I have written before of the particular burden I, as a widow without children of my own, carry as a practicing Catholic. People with the same cross often reach out to me and ask what I do to ease this burden. The specter of loneliness looms large in their lives and it sometimes can be overwhelming. As one of our Dominican Friars said this past weekend, "The devil is real". We know that he has been actively attacking us from the beginning and he gains entry to our souls through our fears and our weaknesses.
What do I tell them when they call, text or pull me aside for coffee?
The first thing I do is point them to the Catechism of The Catholic Church..
Holy Mother Church teaches:
1658 We must also remember the great number of single persons who, because of the particular circumstances in which they have to live - often not of their choosing - are especially close to Jesus' heart and therefore deserve the special affection and active solicitude of the Church, especially of pastors. Many remain without a human family often due to conditions of poverty. Some live their situation in the spirit of the Beatitudes, serving God and neighbor in exemplary fashion. The doors of homes, the "domestic churches," and of the great family which is the Church must be open to all of them. "No one is without a family in this world: the Church is a home and family for everyone, especially those who 'labor and are heavy laden.'"172
2231 Some forgo marriage in order to care for their parents or brothers and sisters, to give themselves more completely to a profession, or to serve other honorable ends. They can contribute greatly to the good of the human family.
When I lost my husband in 1987, I fully expected to remarry someday and have a family. God's plans, however, were far better than my own and I have been a widow now for 31 years. I wallowed in he disease of alcoholism for a short time (five years) before picking up the pieces of my life and finding my way back to God. Since that time I have found a tremendous joy in the life given to me by my Creator, and yet I would be lying if I tried to deny the loneliness of this great life.
This is further exacerbated by my growing invisibility in the secular world - a viewpoint that can creep into parish or diocese. Women of 'a certain age' become less important. We are no longer fertile. Our children are grown. Unless we are needed to watch the grandkids or pay for problems that crop up along the way, we are not considered really necessary.
And yet, we are the ones who are the most available for service. We are retired. We have the time, the talent and the treasure and so we present ourselves for a variety of things: Catechism Teachers, Sacristans, Lectors, Eucharistic Ministers to the Homebound, St Vincent de Paul food banks, you name it and you will see these apostolates filled with the Baby Boomers. The reason? Well one reason is that we can - being needed in the home is lessened. If we are blessed with good husbands, they are trudging the road of service with us. If we are divorced or widowed, we are there by ourselves, asking around the parish office if anyone needs any help.
Many of us take the opportunity to learn more about our Faith. We are attending the classes and the Adult Faith Formation lectures and we are finally able to really read that book by St Francis de Sales rather than having to make sure the 12 year old gets his science project done or the 8 year old has practiced his piano. We can start to delve deeply into the rich spirituality that is The Catholic Faith and we find out how amazing our lives can be right now, today, by turning even more solidly to Jesus and His Church.
When I am approached by the Lonely Army (the name I have given them in my own head), I often ask them these questions:
1. What is your prayer life like, right now?
Do you have a discipline? Are you learning to Lectio Divina? Are you signed up for an hour of Adoration every week? Are you structuring your life in a new way and making Him the primary reason for getting up every morning and walking through your day?
2. What do you know about the three women who are Doctors of The Church?
What do you know about Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux? Have you read biographies or autobiographies of these mighty women of The Faith? Is there anything about them you can imitate?
3. Who was your confirmation saint?
Many of us forget we even HAD a confirmation saint! Remember her? Remember how you chose her? What do you know about her? Are you asking her to pray with you every day?
4. What do you know about The Faith?
Dominicans often say things like this: I affirm to be true all that Holy Mother Church teaches, and I don't even KNOW all that Holy Mother Church teaches.
While that is a humble way of reminding ourselves that we should always be studying, it is not an excuse to just say, "whatever" and skip merrily down the pathway of life. We, Catholics all, have an obligation to learn, to stretch ourselves and to become familiar with the beauty of our great Faith. While the Internet can be a source of great temptation and sin, it can also be a tremendous asset in the New Evangelization. My mother, now 96 1/2 years old, began reading books on saints, angels and the Catholic Faith. Why? Because she can, because she has read every good mystery story ever written by her favorite authors, and because she has never lost her love of learning. Surely, those of us in our 60's can fit in a good spiritual book or two - beginning with The Catechism of the Catholic Church.
There is another aspect of this situation, however, that I think we should all be willing to address.
Many young women today have not had the advantage of being raised by faithful parents. They, themselves, have found their strength in the Catholic Church. They are embracing the Faith and the lifestyle that is uniquely ours as Catholics but they are doing so without their own role models. Oftentimes they are flat out told by members of their families - mothers, older sisters, fathers - that they have become 'fanatics' because they want to do something as simple as celebrate their child's Baptism every year, or the feast day of the saint their child was named for or other such Catholic Stuff. Many of our children at PSR have never seen an Advent wreath until we make one in the classroom and we find ourselves teaching THEIR parents the importance of having a home that is shaped around the Liturgical Life of The Church.
This is where people my age can come to the rescue. Being available to young families today, encouraging them, inviting them to our homes and making them a part of our lives provides the type of back up many of these young women and men lack. The times when I hear someone in their 30's and 40's say to me, "I have no one to talk to about this but you" makes me both sad for them and grateful that the life Our Lord planned for me gives me the opportunity to be of service to them. It is more than just saying, "I can watch the kids". It is taking that late night phone call from an exhausted and weepy mother of 3 young children who have all had the flu the same weekend and assuring her that she is doing better than she thinks she is, or getting together for coffee with that mom of the teenage boy who thinks playing FortNite on the computer is communicating with people so that you can assure her that restricting WiFi time is okay.
Listen, I do not want to pretend that this will completely vanquish the Specter of Loneliness. We will still be overlooked at Christmas and Easter. We will still NOT get those calls on our birthday or asked out to dinner or over to watch a movie.
What will change, however, is that we will no longer worry too much about being left out. We will see our importance, how we are needed and more importantly how we are a part of The Domestic Church. Our focus on Jesus and how we can learn and serve will allow us to find our meaning, our rhythm and the purpose of our lives. We will learn to respect our own pasts, not regret our mistakes, and we will see that we have something important to do on earth to further the Kingdom of God.
At the end of it all, we will know that we matter - not in a way that the world thinks we should matter but in the way we are meant to matter; as women and children of God.
Please hold my 'other mother' in prayer. She was my mom's BFF for over 75 years. She entered into eternal rest on Friday, August 10th. Harriet Pistochini, you were and are loved. Thank you for being in my life, for knowing me and loving me anyway.
Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord, and may Perpetual Light shine upon her.