So this thing happened last week, which left me a bit nonplussed. I think readers of this blog could help.
Someone on Facebook asked me for advice. That in itself is no big deal. Priests are asked for advice quite a lot. Usually I can speak from experience, or I can quote the advice of the saints and spiritual masters.
On this occasion, though, I was asked about something which I’ve never considered before, and which maybe I’m not very well equipped to answer. That’s where readers can help!
My Facebook friend is in a novel situation, living alone for the first time in their life. So how do you learn to live alone, in a way that is happy, healthy, and holy?
At first glance, a celibate priest seems qualified to answer. “Celibate” means precisely that – living alone – and the priest, like any Christian disciple, aspires to be happy, healthy, and holy.
But there are a few hiccoughs. Firstly, although I have just turned 34, in all my life I have lived alone for a grand total of 11 months. That’s how long it’s been, since I moved to Casterton last October. So I’m hardly an expert in this.
Secondly, my interlocutor is a lay person who is discerning marriage. Those circumstances are quite different to my own. My celibacy is a permanent state, which permits me to deliberately become a contemplative in the world. I often long to be “alone with the Alone,” because, I suspect, this is how God made me. But a single person who is called to married life is only temporarily and circumstantially celibate. So my already very limited experience may not be relevant at all.
I’ve come up with three pieces of advice:
1. Buy enough food for the next two days only. That means you’re eating fresh food, and you’re not throwing out piles of food that have gone bad. It also means you’re not not-leaving-the-house for days on end. It’s always healthy to frequently encounter people face to face, even if it’s confined to buying groceries.
2. Exploit this time of solitude to grow more deeply in love with God. Foster the habit of visiting a nearby church every day, if only for five minutes, sitting or kneeling before the tabernacle to make a spiritual communion. For a Christian, loneliness is only ever an illusion, because we are members of the communion of saints, and the Lord is always calling us into deeper communion with him.
3. On your way home from your daily visit to the Blessed Sacrament, stop at a café and enjoy a coffee. There’s a strong subliminal message abroad that being alone is something shameful, or at least pitiful. I think that’s an expression of the pernicious materialism which afflicts our culture. It bears repeating: the Christian is never really alone. Becoming comfortable with one’s own company is an important counter-cultural witness to ourselves, much less to others.
I expect many readers can shed more light and share greater wisdom. Have I missed something? Am I wrong about something? Let me know!