Don't be alone this Lent
A reflection for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year A
by Patrick Sullivan
Too many of us are making our spiritual journeys alone. Those surrounded by family, those surrounded by coworkers, and those who have lived many years still make the fundamental error that we can cross the sea with a single oar. And while I have no doubt that many of us have learned to live this way out of a kind of need, a response perhaps to the celebrated isolation of our time, our God has made it clear over and over again that not only are we NOT alone, but that the safest
passage, indeed the most exciting one, involves those around us.
Isn’t this the lesson that Abraham and his descendants were meant to learn millennia ago? In a world where gods and goddesses remained fixed on the horizontal plane, tied in a way to the trees or the stone or a body of water even, Abraham, who was sent out to change history by walking many miles, discovered in fact that this God, this Lord
, was with Abraham regardless of the mount or valley. For the first time in history it was understood that the divine could be omnipresent, not in the Thomistic sense of course, but in the very real and experiential sense that this God is with us no matter our attempts to hide from or outrun Him.
And so, in spite of the efforts made by the likes of Adam (who hid) or Jonah (who ran), throughout the ages the Church has recognized a greater pattern set by the One who could see all of the pieces, declaring “you are not alone”.
After all, it is the God-man Jesus who stood among the three apostles on Mount Tabor revealing just a hint of His glory. Again it is Jesus who became the bait that death took into itself (to use a favourite image from the early Church), declaring most clearly that there is nowhere you can go where our Lord can’t be with you. There is no pain; there is no prison; there is no death that can separate you from the God who loves you. Indeed, it is the image of the Good Shepherd, often found among the catacombs of the earliest believers, hoping, praying, and trusting that He will find us, even as we can’t find our way out of the dark.
This is the bigger pattern, something we can count on: God’s method or, better still, His promise to every soul that cannot see past their next step. You are not alone, of that you can be certain.
And yet, it would be a grave misstep to forget that Moses had Aaron to walk with, Elizabeth had Mary to sit with, and a whole host of others found friends to help carry the burdens of their task. You see, God is with us, but He also demands that we be with others, and the Church has repeated this message through Her saints and each voice that has dared to look at the helplessness of every age, saying essentially, “If you’re suffering, I’ll suffer with you. If you’re struggling, I’ll struggle at your side. I will lift when your load is too heavy, and I will pull with all my might when the weight of the world seems intent on dragging you down. You are not alone.”
This is called friendship, and our time is in need of it like never before. Can you not see that in the statistics of so many who are giving up their lives in either their youth or old age? Can you not hear it in the many conversations that are powerless to approach the fundamental questions about life? Without friendships, the kind that can call us to greatness and remind us of who we really are, we walk our lives in isolation, ineffective in the face of the mission that we have been given.
In Lent especially, when we look inward and don’t like what we see, the temptation to “go it alone” can be overwhelming. But we are not
alone, and the God who called us friends demands that we live out this truth.
Even now, I have no doubt that someone in your life is asking you to suffer with them for the sake of the Gospel, to help them carry the burden their mission demands of them. May I suggest then that you tell them boldly, loudly, and without fear: you are not alone; let’s cross this sea together.
The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year A, are
2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Patrick Sullivan is an author and frequent retreat speaker. His talks have aired on FORMED, EWTN, and Shalom World Media. He is the founder of Evango, a Catholic lay apostolate which uses the new media to re-evangelize the baptized.