Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Alone but not lonely

“Get used to it for it is just a foretaste”, was my priest-friend’s short but substantial advice as I shared to him my situation during the coming two-month vacation here in Carcaixent, Valencia, Spain. For the months of July and August, I am staying in San Antonio de Padua Parish, one of the three parishes that constitute the town of Carcaixent. Together with another two valenciano priests, my pastoral assignment consists simply in celebrating the Holy Eucharist in three churches and the Confession.

With the word “foretaste”, my friend, Fr. Carlos, a Peruvian priest (who is going back to Perú this month as he has finished his licentiate in Philosophy already), was referring to the fact that I am residing alone in the parish. I have to do my own laundry, cook my own food, do a few household chores and follow my own schedule.

As a visiting priest, I am not given pastoral responsibility like Catechism, etc. Besides, activities in the parish here are reduced during summer due to various reasons: less people come to the Church (as many are on vacations in other places), the scourging summer heat (one day it reaches up to 40 degrees celcius), etc.

* * *

“Most of the time you will be alone. This is our life,” Fr. Carlos added. And I agree. A priest’s life, although it is a public life (which means, it is a life directed towards others, a life for the service of the community), is basically a life of solitude. And by solitude, I am referring to the practical existence of living alone. The deeper this truth is understood, the better it is embraced and lived.

In the first place, solitude is not synonymous to loneliness. Hence, the famous saying “Alone but not lonely”. Why? Because solitude here is simply physical and apparent. Being alone here simply refers to the fact that physically, I have no other human being to interact with.

But I can always evoke the presence of God in my aloneness. I can always talk to Him and, although I can hardly feel physically His presence, by faith, I am sure He is with me (as He promised He would). Therefore, never I am all alone. My solitude is simply apparent.

* * *

Besides, loneliness is a matter of choice, in the same way that one is happy is he chooses to. Loneliness does not spring necessarily from being alone. There are people who enjoy being alone that with others. Moreover, there are lonely people who are surrounded by lots of company.

I’d say loneliness is a temptation, and as such, it is an opportunity. When one experiences a heavy heart upon realizing that he or she is alone, or upon reminiscing some joyful experiences in the past, he or she is given two options: (a) let oneself be weighed down by such sadness, or (b) employ such affection as a means to do something good.

In my experience, I have learned to employ the feeling of loneliness and melancholy (that sometimes haunt us without desiring it) as an “alarm clock”. For instance, the melancholic feeling of missing my friends could be a reminder for me to pray for these persons. One “Our Father” for that friend, or a “Hail Mary” for this fellow, not only would help me ease the loneliness, but also gave me the joy of having prayed for them.

I call it human industry, not just a defense mechanism. The feeling of loneliness and melancholy is simply temporary and does not actually linger for a long time. Hence, we can make good use of them as our “alarm clock”. Whenever they occur to us, we are given the opportunity – we are reminded – to evoke the presence of God, to pray for the people for whom we want to pray, and to realize that, in fact, we may alone but never lonely.

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"Sacerdotes, 'consagrados en la Verdad'"

Estar inmersos en la Verdad, en Cristo, de este proceso forma parte
la oración, en la que nos ejercitamos en la amistad con Él y aprendemos a
conocerle: su forma de ser, de pensar, de actuar. Rezar es un caminar en
comunión personal con Cristo, exponiendo ante Él nuestra vida cotidiana,
nuestros logros y nuestros fracasos, nuestras fatigas y nuestras alegrías -es un
simple presentarnos a nosotros mismos ante Él. Pero para que esto no se
convierta en un autocontemplarse, es importante que aprendamos continuamente a
rezar rezando con la Iglesia.