May 2018 Faith Community Reflection
On Solitude: St John Paul II
Fr Nick Welsh
Much of St John Paul II’s philosophy and anthropology was the fruit of his experience of being ‘alone in the world.’ Karol Wojtyla’s mother died when he was just 9 years’ old and his only brother when he was 12. When later he lost his father, he wrote that ‘at the age of 20, I had already lost all the people that I had loved.’ The young Karol Wojtyla was alone in the world. And this profound experience caused him to reflect on the human condition and particularly on love. His solitude allowed him to reflect on just what it was that gave life meaning, fullness, happiness. And in the end, he concluded that it was to love fully, after the example of Christ on the Cross.
John Paul II’s experience of solitude and loneliness was the springboard for his anthropology which is the basis of his theology of body. The three states which form the basis of the original human condition he says are: original solitude (before the creation of the woman and before original sin man recognises himself as ‘alone in the world’ as he is different from the rest of creation as he is a co-creator with God (through naming of the animals) yet is not the same as God. Nothing is like him in the creation. He is alone); original unity (where at the creation of the woman he recognises someone with whom he can share love, thus solitude is overcome); original nakedness (whereby the man and woman have no shame as they stand naked because they are not a threat to each other, they hold nothing back, they cover up nothing in their self-giving love for each other).
We are often so afraid of solitude, we are afraid of ‘being alone in the world.’ In many ways we are alone in the world. As celibate diocesan priests, we often live alone. As religious who live in community we often feel alone precisely because of the community and our relations with the other members of that community. As married lay people committed to the Church we can often be isolated in our desire to follow fully that which the Church teaches. As single young people, it can often seem that we are the only people trying to live the Church’s challenging teaching. In many ways, we are alone in the world.
This is not necessarily something to fear. St John Paul II’s experience of loneliness provoked in him a life of greatness; his being alone in the world helped him to recognise that that which sustains, brings to life and fulfils is God Himself. At 20 he realised there was no-one left to love him and he had no-one left to love. Only God was left. But this experience of solitude and loneliness allowed for a great insight into the human person and to a vision of man which allowed the Church to present to the world an anthropology appropriate to our times; one based on experience and love, two terms the world is able to understand.
Perhaps, then, instead of fleeing being alone, we might embrace our loneliness whether that be as single people, married couples, religious or priests who feel a certain discomfort in the world. Let our solitude, our alone-ness in the world, by God’s grace, offer to us something of the awareness which John Paul II was offered of God’s love for him and also an insightfulness which St John Paul II was granted, and that we might use that insight to bring the world closer to Christ and Christ to the world after the example of our beloved Pope St John Paul II.