Through the Lens of Loneliness

by Catherine Lesage

There are times in our life when God seems to be knocking at the door of our hearts waiting to offer us something special. When we open the door, he sometimes sends us on a particular path, a pilgrimage of the heart. We quickly understand that he wants to show us yet another facet of his love. This year when God knocked, I received the grace to open the door.

I serve at our house in the heart of Siberia. We are two staff members, Aliz Trombitas and myself. In the spring of this year, I found myself offering hospitality of the home and heart without Aliz to help. She left to be with her family in Hungary, her country of birth, to help care for her father who was gravely ill with stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

About a week after Aliz left, I experienced a day of feeling really lonely. It wasn’t a loneliness that I would describe as totally human, meaning that even contact with others did not seem to alleviate the feeling. It had another quality.

I understood it only later in the week when I received a word: loneliness; console the loneliness of Christ. This word became my guiding light for the 40 days of Lent.

This word became even more focused as we entered Holy Week in two different countries: console Our Lord in His death and Resurrection. Faith in our unity, in our life lived in sobornost (profound unity of heart and mind) with the whole Madonna House community, is what gave us the courage to pilgrim in those days.

Especially during this time of the pandemic, in all of our houses, there are many ways in which we encounter the loneliness of Christ. We see people and events through this lens of loneliness. I will share the following simple encounter with you as an example of this.

I was helping serve a meal to the homeless. Once a week, working in a limited space and under primitive conditions, our little parish has taken on preparing a hot meal for the homeless.

No kitchen or eating area is available for this, but a monastery allows us to use their kitchen, and we serve out the meal in an empty lot—even when the temperature is minus 35 degrees Celsius (minus 39 Fahrenheit). It is really a parish effort as many people are involved in different ways.

The street men soon became familiar faces, and we got to know them by name. This day has been, in some way, the highlight of my weeks.

I saw the loneliness of Christ in the eyes of one of the men who line up for our soup. It was his first time, and he came late. We had served out almost everything right down to the few cookies we keep “just in case.”

Fortunately, I was able to scrape a few last serving spoonfuls of the stew out of the pot. When I handed him the plate, I looked at his face and noticed such gentleness in his features and in his eyes. I told him that he had a very kind face. He looked back at me, and his face seemed to shine.

You can imagine my surprise when he told me, with a tear falling down his cheek, that he had killed a man and had been in prison for the past fifteen years. He had just been released. The killing had been in defense of someone else, but he was still charged with manslaughter. We talked for just a few minutes, but his eyes are before me still as I write these few lines.

Yes, this was the loneliness of Christ.

Even so, I can’t help but think that my most poignant experiences of consoling Christ were those of consoling him in the Blessed Sacrament.

During the pandemic, so many churches throughout the world were closed at a time when one would think that it was the one place where we would seek our strength and our consolation. And we could not do so there. We were lonely for Christ and he was lonely for us.

Our foundress Catherine Doherty had something to say about his loneliness.

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“If you love Christ, if you enter his heart, then you will find yourself in the loneliness of the garden, in the loneliness of all humanity. If you want to stay close to the heart of Christ, then you have to go to where Jesus is—on the cross.

“Christ left the other side of his cross open for you, so that you could hang there with him, close to his heart, for the sake of the world, loving all sinners, making your loneliness—Christ’s loneliness—a prayer for all people.” (This quote is from In the Footprints of Loneliness, (2013), pp. 8-9, MH Publications)