By Fr. Alexander Ezechukwu, OCD
Loneliness vs. Brothers in Christ
Five years ago, then prime minister of the UK, Theresa May appointed Tracey Crouch as the first ever Minister for Loneliness. This was a recognition of the loneliness epidemic in the UK and the beginning of what May described as a “national mission to end loneliness in our lifetimes”.
In fact, a university campus survey once reported that the most common problem among students is that they felt a terrible loneliness.
You wonder if you can even survive sometimes!
Well before Theresa May, another Teresa was already on a mission pointing the way to the real antidote to loneliness - friendship with Christ. This is the charism - God’s gift - of the Discalced Carmelites.
Teresa wanted the communities of her nuns and friars to be small to allow for true intimacy and friendship. As she wrote in her book The Way of Perfection, “In this house, all must be friends, all must be loved, all must be held dear, all must be helped.”
Although living together can be a challenge, sharing the experience of living in the same house can bring about a genuine fraternity.
Pope Francis recently talked about the contrast between our technological advances and the difficulties of finding a true connection of souls among us:
“…we sense the challenge of finding and sharing a ‘mystique’ of living together, of mingling and encounter, of embracing and supporting one another, of stepping into this flood tide which, while chaotic, can become a genuine experience of fraternity, a caravan of solidarity, a sacred pilgrimage.”
- Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel)
Friendship and Fraternity
Many people don’t realize that there is a lot of true friendship and fraternity within a religious community. This ancient form of life in the Church brings people together under the sole purpose of serving Jesus Christ, living the common life with their practices of prayer and service. I think that you'll find all of that here at the Discalced Carmelites of the United Kingdom.
In Catholic religious communities, members come together to share a common faith and purpose. They support each other through prayer, reflection, and service to others. Friendship and fellowship help to strengthen these bonds and provide a sense of belonging and connection to the community.
The Vatican provided some encouraging words about friendship in a religious community in the document, Fraternal Life in Community.
“While a certain maturity is necessary for life in community, a cordial fraternal life is equally necessary in order to allow each religious to attain maturity. Where members of a community become aware of diminished affective autonomy in one of their brothers or sisters, the response on the part of the community ought to be one of rich and human love, similar to that of our Lord Jesus and of many holy religious—a love that shares in fears and joys, difficulties and hopes, with that warmth that is particular to a new heart that knows how to accept the whole person.”
As you can see, the Church encourages “a rich and human love” for a community member who needs an emotional and personal boost in a difficult time.
Here at our Carmelite friary in Oxford, U.K., we eat together, pray together and play together. Isolation is not a part of our vocabulary. The term “friar” in fact comes from the Latin term frater, or brother, as in the word fraternity.
I can remember my early days as a Carmelite novice. I felt as if I was a newcomer, but over the years I’ve developed deep friendships among my fellow friars. Consecrated men might first step into a religious community as a stranger, but they become a brother to all. We are brothers in Christ.
Friendship and fellowship also help to foster personal growth and development within the community. Members can learn from each other's experiences and perspectives and provide encouragement and support as they navigate the challenges of living a consecrated life within a community.
A Carmelite Vocation
Men, is a concern about loneliness keeping you back from looking into religious life as a friar? Your fears might be unfounded. In a religious community, a man with a normal balanced character would likely find deep lifelong friendships that are hard to find anywhere else.
If you think you have a calling to religious life, why not arrange to visit our Carmelite community in the U.K.? Don't hesitate to contact me, so we can talk about your hopes and dreams, and God's call in your life.
A Contemplative Calling – the Carmelite Friars
If you’re a single Catholic man age 18 to 35, have you thought about becoming a religious friar? Maybe God is calling you to a Carmelite vocation in our Anglo-Irish Province in the UK!
Contact me, Fr. Alex, Carmelite Encounter Director, at +44 (0)7477 673932, firstname.lastname@example.org
Check Out the Discalced Carmelites:
Why not test your call to the Carmelite Friars of the Anglo-Irish Province?
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