We now that solitude, whatever its cause, can allow us to become more aware of the Lord’s presence, but almost all of us worry to some degree about loneliness. We’ve all experienced it and would readily agree that — even though there are times when we need and want to be alone — it’s part of our human nature to be sociable and to spend time with others.
Solitude is often seen as a problem to be solved, an emptiness to be filled, or a fate to be avoided. Indeed, sometimes it is all of these things. But solitude can also be the garden, weeded, cultivated, and tilled, from which the Lord brings forth a rich spiritual harvest. If we’re feeling lonely, maybe that’s a sign that we need to be with someone — or maybe it’s an opportunity to remind ourselves that Jesus is with us.
Many of the saints greatly desired solitude, and we can easily admire (although probably not imitate) their fidelity in living as hermits, monks, or cloistered religious (that is, religious brothers and sisters who have little or no contact with the outside world).
But except for those called to be hermits, a solitary life is not an attractive one; even saints can experience loneliness. St. Thomas More spent fifteen months in solitary confinement after being arrested for treason by King Henry VIII. This must have been a terrible ordeal for someone as outgoing and family-oriented as he was, but it did not cause him to renounce his Faith.
The great scholar St. Thomas Aquinas, who spent many hours alone studying and writing, once remarked, “No possession is joyous without a companion,” and further stated, “Notwithstanding the beasts and the plants [in gardens], one can be lonely there.”
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