Friendship is the pathway toward solitude, and solitude is the path to friendship. I'm not certain what this means, but I am certain that it is true. Since I was called by God to enter into deeper spiritual formation and study for the priesthood, I have experienced friendship at a level I never could have imagined before. I have rediscovered old friends and renewed those friendships with greater appreciation, I have noticed that people who were once acquaintances have become true friends, and I have met new friends who share very deeply in the journey toward our God.
Being able for the first time to talk openly about God, about the temptations and struggles against the powers of evil, to share in discussing the things I am learning through study of the Holy Scriptures -- This reflection in friendship has been a wonderful and powerful help in my journey toward living into my true self. All of us have hopes and dreams, strengths and weaknesses, faults and fears. We can lighten our burdens and increase our joy simply by opening ourselves to one another within trusting friendships. We learn to love more openly and more unquestioningly. Love in friendship helps us understand and heal wounds from the past -- it's a chance to "do over" and get it right. True affection despite our shortcomings brings us closer to the love of God. Receiving undeserved kindnesses from others shows us the generous heart of God and teaches us to respond in trust and love. Talking over our disappointments, setbacks, and the pain we experience when others hurt us helps us to join Christ in his suffering and to understand that ultimately, these things cannot harm us.
Then comes the time when we have to let go of one another and look only within ourselves. We have to listen to our Lord and Savior however he comes to us, as Father, Son, or Holy Spirit, and respond in answering love, trust, and awe. We recognize that this is what we have been looking for and needing all the whole time before. I think that if I relinquish the support system of my friends and fling myself into God's arms, I will find something I have never known before. It seems disloyal, somehow, as if I were going on without them, but I realize that that is a self-centered anxiety. Each of them also has his or her own journey to go on without me, and I need to unselfishly release them to follow their own hearts. (Once again, it's not all about moi!) They will move ahead and without me whether or not I release them, because they are not mine to release or keep.
According to Henri Nouwen, in Reaching Out (Doubleday: NY, 1975), loneliness, in the hands of the working of the Holy Spirit, is gradually converted to creative solitude. And creative solitude increases our capacity for deeper friendship. I am looking forward to learning more about this. Pray for me, brothers and sisters, as I enter a week of solitary retreat. Into thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit, and the souls of those whom I love.