Sixth Sunday of Easter Cycle A
Acts 8:14-17; 1 Peter 3:15-18; John 14:15-21
An interesting news item caught my attention last week. The US Surgeon General put out a study where researchers tried to quantify the impact on people when they are isolated from personal contact with others. I think that anyone with any compassion whatever knows that loneliness is an awful thing for anyone, but I think they were trying to get a sense of just how awful it can be. We are social beings and need interaction with others. Maybe extroverts need more and introverts less, but we all need to be around and interact with others as a part of our normal lives. And they put it in a very concrete way: it can be as deadly as smoking up to 15 cigarettes per day. [ https://apnews.com/article/surgeon-general-loneliness-334450f7bb5a77e88d... ] Another conclusion they drew should not surprise us either: the so-called “social media,” those phone and computer apps that purport to help us stay connected to one another, actually increase the problem. The more time that one spends on these apps, the lonelier someone becomes. In other words, reading about all many things that other people are doing without you doesn’t help, but on the contrary contributes to one’s sense of isolation from others. Go figure.
The report came up with some recommendations and they were all good, as far as they went. The Surgeon General is a part of the government, and therefore they cannot advocate for a religious perspective on this problem. But we are Christians, and we not only can but must speak about this issue and offer solutions that are not only effective but that are fundamental to the teachings of Jesus Christ. There are two main dimensions of Catholic thought that come to my mind. The first is Catholic social teaching – the Christian duty to love your neighbor. In this case that duty is enshrined in the corporal works of mercy, specifically the injunction to visit the sick, loneliness being, as the Surgeon General pointed out, a preventable sickness. There is a lot that could be discussed here, but I will not go into that today. Father did a great job in last week’s homily discussing how we at Saint James should be helping those in need in our community. I want to talk about a second dimension, one which is discussed in today's readings: our relationship with God, or otherwise known as spirituality.
This is a very important area of our lives and was emphasized in the report, although not by that name. The AP story covering this report said: “The loneliness epidemic is hitting young people, ages 15 to 24, especially hard. The age group reported a 70% drop in time spent with friends during the [last two decades]” [Ibid]. When we think of visiting as a work of mercy, we think of the elderly or handicapped who are forced to be homebound due to mobility issues. But here we have a group who is in self-imposed loneliness. Why is that? I’m not a trained psychologist, but I think I know the real reason. To turn a trite modern saying on its head, I can put it succinctly: there is not an app for that. Those looking for an app for that are looking for friendship, love, and personal fulfillment in all the wrong places. They should be turning to the love of God and love from one’s neighbors, but they are not. Saint Augustine – who didn’t’ even know what an app was – diagnosed the problem back in the fourth century when he wrote: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You” [ https://www.beafriar.org/augustines-restless-heart ]. Or as Saint Peter tells us in the second reading, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope …” [1 Peter 3:15 NABRE].
As we approach Pentecost, it is important that we remember the reason that the second person of the Trinity, the Son, left us the third person, the Holy Spirit. It is right there in the Gospel today: “the Father … will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth … you know him, because he remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans …” [John 14:16-18]. The fruits of this Advocate if we listen with our heart are, if you remember from your confirmation: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. If we have these things, we will develop a true love of God as well as seek out those true bonds of love with those around us. The hole in our hearts will be filled, and we will not so easily be prey to loneliness. At Pentecost, we will receive a vaccine against loneliness.
Additionally, the Church has always seen the importance of communal worship. Private prayer is important as well, but from the very beginning Christians have always gathered for worship. They have always supported each other in the walk of the faith. They, and we, have always done this face-to-face because we develop real relationships with real people. Real people support us, and we in turn support them. It is almost impossible to develop a relationship with someone’s online persona. This is a highly edited version of someone that hypes the successes and shows none of the failures or disappointments in that person’s life. How can one possibly develop a deep relationship with such a one-dimensional fictional character? Put the phone down, come to church, and meet other people who have real accomplishments and real failures, and who care about you and want you to get to heaven and want your help in getting there themselves. You can try going to a bar to meet people, and you might meet some nice people, or not. Or you can come to church, where you will definitely meet many sinners, but at least we are all trying to do better.
Jesus is telling all of us that we are not in this alone. God is there, always with us, walking with us, helping us. And this weekend, on a different but similar note, we will honor those women who were there for us from our birth – our mothers. When we were small, we were never lonely or afraid if our mom was there to help us. As our moms get older, it is now our turn to be there for them. We thank our mothers today and pray that we may follow their example in making this world a better place, a less lonely place. May they be blessed for all that they have done.
As we continue with our Mass, may the Eucharist become true communion that binds us all together as the Body of Christ. May the Holy Spirit give us the fruits and gifts we need to develop true, deep, and lasting relationships, both with our God and well as with those around us. Loneliness is avoidable, whether it is imposed on someone due to circumstances or self-imposed due to poor social habits. But we as a Church have a solution, and we must all resolve to make it part of our Christian duty to address these social issues for those around us.