Were you ever lonely as a child? If so, do you remember how often? A while back, I saw some students at our school waiting to be picked up by their parents; they were the last ones to be picked up, and there were very few of them. It reminded me of the times when I was at school and didn’t have many friends. And then I remember that I had very few birthday parties to go to, and was bored and empty during the summer. I felt so left out.
Here’s a chart from the American National Family Life Survey showing how childhood loneliness is increasing greatly, and that it’s a strong predictor for adult loneliness:
Please identify to what generation you belong, and roughly how often you felt lonely, and then notice the increase in succeeding generations.
We’re obviously continuing with our theme of relationships, and we see different kinds of community in the Readings today. We see St. Paul and St. Barnabas living their mission of evangelization together: They journey by boat from Perga to Antioch, they go to the synagogue together, preach together, and, the next day, are driven out of the town together.
It’s bizarre that most of us do our spiritual journey individually. But this isn’t what Jesus wants. Jesus founded the Catholic Church, which is a community of disciples. He sent His disciples in pairs (Lk 10:1), and prayed that we be one (Jn 17:21).
There are four reasons why we need a local church family, and why, generally speaking, we shouldn’t parish hop (Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, 132-135). It’s good when we go to another parish in order to participate at Mass! However, we should prioritize one community.
1) A church family identifies you as a genuine believer. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have loose associations with one another.” Sorry, wrong translation. “… if you have love for one another.” What kind of love for one another is Jesus talking about? Do you actually think the world looks at our parish and says, “Wow! You must be Christian, by the way you love each other!”? But when they see committed love, then they will know.
2) The Body of Christ needs you. Because each person has a gift from God to share, we have a responsibility to use it for others in the body. The Catholic Church is a real family, a dysfunctional one, but still a family, and we have a responsibility to our family.
I found it fascinating to learn that the New Testament uses the phrase ‘each other’ over 50 times! E.g. Love each other, pray for each other, encourage each other, admonish each other, etc. And this doesn’t mean ‘love all people in the world.’ It’s referring to Christians making sure they love each other.
3) Together, we share in Christ’s mission. When Jesus was on earth, God worked through Jesus’ physical body. Now He works through Jesus’ mystical body, that is, us. Jesus’ mission to the world happens through us as a community.
Do you remember the Dead Sea analogy? The Dead Sea has no life in it because water only goes in but never out. Spiritually, if we only receive and never give, we die.
4) A church family keeps you from backsliding. St. Benedict, in his rule, says there are four types of monks and the best are the Cenobites, who live in community. Yet even better are hermits, who have built up strength in a community and are now ready for individual combat with the devil. Very few of us are strong enough to fight the devil on our own. We need a community to hold us accountable. And when we fall, we need people to pick us up.
So, how can we slowly strengthen our relationships? All of our ministries are partly there so that we can experience healthy relationships.
Alpha is for everyone, and it’s a place of welcoming, where no one is judged. And there’s no commitment, because it’s the beginning of a spiritual journey. Faith Studies has a six to ten-week commitment, so that people can share in a deeper way. And Ricky, our Director of Community, has now started four Life Groups, which are all about a long-term commitment to spiritual relationships. Even if there’s no activity to be done, the group still meets every two weeks to pray together and share. To join, one has to be a disciple, that is, one has consciously made Jesus the centre of one’s life, because, at this level, the sharing and accountability are very deep.
I hope that all people can have beautiful relationships through these groups, but our mission is much deeper. We’re not a community centre. Our vision is to have a relationship with Jesus, and share Him with everyone! Alpha’s specific gift is that it allows us to start to have this relationship, where we can ask questions about it, and express our doubts and desires. Faith Studies’ gift is helping us put Jesus at the centre of our life, and then building this relationship.
In the Second Reading, it says, “After this I, John, looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Rev 7:9). St. John is having a vision of heaven, and sees all the saints praising Jesus as a community. This is important because people ask if they can see their family and friends in heaven. The answer is yes.
This is great news, but it leads to important questions: What if we couldn’t see other people in heaven? Would we still be lonely? What if we were only with God? Would we then be unsatisfied? It’s understandable that, when we’re young, we’re worried about being alone in heaven. But, as we mature, we should get to a point where God satisfies us, where we never feel lonely because He’s with us.
Jesus says today, “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30). This is the perfect community, that of the Trinity. All that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have, They give to each other. That’s why God is never lonely, because perfection itself is loving perfectly. This is also why Jesus said to His apostles, the night before He died, “The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, every man to his home, and will leave me alone; yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me” (Jn 16:32).
Even if we have a good community, it’s possible that we’ll still feel moments of loneliness because we desire a deep connection that only Jesus can fill. And eventually, our family and friends will die. But we’ll never feel lonely if we have the same closeness that Jesus has with the Father.
When you go through moments of loneliness, go to the chapel, where Jesus is waiting. If you want to come in the evening, you can get the code to the side door from the Welcome Booth or by calling our Parish Office.
For someone who was, at times, very lonely as a child and needed other people to fill the hole in my heart, it’s a miracle that I feel lonely maybe once a year. And those few times I do, I go to adoration and, within an hour or two, I feel so close to Jesus and He fills my heart to the point of overflowing, where I’m so happy.
Jesus wants us to have deep relationships with each other, and, most of all, with Him.