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The Value of Solitude

In our modern technological age, where more and more persons seem to be always ”hooked in” to some type of social media, it seems opportune to present the importance of solitude.

The spiritual man, St. Alphonsus de Liguori teaches us, not only knows how to be by himself, but relishes it, knowing that solitude and silence provide the opportunity for the soul to know itself and grow closer to God and Our Lady.

St. Alphonsus de Liguori

Whosoever loves God, loves solitude. There the Lord communicates himself more familiarly to souls, because there He finds them less entangled in worldly affairs and more detached from earthly affections. Hence, St. Jerome exclaimed: "O solitude, in which God speaks and converses familiarly with His servants." ...

The Lord is not in the earthquake (3 Kg, 19:11). But where is He found? I will lead her into the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart (Osee 2:14). He is found in solitude and there He speaks to the heart in words that inflame it with holy love, as the sacred spouse attests: My soul melted when my Beloved spoke (Cant. 5:6).

St. Eucherius relates that a certain man, desirous of becoming a saint, asked a servant of God where he should find God. The servant of God conducted him to a solitary place, and said: "Behold where God is found!" By these words he meant to say that God is found not amid the tumult of the world, but in solitude.

Virtue is easily preserved in solitude. On the other hand, it is easily lost by intercourse with the world, where God is but little known and, therefore, His love and the treasures He gives to those who leave all things for His sake are but little esteemed. ...

The worldly shun solitude, and with good reason, for in solitude they feel more acutely the remorse of conscience. Thus they go in search of the conversations and bustle of the world, that the noise of these occupations may stifle the stings of remorse. It is true that man loves society, but what society is preferable to the society of God?

Ah! To withdraw from creatures and to converse in solitude with our Creator brings neither bitterness nor tediousness. Of this the Wise Man assures us: For her conversation hath no bitterness, nor her company any tediousness, but joy and gladness (Wis 8:16). …

St. Jerome tells us that fleeing from Rome he went to shut himself up in the Cave of Bethlehem in order to enjoy solitude. Afterwards he wrote: "To me solitude is a paradise."

The Saints in solitude appear to be alone, but they are not alone. St. Bernard said: "I am never less alone than when I am alone for I am then in the company of my Lord, Who gives me more content than I could derive from the conversation of all creatures." …

In order to find this happy solitude, it is not necessary to hide yourself in a cave or in a desert. David found it, even amidst the great concerns of a kingdom and, therefore, he said: Lo, I have gone far off, flying away; and I abode in the wilderness (Ps 54: 8). St. Philip Neri desired to retire into a desert, but God gave him to understand that he should not leave Rome and that there he should live there as in a desert. ...

Hitherto we have spoken of the solitude of the body. We must now say something on the solitude of the heart, which is more necessary than the solitude of the body. "Of what use," says St. Gregory, "is the solitude of the body without the solitude of the heart?"

That is, of what use is it to live in the desert if the heart is attached to the world? A soul detached and free from earthly affections, says St. Peter Chrysologus, finds solitude even in the public streets and roads. On the other hand, of what use is it to observe silence if affections to creatures are entertained in the heart and their noise renders the soul unable to listen to the Divine inspirations?

I here repeat the words of our Lord to St. Teresa: "Oh, how gladly would I speak to many souls, but the world makes such a noise in their hearts that My voice cannot be heard. Oh, if they would retire a little from the world!"

Let us then understand what is meant by solitude of the heart. It consists in expelling from the soul every affection that is not for God, by seeking nothing in all our actions but to please His Divine Eyes. It consists in saying with David: What have I in heaven? And besides thee, what do I desire upon earth? ... Thou art the God of my heart, and the God that is my portion forever (Ps. 72: 25,26). ...

The light of the sun cannot enter a crystal vessel filled with earth; and in a heart occupied with attachment to pleasures and wealth and honors, the Divine light cannot shine. Hence the Lord says: Be still, and see that I am God (Ps. 45: 11). The soul, then, that wishes to see God must remove the world from her heart and keep it shut against all earthly affections.

This is precisely what Jesus Christ gave us to understand under the figure of a closed chamber, when He said: But when thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber, and having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret (Mt 6:6). That is, the soul, in order to unite itself with God in prayer, must retire into its heart, which, according to St. Augustine, is the chamber of which our Lord speaks, and shut the door against all earthly affections.

Excerpt from Meditations and Readings of Saint Alphonsus,
The 24th Sunday after Pentecost, Love of Solitude.

Posted November 17, 2018


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