Bishop Hying

Solitude practiced becomes the basis of intimacy with God and others

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on October 1, 2017


       Celibacy was a commonly discussed topic when I served as dean of formation and rector of the Milwaukee seminary. Helping young men to fully discern and solidify their call to the priesthood, which requires a vow of perpetual celibacy, is no small matter. 

       Many seminarians would share their fears of loneliness if they became priests, wondering if they would be able to always live without one fundamental relationship of love, without marriage and a family.  I spoke often how every human being needs intimacy with God and other people in order to live a healthy and joyful existence. So the choice is not I become a priest and embrace loneliness, or I get married and I am never lonely again. Life is more complex than that.

       Loneliness is a part of the human condition; we are born alone and we die alone. I can never be somebody else or perfectly one with somebody else; I will always be me, a unique and individuated person, doing my best to connect with others and find meaning, fulfillment and salvation in my life. 

       Accepting these stubborn facts of our common existence frees us from idealizing the lives of others or thinking that everyone else out there is enjoying these amazing, loving relationships and never feel lonely. Owning my aloneness, not running away from it, not seeking to drown it in frenetic activity or distracting noise, is a key step to self-acceptance and happiness.

       As a priest, I did a lot of marriage counseling, quickly realizing that many couples deeply struggle with communication, understanding and intimacy in their relationship. I often would ponder the surprising truth that celibacy seemed much easier than marriage, at least for me, and that I was a lot less lonely than most people I met. 

       Granted, I was counseling people who were struggling, so maybe my view was a bit skewed. No one ever called me at 3 a.m. just to tell me that they were having a great marriage! Nevertheless, these experiences confirmed that loneliness is endemic to each of us and marriage is not an automatic solution to the hungers of the human heart. We all need to work on intimacy with God and with others, building relationships in which we can give and receive love in healthy and appropriate ways.

       As a celibate, I have always believed that my relationship with the Lord needs to be deeply emotional, that in some mysterious fashion, God needs to be the fundamental romance of my life, so my prayer, my spiritual reading and experience of the sacraments must become a complete sharing of my deepest feelings and desires. I am far from having arrived in such a place of bliss but nevertheless, I have come to profoundly realize that only God can give me the depth of love that my soul seeks. 

       This knowledge frees me from expecting others to completely fill the holes in my heart and allows me to love others unconditionally without necessarily expecting anything back. This awareness lets me have appropriate and life-giving friendships with persons of both sexes, mutually respecting the integrity of the other within boundaries of trust and self-revelation.

       What goes for celibacy also applies to marriage. God calls all of us to a passionate relationship with him as the fundamental center of our existence. No matter how good a marriage is, both husband and wife still need to seek the Lord and to love each other within the context of that divine friendship. As the saying goes, marriage takes three. 

       Respecting the mystery of the other, celebrating the Eucharist and praying together, trusting, forgiving, communicating, sharing one’s deepest feelings and thoughts with a spouse are the creative and fruitful gifts that build a joyful life of marital intimacy. In the challenges of careers, parenting, housekeeping and volunteering, the importance of the marital bond as the intimate center can be short-changed or even forgotten.

       I always told the seminarians that loneliness accepted, embraced and even welcomed as a friend, becomes solitude. In the mystery, darkness, fear and silence of my fundamental aloneness, I will either go mad or I will find God and my deepest self.  As I have purposefully traveled the path of solitude in my life, I find that my times of being alone are life-giving, joyful, creative and filled with the love and light of God’s presence. 

       As much as I savor being with other people (ALL of you!), I discover that I can love others better, being more fully present to them and accepting them with greater freedom from judgment, when I embrace my own solitude. The ministerial tasks of being a bishop that fill my life would overwhelm me if I did not balance intense activity with periods of silence and solitude. 

       We all go through intense periods of loneliness. That is a given. What we do with those feelings and those moments will either lead us to a life of deeper intimacy or throw us back on ourselves in a sea of self-pity and even despair.  Loneliness embraced becomes solitude.  Solitude practiced becomes the basis of intimacy with God and others. Such intimacy becomes holiness. This movement is the sacred path of sanctity. Just ask the saints.


       + Donad J. Hying

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