Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Loneliness of Soul - Fr. Alban Goodier

I haven't posted any spiritual excerpts for a while... Here is a very beautiful chapter from a book called The School of Love by Fr. Alban Goodier, S.J. 

Every profession requires a special training; besides special powers and talents, besides special instruction, one may almost say it requires special virtues. The virtues most needful for a successful physician are not precisely those required for a successful lawyer; the one will have patience with the body of a man, the other will have patience with his ways. 

From both of these a soldier differs in almost every particular; perhaps he most of all needs patience with himself. The same is true of an apostle, of whatever kind he may be; he, too, must have his special qualifications. Priest or layman, religious or secular, man or woman, old or young, if God would make apostles of them, there is one school through which one and all must pass, one certificate they must all acquire; and when he is determined that they shall be apostles, he puts them through this school, whether they choose it or not.

And it is a school very different from that in which the world develops its ideal. When it has the making of a man in hand, above all when it would make him one who is to understand and have influence over others, its first and foremost object is to give him what it calls experience of men. He is sent out to see the world, to mix with his fellow-men, to learn the art of dealing with them, of enjoying their company, of bending their lives; and it almost foretells the extent of his future plane of action by the measure of the know ledge he has gained.

Not so are the ways of God. He has other means of giving an apostle power over other men; indeed, it is the very opposite. "The weak things of this world God hath chosen to confound the strong," said the greatest of apostles; and by "the weak things" he meant not only the weakest instruments, but the methods that men most ignored. 

And of all methods perhaps none is more ignored by man as a race, and by man as an individual, than the method of loneliness. To most men loneliness is a doom. It is imposed upon a criminal as the heaviest of punishments; carried to extremes we know it will drive him mad; nothing seems so to unman a man as the loneliness of a prison cell. Even for those who are not criminals, nothing so wrings pity from a human heart as the sight of another who is utterly alone. 

Loneliness to many is the very ghost of life, dogging their steps, haunting them at every turn, from which they are always trying to escape. It cannot be fought, it cannot be avoided, yet there is nothing many more dread for themselves, or see with more concern in others.

Yet it is this very thing which God has chosen to be the school of training for His own. He has shown it without possibility of mistake. Look down the line of the Old Testament, and you will find it written everywhere. At this distance of time and space it is not easy for us to distinguish the details; we see in history the broad effects of lives, we do not always read between the lines and detect the causes which those effects imply. But we have only to hold our gaze steady, to wait for the haze to lift, and this detail at least will grow upon us. Abraham - what was he but a model of loneliness? "In those days God said to Abraham: Leave thy country and thy father's house and come into a land which I shall show thee." Moses, the saviour of his people, must first be brought up in an alien's house, and must then be made perfect in a wilderness. David was a lonely man. No otherwise could he have known the depth of soul that cried out in his lament for the loss of Saul and Jonathan; no otherwise could he have learnt to endure and love on when friend and foe alike turned against him. 

And the prophets, the giants of the latter age, Amos and Osee, Isaias and Jeremias, Ezekiel and Daniel - what are they but gaunt lonely figures, standing out upon the distant sky-line, with the red light of a setting sun behind them? Last of all comes the Baptist, the man of all men lonely, bestriding the gulf that separates two worlds, who because of his momentous mission must needs be alone from his childhood.

If in the days of God's manifest guidance this is true, no less is it true in the days of hidden grace. Our Lord Himself was alone; in the wilderness of humanity He lived, so long a time, and men did not know Him. He was in the world, and the world knew Him not; He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. His fellow-Nazarenes claimed to know Him, and did not. His enemies knew Him and refused to own it. His friends - at one point in His life "many went back and walked no more with Him"; at another "all fled away"; at the very end He had to say: "How long a time have I been with you, and you have not known me!" He was born deserted, He lived alone, He died a lonely criminal's death; and if we want a proof that He felt it, we have it, first, in His frequent cries of pain, and second, in the eager way He grasped at and rewarded every mark of companionship offered Him.

As with the Master so it was with the disciple. St. Paul's aloneness begins with his conversion; when he rose from his bed and his blindness God took him "into a silent place apart," to the desert of Arabia, and there He "spoke to his soul." And since his time, what has been the tale of every saint's life but one of a lonely heart, separated and hedged around, "a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up," above all of such saints as were called to do a great life's work in the midst of men? 

We think of Cistercians and Carthusians, of Carmelites and Poor Clares, and fancy their lives are buried all alone in their cloisters; those who know have not very far to seek to find lonelier lives than theirs. Francis Xavier, to take but a single instance - how far more alone he stands, in the welter of human life in the midst of which he lived, than does St. Bruno himself on his lonely mountain-side!

So does God deal with His own, above all with those of His own whom He has chosen to use for others. And the reason is not hard to discover. There are three schools of suffering, each with its own special blessing to bestow - physical, mental, and that inner school which lies behind them both, loneliness of soul. Physical suffering makes for tenderness of heart and a patient judgment. Mental suffering gives a deepened sympathy, an active influence which when "lifted up draws all things to itself."

But loneliness of soul does more than this; it gives independence and strength. Even in the natural plane it secures liberty of spirit, it develops clearness of judgment, it enforces power of will. But this is by no means all. In the Old Testament Wisdom is heard to say: "Come with me into a silent place apart, and I will speak to thy soul;" and no one who has heard the calling of the Holy Spirit can misunderstand what this means - the deafness to His voice that may be caused by the din of men, and the clear ring that is given to His words when they come to us across the desert through the night. Loneliness of soul gives wisdom - that breadth of vision that belongs to him who sees all the valley from the hill-top. Loneliness of soul gives understanding - that further power of seeing beneath the surfaces of life. Loneliness of soul gives counsel to sustain another, and fortitude to "endure its own burthen; all the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost come through and are fostered by loneliness of soul.

These are some of the fruits of this special school of suffering. None the less, let it not be forgotten that a school of suffering it is. We are not speaking here of the loneliness which is a joy and a comfort, in which, as the popular phrase goes, one is "never less alone than when alone"; we are speaking of that sense of desertion, of alienation from one's kindred, of being somehow out of joint with all the world, of separation from God Himself, which human nature can scarcely endure; which even our Lord Himself considered to justify a cry for relief. 

Physical suffering He foresaw for His disciples, but He merely bade them rejoice at the prospect. Mental suffering He also promised them; this, again, they were to take as a sign that His blessing was upon them. But loneliness of soul He treats quite differently. Its agony He fully recognises; He is not afraid to let them see its effect upon Himself. In the Garden, on the Cross, His cries had almost scandalised posterity. And as for His whole life - an angel lost and brokenwinged in this poor world would be a pitiable, lonely thing; what then must have been the loneliness of the exiled Son of God?

Then, having "given us an example," having justified, as it were, our complainings by His own, He proceeds to soothe the bitterness for those who must needs undergo it. "My little children," He calls them, on the eve of the great Day of Loneliness. "Let not your heart be troubled," He says, "nor let it be afraid....It is expedient for you that I go, for if I go not the Spirit will not come to you;" and He bribes them to go through with it because of all that is to follow. Last of all, He assures them that it will not be all desertion: "I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. Now indeed you have sorrow, but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you." Then, as if to support Himself by the same argument by which He supports them, He concludes: "Behold the hour cometh, and it is now come, that you shall be scattered every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me."

Nowhere has Christ our Lord come nearer to us than in His loneliness and ours. Now here has He shown Himself more human. Nowhere has He more condoned the cry of pain, the appeal for some relief; nowhere has He done more, by example and by promise, to nerve us to endurance. And the truth of His promise who that has tried does not know? St. Paul speaks for such as these, and they echo his words which have for them a meaning all their own: "I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor Angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate me from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

No comments:

Post a Comment