When I returned from the canonization of Cardinal Newman earlier this week, Eileen Rettig gave me an op-ed piece by John Garvey, currently President of Catholic University of America, an alumnus of Notre Dame, and a former law professor there. The article is very pertinent, and I hereby excerpt it, admitting I have no explicit permission, but giving him full credit:
A theologian, poet and priest of the Church of England, Newman found his way to Catholicism later in life and was ordained a Catholic priest in his 40s. Pope Leo XIII made him a cardinal in 1879.
…it’s the cardinal’s writings about loneliness and friendship that feel most salient today.
Cigna, a global health company…found that adults 18 to 22 are the loneliest segment of the population. Nearly half report a chronic sense of loneliness.
…the results don’t surprise me. I often observe young couples out on dates, looking at their cellphones rather than each other. I see students walking while wearing earbuds, oblivious to passersby. Others spend hours alone watching movies on Netflix or playing videogames. The digital culture in which young people live pushes them toward a kind of solipsism that must contribute to their loneliness.
…Social-media platforms like Facebook and Twitter connect people, but it’s a different sort of connection than friendship.
…When young people do connect face to face, it’s often superficial, thanks in part to dating and hookup apps like Tinder and Bumble. Cigna found 43% of participants [in their survey] feel their relationships are not meaningful. Little wonder, if relationships are formed when two people decide to swipe right on their phones.
Cardinal Newman never married, but warm, sincere, and lasting friendships…gave his life richness.
…In one of his sermons, delivered on the feast of St. John the Evangelist, Newman reflects on the Gospel’s observation that St. John was “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” It is a remarkable thing, Newman says, that the Son of God Most High should have loved one man more than another. It shows how entirely human Jesus was in his wants and his feelings, because friendship is a deep human desire. And it suggests a pattern we would do well to follow in our own lives if we would be happy: “to cultivate an intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us.”
On the other hand, Newman observes that “nothing is more likely to engender selfish habits” than independence. People “who can move about as they please, and indulge the love of variety” are unlikely to obtain that heavenly gift…[which is] “the very bond of peace and of all virtues.” He could well have been describing the isolation that can result from an addiction to digital entertainment.
When Newman was named a cardinal in 1879, he chose as his motto Cor ad cor loquitur. He found the phrase in a letter to St. Jane de Chantal from St. Francis de Sales, her spiritual adviser: “I want to speak to you heart to heart,” he said. Don’t hold back any inward thoughts.
That is a habit of conversation I hope we can revive among our sons and daughters. Real friendship is the cure for the loneliness so many young people feel…the honest, intimate, lasting bond of true friendship.