“To most men loneliness is a doom. It is imposed upon the criminal as the heaviest of punishments; carried to extremes we know it will drive him mad; nothing seems to unman a man as the loneliness of a prison cell. Even for those who are not criminals, nothing so wrings pity from a human heart as the sight of another who is utterly alone. Loneliness to men is the very ghost of life, dogging their steps, haunting them at every turn, from which they are always trying to escape. It cannot be fought, it cannot be avoided, yet there is nothing many more dread for themselves, or see with more concern in others.
Yet it is this very thing which God has chosen to be the school of training for His own. He has shown it without possibility of mistake. Look down the line of the Old Testament, and you will find it written everywhere …
Abraham — what was he but a model of loneliness? ‘In those days God said to Abraham: Leave thy country and thy father’s house and come into a land which I shall show thee.’ Moses, the saviour of his people, must first be brought up in an alien’s house, and must then be made perfect in a wilderness. David was a lonely man. No otherwise could he have known the depth of soul that cried out in his lament for the loss of Saul and Jonathan; no otherwise could he have learnt to endure and love on when friend and foe alike turned against him. And the prophets, the giants of the latter age, Amos and Osee, Isaias and Jeremias, Ezekeil and Daniel — what are they but gaunt lonely figures, standing out upon the distant skyline, with the red light of a setting sun behind them? Last of all comes the Baptist, the man of all men lonely, bestriding the gulf that separates two worlds, who because of his momentous mission must needs be alone from his childhood.
If in the days of God’s manifest guidance this is true, no less is it true in the days of hidden grace. Our Lord Himself was alone; in the wilderness of humanity He lived, so long a time, and men did not know Him. He was in the world, and the world knew Him not; He came unto His own, and His own received Him not. His fellow Nazarenes claimed to know Him, and did not. His enemies knew him and refused to own it. His friends – at one point in His life ‘many went back and walked no more with Him’; at another ‘all fled away’; at the very end He had to say: ‘How long a time I have been with you, and you have not known me!’ He was born deserted, He lived alone, He died a lonely criminal’s death; and if we want a proof that He felt it, we have it, first, in His frequent cries of pain, and second, in the eager way he grasped at and rewarded every mark of companionship offered Him …
So does God deal with His own, above all with those of His own whom He has chosen to use for others. And the reason is not hard to discover. There are three schools of suffering, each with its own special blessing to bestow — physical, mental, and that inner school which lies behind them both, loneliness of soul. Physcial suffering makes for tenderness of heart and a patient judgment. Mental suffering gives a deepened sympathy, an active influence which when ‘lifted up draws all things to itself’.
But loneliness of soul does more than this: it gives independence and strength. Even in the natural plane it secures liberty of spirit, it develops clearness of judgment, it enforces power of will. But this is by no means all … Loneliness of soul gives wisdom — that breadth of vision that belongs to him who sees all the valley from the hill-top. Loneliness of soul gives understanding — that further power of seeing beneath the surfaces of life. Loneliness of soul gives counsel to sustain another, and fortitude to endure its own burden; all the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost come through and are fostered by loneliness of soul.”
— “The School of Love and Other Essays”, by Alban Goodier, S.J., Archbishop of Bombay, 1918.