Our world is battling against an epidemic of loneliness. In fact, people are dying of loneliness today.
For singles in the Catholic Church, this struggle against loneliness can be intense and all too common.
If the Lord is calling you to the vocation of marriage, the quest to find someone to share your life with is never easy. But even the search for community or for a sense of connection with your brothers and sisters in Christ can be difficult.
In a world where technology now allows us to (theoretically) connect with others instantly, true friendship is becoming more and more rare.
Pope Francis has spoken on a variety of occasions about loneliness. Here are some illuminating quotes from our Pope that speak to this epidemic of loneliness and about what we should do when we’re confronted with it.
On one occasion, Pope Francis spoke about the mysterious nature of the emotional suffering that is of a piece with loneliness in our world today:
1. “At times like these, more than ever do we need the reasons of the heart, which alone can help us understand the mystery which embraces our loneliness.”
Pope Francis knows that loneliness and emotional suffering is widespread in our church and world today.
2. “How much sadness we see in so many faces all around us! How many tears are shed every second in our world; each is different but together they form, as it were, an ocean of desolation that cries out for mercy, compassion and consolation.”
This sadness we experience as human beings has many causes. Sometimes this suffering is caused by evil in the world. Other times, those within the church hurt one another.
In some circumstances, the suffering can be so intense that it seems difficult for us to keep going.
3. “The bitterest tears are those caused by human evil: the tears of those who have seen a loved one violently torn from them; the tears of grandparents, mothers and fathers, children; eyes that keep staring at the sunset and find it hard to see the dawn of a new day.”
It’s clear that Pope Francis recognizes that the problem of pain from loneliness is a widespread among young people in our world today. But he encourages us not to give in to despair. We’re not meant to merely dwell in the misery caused by our loneliness at any age or season in our life.
4. “At this time of crisis we cannot be concerned solely with ourselves, withdrawing into loneliness, discouragement and a sense of powerlessness in the face of problems. Please do not withdraw into yourselves!”
It’s tempting to withdraw from others and into ourselves. But it is during these periods of loneliness where we need to ask the Holy Spirit to inspire us in the virtues of perseverance and compassion.
5. “This is a danger: we shut ourselves up in the parish, with our friends, within the movement, with the like-minded… but do you know what happens? When the Church becomes closed, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! That is a danger. . . .A Church closed in on herself is the same, a sick Church.”
Despite how painful our loneliness might be, we should never give in to it and allow ourselves to withdraw into ourselves.
Pope Francis doesn’t even just say this is unhealthy for our own sanity or spiritual welfare.
He goes so far as to say that it’s dangerous for the entire Church. When we consider how each of us is an essential part of the Body of Christ on earth, we can see the truth in this statement. If we’re allowing ourselves to be closed off in our misery, it hurts other parts of the church, too.
Pope Francis doesn’t merely leave us with bleak thoughts on what a problem this epidemic of loneliness is. He has also spoken about how it can be overcome firstly by turning to God for help.
6. “We need the mercy, the consolation that comes from the Lord. All of us need it. This is our poverty but also our grandeur: to plead for the consolation of God, who in his tenderness comes to wipe the tears from our eyes.”
We should run to God when we’re beset with these powerful feelings of loneliness. In him, we find consolation and comfort.
On another occasion, Pope Francis also spoke about how part of the solution to this epidemic of loneliness can be found in family life. The pontiff said that families “free us from the sea of loneliness and indifference, so that we can all experience the freedom of being children of God.”
He says that people can try to compensate for a lack of family life with other tactics.
Pope Francis specifically mentions attempting to use pets to replace a family. However, his words could probably be applied to other substitutions as well.
7. “It might be better – more comfortable – to have a dog and two cats. All the love is focused on the cats and the dog. Am I right or wrong here? Have you seen it? At the end of this marriage, comes old age and loneliness.”
If you’re a Catholic single suffering from loneliness, you should be searching for a person to spend your life with. Although this discernment isn’t easy, it’s a good endeavor. Discerning marriage with someone can lead to much deeper happiness than a temporary fix ever could.
But even though a spouse is good, there is an even deeper solution. At the root of the loneliness experienced by men and women today is a desire for Christ. The answer to that desire is found in the Gospel message, according to the words of Pope Francis.
8. “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept His offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness, and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”
Knowing that living our lives for God will lead to our happiness doesn’t necessarily mean that each day of our life will be fantastically rosy and joy-filled.
If you’re a person who’s struggling with feelings of loneliness, take these emotions to the Lord. Find an adoration chapel in a church nearby and ask Christ, present in the Eucharist, to remind you of your human dignity. Ask Jesus to show you how he loves you, and know that he desires to be with you during this season of your life.
As these Pope Francis quotes reminds us, it’s only through Christ that we can ever truly find lasting relief from the sadness that this world often brings us.