Gathering newspapers one evening for recycling, I came upon an article I had saved to read when I had time. The topic was loneliness. I stopped and sat down to read it.
Loneliness afflicts people of all ages, but it can be harder for those in midlife and beyond. Couples whose children are grown no longer have the connections with other families that form when the kids are young. Single adults also can feel alone and uncertain about how to make new connections.
As a single adult myself, I started thinking about the situation and what to do about it. The article I read offered good suggestions, such as starting a conversation with persons one sees frequently, for example, while taking a walk; using websites dedicated to finding friends locally; and using phone calls, email and texting to keep existing friendships alive and active. I thought, too, of a form of communication I need to revive in my own life: The handwritten letter or a note that brings so much joy to the friend or relative who pulls it out of the mailbox.
There’s another wellspring of friendship that needs to be remembered and used: one’s parish church. I had a heart-lifting reminder recently of how strong the bonds are that can form among people who attend Mass together.
My efforts to dodge the pandemic had been successful until a few weeks ago, when I came down with Covid. Thankfully I was not very ill, but I had to quarantine for a while, so of course I couldn’t go out and shop for food. I also could not attend Mass, where I’m a lector a few days a week. The word spread that I was down with the virus, and the women I see almost daily were concerned. They wanted to make sure that I had everything I needed, especially food. Several women (and the husband of one) shopped for me and delivered groceries to my door. They phoned me to find out how I was feeling and ask what I needed. Their concern was obvious and their warmth was reassuring and even healing. Friendship is more than a connection between kindred spirits and a source of joy. It is also good medicine.
One of the special benefits of friendship among parishioners is that it’s rooted in something deeper than common interests. It is grounded in shared faith, a commitment to the Church and the spiritual life that we share through the sacraments. When we are at church together we are connected by grace with the life of God himself. That’s a bond that continues to unite us not just in church but after we walk out the church door.
Sidelined as I was, I had time to think about all of this, and to reflect on the difference that parish membership makes in the lives of those who participate in it. Being part of a parish is a blessing, and it conveys a special benefit on those who live alone. The Lord who is at the center of parish life often shows his love for us through the members of our community of faith.
I also recalled a story told by Father Benedict Groeschel, C.F.R., the late author and a founder of the Community of Franciscans of the Renewal. Early in his religious life he met Father Isidore Kennedy, an Irish-born Capuchin in his 70s who had often been stationed alone in remote desert areas of the United States. Father Isidore—whom Father Benedict had observed rapt in prayer—told Father Benedict, then a Capuchin novice, that he had never been lonely in those outposts because of the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
The reception of the Eucharist brings us into communion, literally, with Christ. When we do something to help someone who is in need, it isn’t just comfort or kindness or soup that we bring them. It is Christ. That is what I experienced, and it’s why I thank God for my friends and the parish that feeds our souls.