught. Blessed are those who know that the greatest poverty in life is to live without God.
St. Augustine famously said it this way: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in thee.” Here in this life, we will always experience a certain loneliness until we are in the totally comforting presence of our heart in his heart. St. Augustine lamented, “You were with me, Lord, but I was not with you. You were within me, but I was outside you.”
When I was about 25 years ordained my tongue was hanging out to be a pastor. About a year later, I was assigned to a small parish in northwest Philadelphia.
After I had my welcoming mass and reception and received the fuss that was made over me as a new pastor, I went back to the rectory alone. Alone In a way I didn’t expect. I had never been lonely in the priesthood. In other rectories there were other priests, a secretary, cook, a housekeeper going about their business, providing the hubbub that accompanies rectory life and making me wish sometimes that I was alone. That hubbub can easily hide the distance we are from God.
After a time dealing with this loneliness in this new setting, I fell into a depression. I talked to a psychologist for a while, but he didn’t help. The truth he did not address was that I was feeling sorry for myself. I was waiting for someone or some circumstance to make me feel that I belonged when it was my lack of doing anything about it that was the problem.
The common saying that “the Lord helps those who help themselves” is nowhere in scripture. Nevertheless, there is some truth in the saying. It’s certainly not the truth that we do not need anyone else to help us. St Augustine said, “God cannot save us without our cooperation.” So, when I started to cooperate and searched for ways I could help my flock, forgetting about myself, the depression disappeared like a puff of smoke.
God saves those who seek Him in their loneliness. The prophet Micah wrote hopefully of himself, “Though I sit in darkness, the Lord is my light.” The Lord is the one who shows us through out darkness into the light. Loneliness is God’s way of saying to us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart and my yoke is easy and my burden light.”
What we find in our culture, however, is different. Everyone is looking out for themselves, and life is all about the here and now. It is about my life not yours. And it is certainly not about God’s life. God has been roundly rejected in our society. And that is the basic, all encompassing, reason for the loneliness that is in our world currently and at an all-time high.
I read somewhere that “life is a limited time offer.” Sooner or later, if we don’t live our lives, the offer will be gone. This life is not a dress rehearsal. It’s the real thing. It won’t come again. If we don’t live our lives here for Jesus and for others, then we will live our lives in eternity in hell, without Christ, in the “company” of the devil, who is no company at all. Hell is THE loneliest place ever. He who hesitates is lost.
More people live alone now where before families lived close by and took care of each other. Children are scattered all over the country. There are some great communication aids but there is nothing like “being there.” So many are so desperate for their careers, they leave interest in others by the wayside. And they wonder why they are lonely. Busyness distracts us from the Person who alone can fill the hole in our heart.
A study revealed that university students at the present time are the loneliest people in the nation followed by divorced people. Children have longed for the day when they would be out from under the rules of their parents. All the love and sacrifices made for them count for nothing. All the ways parents made a home for them and taught them about loving others first are chucked by the wayside. They think alcohol, drugs, and sex will make them feel like they are free and belong and then, instead of these things freeing them, they imprison them in their own selfishness. Suicide rates are at their highest in decades. The basic cause of all loneliness is turning away from God.
We usually assign to someone who commits suicide some mental issue. The spiritual issues get swept under the rug. We can always do something about spiritual issues even when we can’t do something about other issues. Our closeness to God, our willingness to sacrifice for others as he did, our constantly calling upon him in prayer—all these things are within our capabilities, no matter our situation. If we try to go it alone, we cut off the support of the ones who love us most.
The Lord shows us the way he got through his own loneliness: his prayerful relationship with his heavenly Father. He was constantly at prayer, sometimes all night. If we don’t believe in God, or church, or faith, or sacraments, we will be alone literally forever.
No surprise when this loneliness began in our world. It began in the sixties when family relationships and the faith were thrown out the window. All the rules and values and faith that kept people sane and together, comfortable with themelves and close to God were thrown out the window. Freud’s belief that to become a whole person you must throw off the chains of morality came like a Mac Truck crashing into our culture in the sixties leaving our souls a wreck. Anyone that tried to show us how to pick up the pieces and put our lives back together were ignored, especially if they recommended praying and getting back to church. Selfishness became the rule of the day. And still is in too many cases. We are indeed blind if we don’t see this. Worse, we have blinded ourselves.
Loneliness began in the garden of Eden in a perfect paradise. The best of all possible worlds, no less! Adam and Eve foolishly declared their independence of God, thinking that there was something better, just like so many people do today. In the sixties, the mindset was, “God, you haven’t done a very good job creating this world.” “We can build this world better without you, God. We don’t need you.” “Build back better!” Sound familiar.
The same thing was said in the French Revolution. The same thing was said in the Communist revolution. Neither produced the utopia they promised. In fact, they deliberately created the situation where everything would go wrong, and people would be looking for a savior. Or they took advantage of a wrong situation that was already there. They stepped in on the wave of false promises. Immediately, freedoms were taken away and the prison door was locked shut preventing any escape. This is what happened in Cuba and all the other countries who were blind to the onset of an impossible utopia. We are still blind and impassive to this false utopia created without God in our own country. And we wonder why we are lonely.
At the last supper, scripture tells us about Judas who betrayed Jesus. It says, “He went out and it was night.” “It was night!” Anyone who goes away from Jesus will find only night.
Joni Mitchell sang a popular song, “Both Sides Now,” in the sixties. It contained the words: “I really don’t know love at all.” “I don’t know life at all.” So confusing were the times. What a sad song. What a lonely song. Yet it described the times. Loneliness had begun. It began because God was rejected.
The same can be said about sin: “I really don’t know sin at all.” What was a sin before is now not a sin. What was a sin before, is now celebrated as a good. There are no boundaries, no “should’s” in life. And just as a thousand drinks are not enough and one drink is too many for an alcoholic, so thousands of sins are not enough to cure our loneliness and one sin is where it starts. Sin, separates. Sin always leads to loneliness. It’s what the devil does for a living: divide and conquer.
The church at present is going the way of the sixties. All the rules are out the window. Sin is now being celebrated in a wink and a nod towards sodomy. Traditional teaching has become the enemy. Everything in the past is being vilified. The same thing happened in the sixties in the world. And that is what is happening in the church, and sadly from the top down. Now, not even the church is protecting us from the loneliness that the devil creates through sin.
Someone recently told me about a sermon heard a couple Sundays ago where the priest said that the theme of the homily was that everyone has nicknames and that we should pray to God to learn his nickname for us. Cute. Meanwhile, our church and our nation are crashing from corruption, sin, and false teaching. Learning God’s nickname for us is only a paper wall shielding us from the shellacking we are taking from sin and separation from God.
Dogs seems to be the answer to loneliness nowadays. God forbid that we should dedicate ourselves to another human being in a permanent relationship of marriage and parenthood.
President Reagan’s foreign policy was “peace through strength.” Peace in life comes from aligning ourselves with the strength of the Prince of Peace. St. Padre Pio said that the rosary is our weapon against all things not of God. But instead, we turn to the prince of liars, the devil. No wonder we get taken advantage of. No wonder we are left not knowing what has hit us in these troubling times. No wonder we feel left out and lonely. We are creating our own solitary confinement. We have rejected the friendship of God which fills the hole in our hearts, and which strengthens and supports us in difficult, lonely, times.
Loneliness is Christ’s invitation to come to him.
If you think Jesus could never know about your loneliness, think again. When he began his ministry, right from the very beginning he was rejected by the ones he came to save. Once they even tried to throw him over a cliff. The Pharisees were constantly looking for a reason to trap him in his teachings. At the end of his life, he was betrayed by one of his apostles, abandoned by all the others but one, and the one he chose to lead his church denied him three times. And then from the cross he felt abandoned by the God whose will he was following. However, feeling abandoned and being abandoned are two different things.
In the end Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished.” In other words, I have not abandoned my Father nor has he abandoned me. I am not alone. I am hanging here fulfilling the will of my father and his love is enabling me to make this sacrifice. I could never be closer to my father than on this cross. He and I are one. And the same is true of us: we can never be closer to Jesus when we are suffering and on our own crosses. IF, we unite ourselves in our suffering to him.
There is nothing like keeping the two great commandments to stave off loneliness. Love God with all your heart. Love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus did exactly that. He showed us how. Jesus embraced his Father’s will and his Father in turn embraced him. The struggle involved in doing so was not a “deal breaker.” And it should not be so for us. Staying in the struggle is what assures us that we will never be lonely. If we embrace the struggle, for all eternity we will live in the comforting presence and love of the arms of God. “God gives the lonely a home to live in.”
Fr. H James Hutchins – retired pastor from The Archdiocese of Philadelphia but active priest as chaplain for both The Kings Men and Emmaus Retreats for men and women in South New Jersey