Last week I happened to be at Mass at my former parish, St. Hubert, where the homily was the first of a five or six part series planned by the pastor, Fr. Rolf, on Radical Discipleship. I went back to St Hubert yesterday to hear the second part of the series (probably the last I’ll be able to catch given my upcoming schedule of talks and retreats).
Fr. Rolf opened by talking about loneliness. While it is natural to have occasional feelings of loneliness, he cited from frightening statistics. The percentage of people who describe themselves as chronically lonely has increased dramatically in recent year. Surveys show marked decline in the number of people gathering with family and friends for meals, in attendance at social clubs and other organizations. The number of people who gather for things like regular card or other games has plummeted.
Yet we are wired for community. Created in the image of a Triune God, we crave nourishment from real contact with others. And while I’m not as critical of online social media, texts, etc as Fr. Rolf sounded in his sermon, I recognize the danger his comments suggest: Virtual communication as a way to stay in touch with people who are not physically proximate is wonderful. But virtual communication as an alternative for face-to-face contact with another is not. (Do we really need to e-mail co-workers who sit two or three offices away from us?)
I think Fr. Rolf is right to talk about community as an aspect of radical discipleship. What are we doing to reach out to others? Particularly those who are new to our workplace, neighborhoods and parishes. But not only them. If you look around, it will not be hard to find people who are lonely, who do not have the nourishing human contact they need to flourish.
As the old commercial used to say: Reach out and touch someone.
A sermon about loneliness on the Feast of the Presentation? Appears we are backsliding from the Vatican II directive that preaching at the community Eucharist is supposed to be a homily and not a sermon (as deserving as the topic may be). Perhaps I have misunderstood. I guess I come down heavily on the innate wisdom of the liturgical year and the power of the Scripture given for a feast like the Presentation to transform. Perhaps the pastor knows the community really well and sees the need. However, I hope his choice was determined by the fact there was no other or better venue for this “teaching.”