This is part of The Evangelist’s ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under “specials” at www.evangelist.org.
This is part of The Evangelist’s ongoing series of reports from diocesan seminarians on their formation for the priesthood. Read previous installments under “specials” at www.evangelist.org.

God created all things good. In all of creation, everything is good. But there is one thing that is not good. “The Lord God said: It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).

Loneliness is one of the great plagues of our time. In an age of social media where friendships are sometimes superficial at best and, often, relationships are anonymous, impersonal and empty, loneliness is everywhere.

Every Wednesday this year, the seminary sent me to a hospital to visit patients. As I was walking down the hall in the hospital, a nurse stopped me and said, “If you have time, you might want to stop in that room. The woman could really use someone to talk to.”

I tapped gently on the door as I entered the room. The lights were off, but the blinds covering the only window were open. The room seemed oddly light and dark at the same time.

As I entered, I began introducing myself, but “Rose” (name changed for privacy) reached her arm out to me and interrupted with an almost desperate, “Would you hold my hand? Please, I just want someone to touch me.”

Rose was a thin, elderly lady with long gray curls. She looked tired, stressed out, sad and alone. She was all of those things. There was no way she could hide it. The moment I held her hand, she sighed. She was so lonely, this simple moment of human contact seemed very profound. She just wanted to connect with another person — a basic need we all have.

In the course of the conversation, Rose told me that her whole family had died and she felt as though she had no one. In fact, she felt as though she’d been alone most of her life. She was Lutheran, but had stopped attending church because it was so painful for her to see so many happy families there when hers was gone.

She also revealed very casually, almost as an aside, that she had cancer and it had spread to several parts of her body. She did not seem to care about her cancer; her loneliness was much more pressing and much more difficult and painful for her to deal with. I felt a tear forming in my eye as she relayed this sad story.

Friendship is one of God’s greatest gifts, a gift for which I am incredibly grateful. It is also the antidote to loneliness.

In seminary, I have met some of the best friends I have ever had. I am extremely fortunate to have such good people in my life. I look to them — even those younger than me — as examples of God’s love and grace, sources of strength and encouragement, and wellsprings of compassion and sympathy.

None of us can live life completely independently, and we are not meant to. God said so. I believe that God puts certain people in our lives for a variety of reasons, but we have to actively pursue and maintain friendships.

Like all relationships, friendship requires an effort, but it is worth it because true friendship helps us on the journey of life and, ultimately, should lead us to union with God. In fact, that is a good test of friendship: Is it leading us both to God? If it is not, then maybe it is not real friendship, but a selfish thing.

As the conversation with Rose continued, she started to reveal something that was in plain sight, but that she was blind to: She was not alone. Two women who had been in her life years earlier had found out she was sick and come to visit her in the hospital — not just once, but several times.

The more she told me about these women, the more she realized that she was not alone and that God had put these ladies in her life. God was giving her friendship. Maybe those happy families she saw in church were not reminders of loneliness, but friends God put there to assure her that she is still loved, and that she is still a source of love.

(Mr. Houle, a native of St. Mary’s parish in Albany, studies for the priesthood at St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. He sent this column from Lourdes, France, where he was volunteering his time ministering to pilgrims visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. Seminarian Stephen Yusko did the same the following week.)