Columban Fr Barry Cairns Photo: Missionary Society of St Columban
By temperament, I am reticent to expose publically my innermost feelings. However, a recent experience put my feelings of loneliness into the public domain. This is how it happened.
Each year in Yokohama Diocese, Japan, we have a gathering of representatives of all the parishes. On an average 1000 people attend. They support the diocesan seminarians with prayer and finance.
Over the years the format has been a mini-seminar for the adults and a special child-oriented session for the children in a different hall.
This year I was asked to go on a panel with six other priests to be asked questions by the children. I was assured that they would be simple questions like: “Are the Mass vestments hot in Summer?”
I arrived at the hall and was surprised to be guided up to a high stage, seated at a long table with the six other priests. One was newly ordained, the others were 5, 10, 20, 30, 40 and lastly me, 60 years ordained. Each of us had two cards. One was marked with a big O meaning ‘yes’ and another with X for ‘no.’
Yes, the questions came from the children but we had to give our answers in front of 900 adults with that mass of faces turned up looking at us! Intimidating, to say the least! I was scared!
The first range of questions were easily answered. So far, so good.
Then one young boy with microphone in his hand dropped the clanger: “Father! Do you ever experience loneliness and what do you do about it?”
I momentarily thought: “I had better tell the truth” and held up my ‘yes’ card. My six companions were unmoving with a silent ‘no comment’ expression on their faces.
So in front of 900 people I was there alone to give a public answer. I had no time to formulate words expressing generalities. In fundamental Japanese I spoke about my experience of loneliness. It was the stark truth, from the heart. This is what I said, “Yes, at times I have felt very lonely. But for years I ran away from admitting I was lonely." “Lonely? Not me!” Then I read an article entitled: 'From loneliness to intimacy with Christ'. This changed my life. It was a moment of grace. I met the human Jesus in the Gospels. The Word put aside his divinity and, as Jesus, was 100% human. Jesus himself felt loneliness. He was brutally expelled from his hometown. Jesus said: “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” For me, those words are haunted with loneliness. I felt kinship. Jesus spoke to his Apostles at the Last Supper, and today to me in a living voice: ‘Barry! You are my friend.’ And so each day at prayer I meet and talk things over with my friend and God, Jesus. As my friend I call him by his first name, ‘Jesus.’ Then in 2013 Pope Francis wrote us a letter called ‘Joy of the Gospel'. In it he said: ‘Jesus Christ loves you and is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you' (Joy of the Gospel #164) I like those words; they really echoed in my heart.
So the companionship of Jesus gives me hope, joy and comfort. This may sound overly pious but it is the genuine truth. Through loneliness I met Jesus.
There was silence and the young boy took the microphone and said ‘Arigato gozaimasu’ (Thank you).
Columban Fr Barry Cairns works in a small parish in Yokohama City, Japan.
Listen to "Are you ever lonely father?"
- Read more from The Far East - November/December 2019