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Valentine’s Day is difficult when you are single. I know that all too well, and I keep all single people in my thoughts and prayers on this day when love and romance are celebrated and loneliness and yearning are cast in darker, sharper shadow.
I’m not going to tell anybody not to feel sad or lonely or broken-hearted. It is only human to feel these things. Remember, however, that such things are only part of the ephemeral world, which is passing so quickly. They are not part of the eternal life that God wishes to share with us even, to some degree, while we are here in the world. As such, we should never let ourselves become fixated on them. Feel them, yes–and then offer them up. Today is Friday, right? Make it part of your Friday penance and your remembrance of the Lord’s Passion. Take those feelings and lay them at the foot of the Cross. Lift up your broken heart to the Crucified Lord and ask Him to make it whole. He will do it.
Instead of dwelling on what you lack, take some time to remember all of the many great blessings and wonders God has filled your life with. Remember that no person loves you and cherishes you more than God does. Let your heart be full of love and gratitude for Him. Also let your heart be full of love and gratitude for the people who are in your life: family members, friends, colleagues, teachers and mentors. The love we share with these people may not be as thrilling as romantic love, but it is generally more constant and loyal, every day of the year. There are also many, many people out in the world who are even more lonely and hurting and unloved than we are–even if they may not appear to be so. Look kindly on every person you meet. You never know how much good a smile or a hello might do for them–and for you too.
Know that you are not truly alone. I know that sometimes it feels like you are the only single person in the whole world on Valentine’s Day. You’re not. Your bonds with others who are in the same situation may span time and space–but they are there. This is especially true for Christians. We are never alone. No matter how isolated and alienated we might feel, the Church never fails to include us in her loving, universal embrace. We have people in Heaven, in Purgatory, and on Earth who share the familial bonds of the Church. None of them are ignorant of what we are going through and how we are feeling.
Have a happy and blessed day!
[Apologies in advance for any lack of coherence in this post. It’s big-time allergy season, and I’ve been rather head-swimmy lately.]
I am still reading Elisabeth Leseur’s diary; the copy I have is My Spirit Rejoices: the Diary of a Christian Soul in an Age of Unbelief, published by Sophia Institute Press in 1996.
Rarely has my soul felt such affinity with another as it does with Mme. Leseur! Sometimes, in reading her diary, I almost feel like I’m reading my own. It’s strange, but in reading her self-expressions, I find expression for myself also. I often feel that she has captured in words things that I wish I could capture in words.
But just as often, however, and perhaps more often, I realize that these words are the words of a far wiser, stronger, more mature soul than my own. They convict me of my own weakness. But never in a scolding way… more in an encouraging, exhorting way. She says to me, “You can overcome just as I have by the grace of God. You are not as weak as you think.”
Here are some excerpts I came across this morning. They are from her entries of December 1901 and February and March 1902:
It is a suffering from God, which I offer to Him, that among all the beloved friends surrounding me, I should have no one to whom I might open my heart in saying to him or her, “Look,” and who might understand and help me.
But perhaps to hear one’s ideas and beliefs perpetually criticized, to know them misunderstood, to have prejudice and ignorance against one, is to some extent to suffer persecution for justice’s sake.
A bad spell for more than a month: bodily fatigue, domestic troubles, and, worse than that, a kind of sadness and moral apathy, a lack of the fervor and inner joy that God has sometimes given me so abundantly. And yet not for one moment has my will ceased to belong to Him; duty has cost me dearly, but it has not ceased to be duty.
… Many things to reform: pride, the tendency to delay in getting to work, to let days slip away; to allow myself to be invaded by outward excitements. And yet I have an immense need of calm and of interior life. God alone knows what difficulty I sometimes have in overcoming certain physical and moral miseries in order to arrive at that complete possession of myself, at that Christian serenity that nothing can disturb.
I have a great task before me, and nothing human to help me fulfill it. Perhaps one day I shall have the great joy of seeing my faith, which is my whole life, understood and shared by those and by him whom I love so much. As it is, all that my soul holds of desires, fervor, and tenderness much remain enclosed within itself and poured out only before God. Whatever suffering this entails, I offer for the souls who are so dear to me. Nothing is lost, not one grief or one tear.
When I read these passages, I could feel and recognize and understand the sufferings Elisabeth must have been experiencing. That loneliness and isolation from others, that helplessness to reach them, and that malaise that tends to flood in as a result. The fact is that such difficulties are part of a Christian’s life. We are in the world, but not of it. Many of our loved ones, unfortunately, are perfectly content to be of the world.
Not long ago, I was trying to tell a dear loved one about difficulties I was having in my life, specifically about difficulties I was having in persevering in my faith. This was somebody who does not share my faith, but to whom I am very close otherwise. Somebody I deeply trust and can generally talk to about anything. But when it came to matters of faith, I felt like there was such a brick wall between us! I needed so badly to share my experiences with another person–but even the closest and dearest could not understand or empathize with me. It was like a sword through the heart!
Her response, which is only logical for someone who does not understand and share my faith, was simply: “If it is so difficult, then why don’t you give it up? Find some other way of living that will make you happy and put you at ease. Why waste your time and energy on something that doesn’t make you happy and that causes you so much pain?”
At the time I was utterly nonplussed in trying to respond to that. To explain why I couldn’t simply give up on my faith even if it wasn’t easy to live with at times.
An analogy crossed my mind: that of giving up on a spouse or close relative or dear friend when he or she became difficult to live with–even if the difficulty was fleeting. But then I realized that in our society, people seem pretty comfortable with doing just that! Summarily giving up on others when things stop being lovey-dovey and happy-clappy. Abandoning duty in favor of comfort. All you have to do is look at the ruined state of marriage and the family to see how such ideas have permeated our society. And if people are quick to give up on other people, then they are even quicker to give up on God and the faith!
I realized how vastly different were the worldviews of this dear person and myself. And in the end, all I could do was cry to God. Cry to Him and at the same time reaffirm my dedication to Him–my duty to Him.
Elisabeth often writes of duty. Duty to God, and on account of that duty to God, duty to other people and to society as a whole as well. Perhaps the most pervasive problem with our society is that it has lost all sense of duty.
Coincidentally (if there is such a thing as coincidence), this evening I was unwinding with some food and watching some anime. I’m in the middle of the series Samurai Champloo. And at one point, one of the characters utters this line:
When duty goes out of style, the world will be nothing but darkness.
I think it’s a very fitting summary for my above ramblings, and so I will end on that note. :)
This is a slightly revised re-post of something I originally wrote on 2 April 2008.
What was it about today? I think it actually started yesterday. April. April is a difficult month for me. Whenever the anniversary of Pope John Paul’s death comes, the anniversary of Patrick’s death isn’t very far behind. They’re like book-ends to the month of April. And everything in-between is colored by loss and by grief and by profound loneliness.
I thought, I hoped, that this year might be different. But at the very core of things, it isn’t.
I tried to just stick it out [at work], to just turn my mind to other things, to pray… but it was impossible. I felt like a trapped animal. Just like I did in those early days. Panic. Rage. Aching to cry, aching to scream, aching to break down in tears–anything to let out my pain! But not being able. Not there. Not in front of other people.
Finally, I went outside. I wanted to be alone… but I didn’t want to feel lonely. And lonely is what I felt. The sky was misty and grey, just barely holding back its rain, just as I was barely holding back my tears. It was quiet, and the wind was soft–not an invigorating wind. There were unusually few people out. The world seemed empty. I just began to walk.
I walked from the library all the way to the art museum–a pretty fair walk. The whole time, I was trying to pray… trying to pray… but my emotions got the best of me. What did my grief counselor used to tell me? “God knows you better than you know yourself, so you shouldn’t try to hide your feelings, even if you feel angry at Him.” And I did feel angry at Him, just as I used to. And I didn’t hide it. But I was more despondent than angry. And more lonely than anything. I even had moments of shock they way I used to–when I would stop, completely dumbfounded, and ask, “Is this really my life? Can this really be my life? How on earth could this happen?”
I climbed the steps up to the sort of elevated plaza that wraps around the front of the museum. It was very empty, and the sky seemed very large. Still that flat, opaque light grey. It looked much colder than it was. I walked all the way around the building. Along the sides are pretty little plantings with pretty little fountains. All kinds of shrubs and herbs and flowers and trees. I never noticed them before. Normally, they would have filled me with all kinds of delight… but I was just on the margins today. Just barely catching the fragrances and the sounds and the colors.
Until I saw the yellow tulip. I was drawn by the little spot of bright yellow. I walked over to it. I found that it actually looked rather tired and sad and lonely. There were other tulip plants around it, but none had flowers. I sat down on the ledge beside the tulip. I looked at it, and it waved its weary petals at me. I understood it. It was all alone in that still, grey world, with nobody who could relate to it, nobody who could understand what it was going through. Even though I could sit with it and look at it lovingly, there was really nothing I could do for it. Awkwardly, I said, “Don’t worry, little tulip. The others will soon grow and bloom. God will provide for you. I know you can’t see it now, but He will.”
Then, sadly, I stood up and began the walk back to the library. And both the tulip and I were just as sad and lonely as we’d been before. If I could have, I would have brought the tulip up from its bed and carried it with me. But that wouldn’t have been right at all. It would have only hurt the tulip, maybe inflicted an early, painful death. I could do nothing. I had to entrust the tulip to God and His providence.
And then, just as I had spoken to the tulip, I heard a voice speaking to me:
If you know that I will provide for the little tulip, why do you fear that I will not provide for you, my own cherished daughter? If your heart feels compassion for it, do you think I do not feel for my own child? The tulip is not my own child. The tulip is something I made for you.
And that… that changed everything! I felt peace and calm. I felt like the world was right once more, and that I was fully part of it. I also felt terribly ashamed of myself and my earlier behavior and crazy emotions. But He laughed it off, and sent me on my way. The office was quiet and calm when I got back. Suddenly, it was pretty much just like any other day.
Only, I don’t get to hear His voice like that every day. Not like that. It made this day special. And that was the most shocking thing of all!
I think I shall have to go visit my tulip each day now, to see how it is faring. I know I probably shouldn’t get attached… but, of course, it’s already too late for that!
Loneliness is a part of all our lives from time to time, regardless of our state in life. Being a single person, I find it to be more of a constant than I would like. So, I have sought, and found, some wonderful ways of combatting loneliness by prayer and by the help of some of our beloved friends in Heaven!
The first is this beautiful jewel of a prayer to that beautiful jewel of a Saint, Raphael the Archangel. St. Raphael has a rather vast patronage, but thanks to his role in The Book of Tobit, he is best known as Patron Saint of Happy Meetings, and is considered a special patron by single people looking for spouses. He can help lead us into all kinds of relationships, however, with all kinds of people: friends, relatives, coworkers, religious communities, etc. If it is a relationship we seek, St. Raphael is there to help!
O Raphael, lead us toward those we are waiting for, those who are waiting for us! Raphael, Angel of Happy Meetings, lead us by the hand toward those we are looking for! May all our movements, all their movements, be guided by your light and transfigured by your Joy. Angel Guide of Tobias, lay the request we now address to you at the feet of Him on whose unveiled Face you are privileged to gaze. Lonely and tired, crushed by the separations and sorrows of Earth, we feel the need of calling to you and of pleading for the protection of your wings, so that we may not be as strangers in the Province of Joy, all ignorant of the concerns of our country. Remember the weak, you who are strong–you whose home lies beyond the region of thunder, in a land that is always peaceful, always serene, and bright with the resplendent glory of God. Amen.
The Church has also given us St. Rita of Cascia as Patron Saint Against Loneliness. I haven’t found a specific prayer to her against loneliness, but I do often call upon her prayers and assistance. St. Rita is well-known as a “Saint of the Impossible,” among other things. She certainly lived through her share of tragedy, loss, and seemingly desperate circumstances–but she never lost her faith and her trust. She is a wonderful role-model for us all.
Last, but certainly not least, there are our guardian angels, who are our constant companions every moment of every day and, indeed, for all eternity! Each one of them is unique, and each one is assigned by God exclusively to one human being–this should make us feel very special and very loved! I think we often forget our guardian angels, especially as we grow up. We may even think of them as childhood fantasies, like imaginary friends. Or, we may think of them in warm, fuzzy New Age terms. But the Church, following Jewish tradition, teaches that they are very real and very powerful, far surpassing human beings in their nature. They are neither imaginary friends nor warm, fuzzy New Age creatures. But in their strict obedience to God, they do love, care for, guide, and protect their human charges with great devotion. And we can, and should, think of them as very special and very dear friends. As such, we should strive to form real, personal relationships with them. When I am feeling lonely, it always helps to remember that I have a very remarkable companion who is all my own and who is unlike any other person on Earth or in Heaven!
All of this, of course, is thanks to our great Lord–He is so good, so generous, and so wise! He provides for our every need and supports our every weakness. Ultimately, He is responsible for healing our loneliness. Angels and Saints and other human beings are His agents. He knows that we need them, even though He is always there for us. Sometimes, I’m tempted to feel guilty for feeling lonely when I know God is there for me. But then I remember the story of Adam in the Garden of Eden. Adam lived in the presence of God, and yet he still needed somebody like himself–a fellow creature, a fellow human being. God created us with that need. He provided for Adam, and He continues to provide for us. He never abandons us, not to loneliness or to anything else. So we needn’t ever despair!