"No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless."
In the face of social distancing, young Americans (18-25 years old) are surprisingly not reporting a decline in their religious faith.
Thirty-five percent of young adult respondents to a recent survey describe an increase in religious faith during the COVID-19 health crisis. The same study reports, “Nearly 46% have started new religious practices, and 43% have participated in at least one religious service online.” Despite these relatively positive responses towards religious faith, the recent study released by the Springtide Research Institute of Bloomington, Minnesota, offers some data that should give us pause.
Unsurprisingly 60% report feeling isolated; 58% percent report feeling “scared and uncertain.” That measure of loneliness brings to mind the words of Pope Francis, who says,
How much sadness we see in so many faces all around us! How many tears are shed every second in our world; each is different but together they form, as it were, an ocean of desolation that cries out for mercy, compassion and consolation.
There is so much loneliness. Even before the pandemic. Quarantine may have exacerbated the issue some, but we are so isolated. During the pandemic when I’ve found myself out, I’ve felt a remarkable solidarity with the people I’ve run into. The phenomenon of our shared experience has offered a remarkable consolation. And yet that is only when I encounter the presence of another.
Another; someone else. That is the only answer to the isolation. Regardless of psychological health or personal resiliency, this is a truth of the human condition. Only another can draw me forth from the structures of my own seclusion.
Dorothy Day describes this well. She writes,
We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.
No Christian gets to love alone. To love Christ, which is the only answer to the mysteries and tumults of the heart, means loving others.
This is the mystery of the Road to Emmaus. Christ does not appear to just one of the disciples. These two followers of Jesus were traveling together.
St. Cyril of Alexandria suggests that the two had been with Jesus for some time. He numbers them among the 72 disciples who Jesus dispatches in Chapter 10 of Luke’s Gospel. Supposing this is the case, imagine then what they would have seen. These two disciples would have been acquainted with Jesus’ teaching, with his miracles, and best of all, they would have known well what it was like to be with him.
This is the scene then: two travelers on the road, a journey of two believers. Not one believer alone, but two, together.
My classmates in the Order are able to continue to share so much because of the things we experienced in our first years of formation. Our memories are the source of great joy and constant fraternity. It was those years that fostered deep encounters with Christ. But even deeper than living an extended “shared past,” we know that we are continuing to journey together.
Perhaps for this reason, one of my favorite depictions of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus is by the Dominican friar Fra Angelico, who has painted two Dominicans meeting the Risen Christ! In the Order, we friars have found Christ together.
But this is not just the journey of the religious! This is the way of life of every Christian! A shared life, a life of communion. This union is what we must draw on, this having encountered and thus bonded in Christ, this is the source of our outreach in this time.
We must fight the desire to give in, to not care, to cease calling and texting and praying. We have to continue to reach out! Again, Dorothy Day assures us,
People say, what is the sense of our small effort? They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time. A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions. Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that. No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless. There is too much work to do.
Our accompaniment will only flourish if it is for the Gospel. Pope Francis writes,
Spiritual accompaniment must lead others ever closer to God … to accompany them would be counterproductive if it became a sort of therapy supporting their self-absorption and ceased to be a pilgrimage with Christ to the Father (Evangelii Gaudium, 170).
Simply being with or forcing ourselves on people will not offer the peace we’re looking for.
It is possible, even in these times, to be truly united. Our Christian fellowship cannot be wrinkled or broken by anything in this life. It remains. We must draw on it. We must continue to pour out ourselves, and in so doing (to adopt a well-worn phrase) the lives we save may be our own.