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Two Apostles of Loneliness: Caryll Houselander and Catherine Doherty on the Mystical Body of Christ
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They met only once , briefly, after prayer on a gray afternoon in London:

She was a very small woman with huge big spectacles through which she could hardly see. I first met her, not knowing who she was, in the chapel of the Grail in England. This person was praying and I was interested in the little person. Anyhow, there was an air about her that I couldn’t understand—I was drawn to her. So we had tea together, the eternal good English tea, at 4pm and then I found out that she was Caryll. That didn’t tell me anything for I hadn’t read any of her books. She was very, very shy, and Yvonne, who was in charge of the Grail at the time inkled that she was a writer. But it didn’t penetrate until I got home and first read This War is the Passion. After that I collected everything that she wrote.1

It must have been quite a meeting: Doherty, who scribbled those words in the front of one of Houselander’s books, was a former noblewoman, but she was a self-proclaimed recluse; Doherty was a baroness larger than life with a penchant for the properly placed explicative. Houselander was relatively more restrained and rather frail; Doherty was forced to flee many lands, while Houselander rarely left her comfortable London surroundings. Doherty spoke with a thick Russian accent, Houselander with the poshest of English. Yet, as different as they may have appeared socially, internally they shared the same solitude: neither enjoyed secure intimacy with another, neither was able to delight in lifelong companionship, neither enjoyed the comforts of life-long marriage and the wonder of raising her own family. Both were quintessential pilgrims of the twentieth century.

For never has a human soul escaped the pains of loneliness. The solitude of Adam echoes throughout every human gaze and in every human act, each of us stretching outward for completion and wholeness. Such solitude compels us to spend our lives searching for a savior who can finally rescue us from our restlessness. Although inevitable and inescapable, there was something about the past century that rendered social divisions all the more urgent, more widespread, more institutionalized. From blistering battles to cold dictatorships, from the loosening of basic human virtues to the strangling of simple human joys, the twentieth century beheld new types of political and intellectual systems that fostered human alienation.

In economics, the institutionalization of Marxist theories of alienation resulted in totalitarian regimes. In philosophy, radical existentialism argued that there could be no real knowledge of the other; each of us is rather doomed and destined to remain locked within our own limitations. L’enfer c’est les autres—“Hell is other people.” Thinkers such as Sartre and Camus highlighted our inherent estrangement from one another as the unique essence of the human person. Theology moved from doctrinal precision to liberative praxis, scrambling to show that God is squarely on the side of those in a particular economic class, social situation, or gender. Was it not in such turbulence that the Christian West received one of its great life stories, The Long Loneliness?

In response, however, these years consequently produced some of the most significant reflections on solitude and solidarity as well. Where political ideologies inevitably failed, spiritual remedies mercifully arose. Take, for example, Pius XII’s 1943 encyclical, Mystici Corporis. At the height of the Great War stood a pope amid “the cities, towns and fertile fields strewn with massive ruins and defiled with the blood of brothers” (§4), calling the world to find comfort in how Jesus Christ “never ceases to look down with especial love on his spotless spouse so sorely tried in her earthly exile; and when he sees her in danger, saves her from the tempestuous sea” (§39). Out of these tempests of Nazism, Fascism, and atheism arose another Christian leader, Blessed John Paul II. He brought “the bloodiest century” to a close with his Wednesday addresses on the solitude of the human heart and its inherent invitation for interpersonal presence, reminding the entire world about the true sobornost [spiritual community] for which we have...

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