Loneliness is about feeling isolated and separate. Solitude is about dealing with your aloneness in a positive way. You say: ‘I feel alone but I am well. I claim my aloneness. I embrace it as a source of life.’ To speak about solitude is basically making a print of the negative which is loneliness. It’s a way of living and can take a lifetime. Every day I feel lonely again. Every moment that is new, I discover my loneliness at a deep level. I have to keep choosing to convert that loneliness into solitude. The whole spiritual life is a constant choice to let your negative spirituals experiences become an opportunity for conversion and renewal, whether it’s despair, doubt, loneliness, sexual confusion, or anger. We have to really look at these, not put them away and live virtuously. It’s much more like trusting that, if I embrace my loneliness, depression, and I struggle in faith that, somewhere, in the middle, I find light and hope.
In the world sadness and gladness are always separate. If you are sad, you cannot be glad. If you are glad, you cannot be sad. We say: ‘Be happy so we can forget our troubles.’ In the spiritual life it’s precisely the opposite. Sadness and gladness can never be separate. You embrace your sadness and trust that, right there, you will find gladness. That is what the cross is all about. You look at the cross, a sign of execution, pain, and torture. But you say: ‘Well, the cross is my hope. The cross is a source of life for me. The cross brings me joy.’ By embracing the pain, you are speaking about joy. That's a very, very spiritual thing.