by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
In a little less than a month, I will observe the 43rd anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.
I desired to be a priest because I wanted to devote my life to helping others come to know Jesus Christ and experience his love. In my mind, there was nothing more significant that I could do for the world than to help more people experience the abundant life Jesus promised to his disciples.
My greatest fear approaching ordination day was loneliness. Would the commitment to celibacy, relinquishing the opportunity for marriage and biological fatherhood, doom me to a life of isolation?
By the time I was ordained, most of my non-seminarian friends had married. I confess that I was jealous that they had found someone with whom to share life’s highs and lows, as well as those very ordinary moments.
I took the whole matter to prayer. I recalled the instruction of Jesus to his disciples to seek first the kingdom of God and be confident that your heavenly Father will provide for your needs (Mt 6: 25-34). In the Lord’s teaching on prayer, he tells his disciples to ask for their daily bread.
In my prayer, I shared with the Lord that I felt friendship was as essential as food, clothes and shelter. I promised God that I would seek first his lordship over my life and strive to do his will. I also asked for the grace to trust his promise to provide me with the essentials for my life, including friendship.
Looking back almost 43 years later, I recognize how God has been incredibly faithful to his promises. I am so grateful for the friendships that have been made possible because of my commitment to serve Our Lord and his church as a priest.
I am not claiming that I have never felt lonely as a priest. Certainly, there have been those moments. However, I discovered that I was particularly vulnerable to bouts of loneliness when I began to compromise on giving Jesus lordship of my life. Moreover, the experiences of loneliness have steadily diminished through the years.
Ironically, my frustration today is the inability to keep up with all the friends that God has placed in my life through my years of priestly ministry. The priesthood brings you into association with so many extraordinary men and women of faith and virtue.
What saddens me is how many truly lonely people there are in the world. A major source of the epidemic of loneliness is confusion about love. Our culture frequently confuses love with someone else giving me pleasure or making me feel good.
Pursuing this false notion of love, seeking relationships with others in order to receive pleasure, is a recipe for frustration and alienation — in other words, loneliness!
This false notion of love underlies so many of our cultural fallacies. When we embrace Our Lord’s example of seeking to serve rather than to be served, we discover ample opportunities for developing authentic, life-giving and enduring friendships.
If you are experiencing loneliness in your life at this time, I encourage you to bring this unpleasant truth to God in prayer. Remind Our Lord of his promise to provide those things that we truly need to survive, one of which is friendship. Ask him to be faithful to his promise by providing you with opportunities for holy friendships.
Be confident that God hears your prayer and will respond.
However, also be prepared for God to challenge your current notions of love and friendship. If you have the wrong idea about love and friendship, you will be looking for them in all the wrong places.
On the other hand, if we seek to embrace true love as that exemplified by Jesus, then we will find ourselves no longer focused on what we do not have, but instead we will begin to recognize all the opportunities to serve.
It is in following Our Lord along the path of servant love that we will discover the antidote to loneliness.