Objection Series: “He will be so lonely!” or The difference between being alone and lonely

Priests are surrounded by people all the time.  Their entire role is to interact with people.  A priest can be so busy with people that it may difficult to carve out time alone for personal prayer each day.

Everyone feels lonely at times in the course of any vocation.  How you perceive it and utilize an established network of resources can influence having a negative or a positive experience of being alone. Knowing that you have established strong resources in friends, family, peers and mentors can go a long way when feeling “lonely”.

Being alone does not necessitate feeling lonely. Everyone spends time alone at work and at home.  In a busy life, time alone can be viewed as either an oasis or a burden based on your perception.

alone in a crowd

You can feel lonely even when surrounded by people if you do not feel connected or engaged in the relationship.  There can be plenty of loneliness in marriage while sleeping in the same bed.  Every parent has wanted even a few minutes alone and found that the bathroom is not even a refuge when you have small children.   Some mothers get up early just so they can have some time alone before the chaos starts.

A Network of Support

sems cheering

Suppose you spent between 6 –  8 years in college and graduate school with everyone having the same major and career goal.  Your school was small enough that you got to know the guys who are ahead and behind you.  In this school, you sems prayingspent a lot of time together in class and studying together since everyone took the same courses over the years.  Your school had a very structured schedule so students were able to spend quality time with each other several times a day at events everyone found  meaningful.   You would have a pretty wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Depending on your personality, you would have built some strong friendships.

Now suppose that every year, many graduates are hired by the same company.  Over time, many guys you knew in graduate school are working for this company.  They may be located at different offices in the same area, but you are all doing the same work, have the same challenges and concerns as you grow in your new role, learn new skills and begin to master challenging assignments.

fraternal meetings

Suppose your employer asked you to meet periodically with some of your peers to support and encourage each other.  You also are expected to meet periodically with a more senior member of the staff as a mentor.

How connected would you feel to these colleagues whom you have known for years?

Feeling connected with others who support you is a significant benefit when someone is feeling lonely, whether alone or surrounded by people.

Not many people have these built- in opportunities for support and fraternal relationships in their career.  The closest I can compare this to is the military.  The people you go through boot camp with and then deploy together always have a special bond.  It is easy to see how these people would stay in touch and reach out to each other in times of need.

2 priests

Besides the relationships with family and friends, a brother priest can provide support and understanding on a different level when needed.  One  needs to know when to ask for support from the right resource.

If you are a little puzzled by this analogy, here is the key to the terms in bold:

College and Graduate school program =  Seminary

Career goal = Priesthood

Quality time = Liturgy of the Hours, Mass, sports etc…

Company  = Diocese

Offices =  Parish assignment

Employer/Boss  =  Bishop

Meeting periodically with peers  = Fraternal events, formal and informal gatherings

Mentor =  Spiritual Director

Colleagues/Peers = Brother priests

Please know the authors pray daily for parents of discerning sons and daughters to find understanding and peace.

Question: Can You Talk To Evan?

Phone_numberpadThis past Wednesday we took Evan to the Salt Lake airport at an early hour. (Did you know there’s a five in the morning now?)  As I’ve been talking with my colleagues and telling them that he’s gone to the seminary, one question keeps coming up over and over:

Can you talk to him?


In fact, on Friday he took a few moments out of his day to call and wish my mother a happy birthday.  On Saturday, he gave us a call to update us on his first three days at St. Paul’s College.

All along, he’s been swapping texts with his older brother and we’ve been able to send him e-mails.

I think the reason the question keeps coming up is that many of my colleagues are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — Mormons — and they speak out of their experience of sending children off on religious missions.   Although it is not required, young Mormons are encouraged to serve a voluntary mission.  During the time that these young people are away from home (two years for men, eighteen months for women) they are not permitted to call home except on Christmas and Mother’s Day.  Beyond that, Missionaries are encouraged to write a letter home once a week.  In recent years, these letters have come in the form of weekly e-mails.

Since many of these missionaries are young and serving in distant lands, parents are understandably concerned and eager to hear that their children are safe and well.

And, perhaps, some of my colleagues are confusing seminary with a cloistered order in which all communications are strictly controlled.  To be fair, there are seminaries which are more strict and seminaries which are less so.  The Paulists seem to be interested in having their seminarians engaged with the world and so Evan is readily available to communicate with us.  When he was away at college, he called us once a week to chat.  I expect that will continue so long as he’s available.

While we’re on the topic, let me share a few highlights of Evan’s week.

I asked Evan how he was doing and he admitted that it was a lot to absorb in just three days.  He was looking forward to this week’s opening retreat at Lake George.