Archbishop's Message


Our Christian life is a call to solitude, not loneliness. Our Lord Jesus is the epitome of solitude for us and he gives us this message powerfully during the season of Lent. Along with Jesus is Mary his (and our) blessed Mother, St. Joseph, her blessed spouse and all the saints.
Only in solitude can we enter into communion with the indwelling Holy Trinity whose temples we have become in baptism. In solitude we receive the gift of discernment about the will of God for us and the inner light of the Holy Spirit that is so necessary to guide our every thought, word, desire and deed in the way of the Gospel; God gives us the grace to examine our lives and return to him through repentance, so that we can walk on the path of salvation and gain eternal life. We need solitude to awaken ourselves to the gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, understanding, counsel, knowledge, fortitude, piety, fear of God , and bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
There is a beautiful hymn for the Office of Readings of Sunday, Week 3:

Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart,
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art;
Thou my best thought in the day and the night,
Waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.

Be thou my wisdom, be thou my true word,
I ever with thee, and thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, and I thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.

Riches I need not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine inheritance through all my days;
Thou, and thou only the first in my heart,
High King of heaven, my treasure thou art!

High King of heaven, thou heaven’s bright sun,
Grant me its joys after vict’ry is won;
Christ of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my vision, O Ruler of all.

It speaks to us of the solitude that should exemplify the Christian way of life – the ‘mystical union’ which is not a privilege of those who live in monasteries but of every disciple of Christ in the daily context of one’s life in the world, and at every moment.
Solitude is based on ‘inner’ silence and aloneness whereby the ‘noise’ outside doesn’t affect us because there is peace and harmony ‘inside’ us. This state of ‘inner peace’ is what solitude signifies, and it has to be the mark of Christian discipleship. It leads us to build loving relationships, engage in selfless service, be ready to forgive and forget, overcome prejudices, break down walls of separation, uphold the dignity of all especially the weak and vulnerable, care for God’s creation, and spread everywhere God’s peace, love and joy. Once I know my worth as a child of God and precious in his eyes, I will endeavour to affirm the worth of the other irrespective of caste, creed, language, ethnicity, etc. We see therefore how solitude differs from loneliness which has narcissistic and self-centric undertones, whereas solitude signifies self-transcendence. In loneliness we seek attention from others, in solitude we give attention to others.
However, loneliness does strike us at some time or the other in our lives due to life’s many painful experiences from childhood on. Some say loneliness is the malaise of our times, particularly as it affects young people, because of the increasingly busy, consumerist and techno-savvy world in which we live.
There is no doubt, a temporary phase of loneliness is natural, but it can be destructive if it becomes a prolonged state of depression. We may do harm to ourselves and to others. There is need to come out of that state at the earliest; and much depends on peers, elders, friends and relatives to help a person overcome this state. The person himself or herself also has the responsibility to open the door of one’s heart to the workings of the Holy Spirit who is the true counsellor, the paraclete, the comforter and the life-giver. The word of God, our liturgical worship, the devotional life of the Church, our family prayer, our social relationships, our church activities and a selfless service to humanity are a great means to take us from loneliness to ‘aloneness’ to ‘solitude’.
From his birth until his death on the cross and the victory of the resurrection, Our Lord Jesus Christ speaks to us of his communion with the Father whose will he has come to accomplish on this earth. Already at his baptism the Father reveals him as his ‘beloved son’ with whom he is well pleased. In the strength of this relationship Jesus shuns the temptations of the evil one to pleasures, wealth, power and popularity during his forty days of fasting and prayer in the desert before beginning his public ministry. Throughout his public ministry of healing, forgiving and proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom he faces bitter opposition from the evil one who attacks him overtly and covertly through his agents– the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes, the Lawyers, the temple aristocracy, the Sanhedrin and the Roman administration. Jesus does not back out but carries on accomplishing his mission of doing good and showing us the way of salvation until his arrest, shoddy trial and ignominious death on the cross. The way of the cross was truly a way of unexplainable suffering and pain, both physical and emotional, which we meditate upon during the days of Lent and particularly on Good Friday.
What could have sustained Jesus throughout his ministry and during this final phase of his life which we call his passion and death when all human support had left him and he was abandoned into the hands of his enemies? Without any doubt, it was his communion with the Father. As the Gospels, especially of John, so emphatically illustrate, the source, the mainstay, the raison d’être of the life and mission of Jesus is his Father. Finally, it is the Father who strengthens him to ‘drink the cup’ to the dregs and forgive his enemies before surrendering his spirit into the Father’s hands at the completion of his mission.
Therefore, when Jesus calls us to follow him by denying ourselves and taking up our cross, he calls us into solitude which does not signify running away from the world but rather connecting with it all the more deeply in love and self-giving.
We witness how people came into solitude from their loneliness when they encountered Jesus – the blind, the deaf, the paralytics, the lepers, the possessed, the infirm, the sinners, the simple believers, and even the dead who were raised to life. The greater transition from loneliness to solitude happened when Jesus rose again from the dead. For all those who encountered the Risen Lord, life was never the same again. The process would be completed at Pentecost when the Church would be commissioned in the power of the Spirit to proclaim to the whole world God’s infinite love in Christ and the call to new life in the Holy Spirit.
Donna E. Schaper in her book Alone but not Lonely: A Spirituality of Solitude (Mumbai: St. Paul’s, 2000) says: “Loneliness is when we get trapped deep inside and can’t get out. Loneliness happens to everyone. It is good for us to explore both solitude and loneliness. Both offer solace. Both. Each is part of the other. Think of Mary who came to the garden alone (John 20:15-18). First, she is deeply lonely. The whole world is lonely that early Easter morning. Then Jesus speaks to her, and her loneliness turns to solitude. An encounter with Jesus lets Mary be by herself in a different way. It also opens her to companionship in a different way. Solitude brings us back to people and to God!” (pp. 9-10).
A recent story from Turkey narrates how a rich landlord who had mercilessly sent away his tenant for not paying the monthly rent on time found himself equally homeless and in the same makeshift tent along with his old tenant after the earthquake.
We don’t need a calamity of such proportions to open our eyes to the transient nature of wealth and power in God’s eyes; we need to enter into the solitude of Christ’s Resurrection in order to be people enlightened by His Spirit.

Yours sincerely in the Lord,
+ Anil J. T. Couto
  Archbishop of Delhi