Curing a scourging malaise
Contemporary society is tragically scourged by loneliness. The North American actress and singer, Anne Jacqueline Hathaway, had the courage to confess: “Loneliness is my least favourite thing about life. The thing that I’m most worried about is just being alone without anybody to care for or someone who will care for me”.
In an interesting article in Time Magazine entitled “Why Loneliness May Be the Next Big Public-Health Issue”, Justin Worland pointed out that “loneliness kills”. In order to substantiate his idea he cited a rather shocking study carried out by Brigham Young University. This study clearly shows that loneliness in the United States is on a par with obesity and substance abuse. Worland writes: “The subjective feeling of loneliness increases risk of death by 26 per cent, according to the new study in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science. Social isolation – or lacking social connection – and living alone were found to be even more devastating to a person’s health than feeling lonely, respectively increasing mortality risk by 29 per cent and 32 per cent”.
Some years ago in an article written in one of the local English newspapers entitled “Loneliness – society’s taboo”, Dr Herbert Messina Ferrante said that “loneliness is the fastest growing disease of the modern world, killing more than cancer and heart disease. It is said that loneliness damages the chemical and electrical responses in our immune system that help the body fight disease”.
No one is immune from feeling lonely. It is really amazing that sometimes you can feel lonely in the least imaginable of places where you would, in fact, feel loved and accepted. Including, sadly, even by the Church. I can never forget what Pope Francis said about this: “In this time of crisis we cannot be concerned solely with ourselves, withdrawing into loneliness, discouragement and a sense of powerlessness in the face of problems. Please do not withdraw into yourselves! This is a danger: we shut ourselves up in the parish, with our friends, within the movement, with the like-minded... but do you know what happens? When the Church closes in on herself, she becomes an ailing Church, she falls ill! That is a danger. A church that closes in on itself is the same – a sick church.”
Can loneliness be eased? Yes! If you and I care enough about those around us who feel and are indeed lonely, that is. According to the article Loneliness – society’s taboo, “there is a ready cure for loneliness. It needs no miracle drugs, no massive investment, nor winning the Super 5. It needs us, the politicians, media, the Church. A phone call, a card, a lunch with that lonely person can do the trick. Simply keeping in touch helps. So anyone who has a relative, a friend who is alone especially during a festive period, pay a visit, pick up the phone, write a short letter, send flowers, and show some concern. And hope that when it your turn comes, as it inevitably will, there will be someone there”.
Pope Francis continued to elaborate and refine what Dr Messina Ferrante suggested by propagating the idea of creating a family spirit. In his General Audience On the relationship between the Church and the family, of October last year, the Holy Father said: “A careful look at the daily life of the men and women of today immediately shows the need for a robust injection of family spirit everywhere. In fact, the style of relations – civil, economic, juridical, professional, of citizenship – seems very rational, formal, organized but also very ‘dehydrated,’ arid, anonymous. At times it becomes unbearable. Although it wishes to be inclusive in its ways, in reality it abandons an increasingly greater number of people to loneliness and rejection. We could say that today families are one of the most important nets for the mission of Peter and the Church. This is not a net that makes us prisoners. On the contrary, it frees us from the evil waters of abandonment and indifference, which drown many human beings in the sea of loneliness and indifference. Families know well the dignity of feeling themselves children and not slaves or strangers, or just a number on an identity card”.
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap Marsa