Growing up I had a friend named Darren whom everyone called “Doc.” Everybody liked Doc. He was very friendly and had a great sense of humor. He was always telling funny stories, most of them made up, and would make fun of you in a way that you couldn’t help but laugh as you thanked him for the insult. One summer when we were in college, Doc found an old pair of clippers and decided to try his hand at barbering. He didn’t charge for his haircuts, but wasn’t above accepting tips. He called his little quasi-business, “Another Happy Customer.” Now, Doc was gifted in a lot of ways, but he was more of a butcher than a barber. But you enjoyed your time with him so much, that when he held up the mirror when he was finished, despite looking like one of the Three Stooges (Moe Howard, if you were lucky), you’d inevitably have a big smile on your face. “Another happy customer!” he’d declare as he wiped down the metal folding chair he had set up in his garage.
I thought about Doc when I was reading a recent article in the online Catholic magazine Cruxthat cited a study showing that young people are experiencing heightened levels of loneliness and isolation. That, of course, is no surprise. What was surprising – and encouraging – was that they are not experiencing a decline in their faith. Describing them as “one of the loneliest and isolated generations that has ever existed,” the study indicated that in this time of social distancing, many young people are actually experiencing an increase of faith and developing new religious habits in the face of increasing isolation. At the same time, however, they feel disconnected from the Church. They crave relationships and mentors, but they are suspicious of institutions. One of the experts cited said: “Young people express strongly how they need to be accompanied to choose the right course in this complex and uncertain world. They look for mentors who can walk with them and help them to discern how to live a meaningful life, that is for most of them a life of encounters, a life of friendships and fraternity.” Pope Francis, like his predecessors, has said repeatedly that the Church should be a place where they find these relationships.
Looking back, it was remarkable how people would entrust themselves to Doc for a haircut. You literally could go anywhere else and get a better haircut. Literally. The reason people went to him was because it was a place where you knew you were going to encounter goodness and a joy that was infectious. There’s something in that which I think points to where renewal comes from. It’s not by imitating contemporary styles and trends or secular marketing formulas, which easily become a distraction. Rather, it’s as the great spiritual writer Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard once wrote: “The best way to get men to listen to you is to hold out to them the secret of carrying the Cross, which is the lot of every mortal, with joy. This secret lies in the Eucharist and in the hope of heaven.” So many young people, but not just young people, are carrying the cross of loneliness and the feeling of existential aimlessness because they don’t know the Lord and are confused about themselves. Christ Jesus established the Church as the means by which we would know Him and encounter Him in the Word, in the Sacraments, and in the community. He gives us the treasures of the Church as the way to enter into friendship with Him, a friendship that is nourished by regular prayer, frequent reception of the Sacraments, and care for our neighbor. Unless we have a living relationship with Our Lord, it will be impossible for us to trust Him. And if we don’t trust Him, how will others trust Him? If we don’t know Him, how will others know Him? If we don’t love Him, how will others love Him? We cannot give what we don’t have. Doc never pretended to be a good barber and no one went to him expecting to get a stylish haircut. He was a friend. It is friendship that people crave. It is to friendship with Him that Our Lord is calling us. That is where we find greatest joy and fulfillment, which enables us to bear the crosses of life together in Christian friendship and fellowship because we know the way to our final destination is with Him.