One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my three years in the seminary so far, and as I enter into a new, larger community here at St. John’s, is that we are called into community by God. Why does God do this to us? Sometimes it’s not easy, sometimes we just want God to belong to us and no one else, and sometimes we can’t stand it when someone enters into our personal prayer space. What I find though, even though I’m guilty at times of all these attitudes, is that the truest experience of God draws us out of isolation and into community.
Absolutely, we need to be alone sometimes: to recharge our batteries; to rest and to recover; to experience God in the silence. But that solitude is different from isolation, from separating ourselves from others and trying to make God our own. I admit that I encountered this during my first week here at St. John’s. I had to check myself and to find that God was drawing me back into community, rather than giving me somewhere that I could try to grow by myself and embrace isolation.
One night, as I was walking to our St. Catherine’s Blessed Sacrament Chapel, I was hoping to enter into the quiet solitude of Night Prayer by myself. I figured maybe there would be a couple of other guys there too, praying themselves to rest for the night. But when I walked in I was surprised to find six or seven other guys in the small chapel, getting ready to pray the rosary together. I’ve got to say, my first reaction was that I should leave and find somewhere else to do my prayer alone, as I had planned. But I sat down, honestly more so not to seem awkward by walking in and then leaving right away. So as they began praying out loud, I quietly began my own Night Prayer, wishing I was somewhere quiet. Slowly, I was brought into their prayer rhythm and I even joined them for a part of their rosary.
Then it dawned on me: I was being drawn into community that night. It’s obvious that I’m not the only one at the Seminary who wants to pray before the Blessed Sacrament in the middle of the night… and I should rejoice in that. I should be praying with all my heart that every last one of us in those seminary walls should be exploding with love and prayer and faith so that those very same walls could not hold it in. Any individualistic, competitive spirit I may have from my cycling and surfing needs to melt away from my spiritual life. I can hold onto the dedication, the discipline, and the sacrifice, but I need to recognize that my prayers, all of our individual prayers, are made stronger when we share our faith and prayers with others.
We cannot live the life of faith in isolation, because God Himself is a family. One of the “basic” (if anything is basic about the perhaps misleading term of fundamental theology) concepts of God as Trinity is that the One God forms a family of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (who is the love between the Father and the Son). So when we find ourselves in relationship with another person, especially when that relationship is one of love, we are sharing in the life of the God that is Trinity.
So please take this final thought with you, especially when you feel alone. We can choose to love or we can choose to not love. But to love is to share in the very nature of God. So when we love, we are never alone. We always have the one we love, no matter how far away they are, physically or emotionally, and we have God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Why do we ever choose isolation, knowing we have God the Trinity and the Communion of Saints on our side?