I was listening to someone a time ago when I was giving a parish Mission talk of their long experience of a deep and painful loneliness. In fact, he expressed his one time deep-seated feeling that no matter how many people he was around, at the core of his soul he felt alone, isolated, not understood, his depths dismissed, like he was drowning in a sea of superficiality. He said he concluded, after seeking professional counsel, that he was not suffering from clinical depression and so began a “philosophical faith-journey” to try to resolve this tangled knot.
We then began what was for me a deeply insightful discussion of how a person of faith can bring Christ to bear practically on such a sense of loneliness.
He said his final resolution to this painful state of affairs was achieved only through great struggle, but in the end the answer was disarmingly simple: only Christ could remedy his dis-ease through prayer; real, gut-level prayer; and especially Real Presence centered prayer found in the silence of solitude. He became convinced, after dedicating, on the advice of a priest, an hour each week to Eucharistic Adoration for several months, that the tensions embedded in the Eucharist between Christ’s sacramental presence and absence, visibility and hiddenness, appearance and disguise, plainness and glory allowed him to be fully honest and brutally real about the panoply of the feelings and struggles that were part of his restless quest for meaning.
Really a new and jarring thought to me — brilliantly relating an ancient truth in a manner so in keeping with the zeitgeist of this restless age of doubt and felt alienation.
We also mused on the fact that the Eucharist contains Christ precisely in the moment of His own abandonment on the Cross, for are not the bread and wine at the Last Supper transformed precisely beneath the force of the words of Jesus describing those upcoming awful paschal hours spent in dark faith, trusting hope and surrendering love? “…took bread…gave it…my Body, given up…drink of it…my Blood, poured out…” This led us to further insight: loneliness and alone-ness are also a call to love beyond the self, to trust, to surrender, to give. He affirmed that his loneliness was also rooted in a certain narcissism that severed him from the life-giving power other-centered service.
Precisely from his sense of abandonment on the Cross, Christ intensified His love to its highest and supremely selfless degree. And in the Eucharist, we receive this graced capacity from Christ, drop by drop, to embark on the Passover exodus from I to Thou.
My conversationalist said this hard-won insight transformed his loneliness into longing, and his alienation into reconciliation.
In the words of Dom Hubert Van Zeller, “What the soul hardly realizes is that, unbeliever or not, his loneliness is really a homesickness for God.”