GROWING UP CATHOLIC | Dorothy Day and the problem of loneliness

Feeling lonely? Well, you have company. In recent surveys, a full three quarters of the population admits to struggling with loneliness.

Dorothy Day, whom I admire tremendously, titled her autobiography "The Long Loneliness." In it, she wrote about how she frequently struggled with feeling alone. For instance, she described weeping in her bed each night after having moved out of the family house to attend college. She was desolate at not being able to hold her baby brother in her arms. During her young adulthood, she lost her religious faith, and one of the results she describes is the loss of community and the intensification of loneliness. She became a political radical, bringing her even closer to the ugliness of life when she was jailed or mistreated. One day while in prison, she says, "the futility of life came over me so that I could not weep but lie there in blank misery."

The long loneliness affects all of us, and the first lesson that Day teaches is that, if you are lonely, it isn't your fault. There's nothing wrong with you. Life is a search for a communion of love, a pilgrimage into the Body of Christ, but we aren't there yet and so even if we have moments when we feel intensely connected to God and each other, there will also be moments when we feel alienated.

We feel this loneliness even in church. This hasn't ceased to surprise me about our faith. I expect to always feel close to God, close to those around me in the pews, and have an intimate feeling of the presence of the Holy Spirit, but that isn't always how it is. For instance, on Holy Saturday there's a shocking loneliness in the sight of the tabernacle opened up and entirely empty, the red sanctuary lamp, which usually flickers like a reminder of home, extinguished. It's the abandonment of the cross. Even Our Lord made the long, lonely trip to the grave.

Of course, we know the ending to the story, that Our Lord burst forth from the grave in the company of the saints, and we will all one day be reunited. But still, there are times when God seems to be absent. This might be because we aren't paying close enough attention, or it might be because He has descended to the depths of death to fight Satan on our behalf. It might be because He is gently beckoning us into a closer relationship with Him.

This means that each of us, like Dorothy Day, is in the midst of a long loneliness. Don't let it overcome you. Instead see it as the heroic challenge of a lifetime to grow in faith and find your way closer to God, each step closer to His loving arms.

Father Rennier is parochial administrator of Epiphany of Our Lord Parish in St. Louis. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision for the reception of Anglicans and Episcopalians into full communion with the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Amber, have five children. 

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