When I entered the seminary, people would often ask me, “Aren’t you going to be lonely?” No wife or kids, a parish out in the country—won’t you be lonely? Little did they know that my schedule would be occupied by invitations to parishioners’ homes and to huge parties in my backyard (St. Joe’s picnic, this afternoon!). Even when I come home, there is someone to talk to: Father Chrismer and I can talk about our days and about whether Radiohead is better than Coldplay.
I see why Jesus sent the apostles out two-by-two. They would need each other—need each other for support and encouragement. And having two go out together would also mean a greater diversity of spiritual gifts. Perhaps one apostle was good at intercessory prayer while another was good at teaching. There could be a complementariness there that would make them stronger and better off than if they were simply lone rangers.
And it makes sense that our Lord would send out more than one. After all, God is love, so we would expect His heralds to be not only mouthpieces to speak about love, but to actually manifest it. Going two-by-two would become a visible witness to relationship: they would be in communion with each other and with the God who sent them. And this would add credibility to their proclamation.
Marriage exists in this dynamic, too. The husband and wife are joined together in divine love on their wedding day and they are sent out—as one, as a communion—not so that they can build an island, but so that they could forge a new community, a community that would have the power to drive out even the demons! The mission given in marriage would require the totality of their complementarity of gifts and their mutual support and encouragement. Like the apostles, every marriage has the potential and indeed the mission to announce the love of God to the world.
The crux is this: just because we are with people doesn’t keep us from being lonely.
Right now in the pews next to you—and maybe sitting next to you, sharing your same last name—there is sitting someone who feels alone. And there could be many reasons: maybe they don’t feel that communion with you or with others or with God; maybe there is pain there; maybe they are having a difficulty believing something about the faith; maybe they are actually alone, living in a word of day-in and day-out where no one really knows anyone beyond what is posted on the bumper-sticker in the car in front or on Facebook when you get home.
I think in particular of so many young adults of this parish who are want to be united in community and especially with people their own age, united in faith and in a common cause and in joy. But where are these young adults? Some of them are here; others are not. Many of them with whom I speak are trying to make sense of their post-college years, trying to figure things out on their own. And because they are seeking to figure things out on their own, they have their own island-lives. Perhaps we can do something about this. Perhaps if we could start going in search for them and start to build a community for them—for there is a wisdom that you can give to them. (And just because you have gray hair doesn’t mean that you can’t speak to a person with brown hair! Indeed, precisely because you are older means that you have the responsibility to initiate the relationship! You know better than they!)
People need to know that they are not alone. I mean, so many people think they are alone in their pain or alone in their fears or struggles with the faith. I mean, do you really believe you are the only one who is going to work and must struggle with people talking about various hot-topics that are contrary to the Church? We’re all struggling with that!
And not only in these, but even in our alone-ness, we are never alone. Do you remember Jesus’ final words? His final words as He was physically walking the face of the earth came at His Ascension. He said, “I am with you always.”
Now, He is going up into heaven at this point. The apostles could be looking up saying, “Wait, where are you going? Don’t leave us…. alone! We can’t do it on our own!”
You see, Jesus knows that we fear being alone. And so He promises that He is with us. Indeed, when He sends us out in community, in two-by-two, it would be a reminder that we are never alone.
This is also why Jesus tells them to go out without an extra tunic, without a walking staff, without a sack, and without money. What do I mean?
Well, imagine the two apostles going out from here. They may get along. But perhaps they don’t. Perhaps Peter and Thomas get on each others’ nerves—as we all tend to do, especially on road-trips. And so maybe they aren’t best-buddies. And now they are going out without any extra clothes, without any money, without any place to sleep. They have become totally dependent not only on each other, but on God.
Now, they don’t have to be dependent on God. They could go and take a walking stick and tell Jesus He is crazy and carry with them some money. It would make sense. But Jesus is making them profoundly vulnerable. And this vulnerability comes out not only when they are walking with nothing but the Gospel and each other, but in that moment before bed when Peter is by himself and Thomas is by himself and they quietly confide to God all that they do have: namely, their hearts.
“Lord, I am afraid.”
“God, please help me. I can’t do this on my own.”
“Father, why you have abandoned me?”
“Jesus, I feel so alone….”
As they confide their thoughts, feelings, and desires to God, they will start to see that they are not alone. And not only that, but that God is going to provide for them. And not just “enough,” but super-abundantly. Remember the loaves and fishes: Jesus didn’t simply make “just enough,” He made enough for left-overs; His grace was super-abundant. The apostles, in that moment of alone-ness, would face the moment of decision: where am I going to go when I am feeling alone and restless? They don't have anything else-- and that not-having has opened up the opportunity for them: to choose God ... or nothing. That's what it all comes down to.
Yes, there is fear there. Every person fears being alone. It’s why, when we climb into the car, the first thing we do (besides starting the car) is turning on the radio. It’s why we busy our lives and work so much. It’s why we turn on the TV or fly to the internet when we are home alone, telling people on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and whoever will listen what our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and desires are. We do anything but lean into that loneliness—because we don’t want to feel what is there in that moment: that in that moment we are faced with the question of whether or not we are known and loved. And every person has deep within them the desire to be known and loved. And maybe we aren’t known and loved, we think. Maybe I am... alone. Loneliness is the symptom wherein we have begun to believe that we are not loved, that we are not known, that no one cares to be with us.
To which Jesus says again, “I am with you.”
I know all the hairs on your head.
I am closer to you than you are to yourself.
I love you more than you love yourself.
Do you not believe me?
When we busy ourselves, we are saying to Jesus: No, I do not believe you. I don’t believe that I am loved or lovable or that you care to know me. I mean, Jesus, where were you when I was hurting? Where were you when the world was crumbling down around me? Where were you…?
This is actually the reverse of God’s question to Adam and Eve in the Garden. God asked them: “Where are you?”
He is the Good Shepherd, remember? He is searching for us—more than we search for Him.
Yes, we have to let Him in. He is the one knocking on our door of our hearts. We have to put away the walking stick, the extra tunic, the money bag—all the stuff that we busy ourselves with… and let Him in and talk with God. Because you are not alone. You’ve never been alone.
* * *
I have two practical thoughts.
First, at the end of every day, make an act of faith—“Jesus, I believe that you were here with me today”—and then ask Him to show you where He was. And say it to Him, because He is with you right now.
Along those lines, I encourage you—if you have had a painful moment in your life when you felt so alone, I want you to bring that to Jesus. Look at that moment in your life and see yourself there and ask Jesus to show you where He was. I recall one moment in my childhood when I was very, very anxious, pacing the dark hallway of my home and then just sitting there, wondering. My world was crumbling down around me and I felt so alone. As I look back on that moment with an adult faith, I present it to Jesus: “Jesus, show me what you were doing in that moment.” And I see Him there, holding me, and Mary, my mother, placing her mantle around me, and my guardian angel, filling the hallway with light, and the saints praying for me. I was not alone.
What do you need to bring to Him?
The next practical bit of advice I would have is this: remember that you are always walking in the presence of God. St. Francis de Sales would start all of his prayers by saying, “Let us remember that we are in the presence of God.” Wouldn’t this be wonderful? Whenever you start a new task at your job or in your home, remind yourself that Jesus is there with you—and speak to Him, tell Him what you need, what you are afraid of, or simply tell Him that you love Him. Does He not have a heart that has felt loneliness before?
Here, I remember the picnic last night. All of the people at the bar, many having more beer than they know they should, filling their lonely hearts… Wouldn’t things be different if they know that Mary was with them? And their guardian angels! And Jesus in each one of them.
I told those who went to confession yesterday to offer a couple Hail Mary’s for all who would be at the bar last night—that our Blessed Mother and our guardian angels would tap on the shoulder anyone who needed to stop drinking. To remind them that they are not alone.
[To be fair-- and my apologies for not having mentioned this in the homily-- I am truly grateful to Dave and Dee I. for their outstanding job in this regard. They and the staff there had the most responsible and respectable tent at any parish I've been at]
Want to go deeper? Check out this amazing post on the topic.