Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
When I read last Thursday's daily meditation in Magnificat magazine, it was one of those moments of being thunderstruck by a truth that is simple, should be obvious, and yet is utterly foreign to the modern mind. Doctor of the Church St. Peter Chrysologus reflects on Mark 6:7 and says:
"And he began to send them forth two by two." He sent them two by two so that no one of them, being abandoned and alone, might fall into a denial, like Peter, or flee, like John. Human frailty quickly falls if it proudly relies on itself, despises companions, and is unwilling to have a colleague. As Scripture says: "Woe to him that is alone, for when he falls, he has none to lift him up" [Eccles. 4:10]. The same Scripture testifies how much one is strengthened by another's aid when it states: "A brother that is helped by his brother is like a strong city" [Prov. 18:19].
It's interesting to note that in the Church's vision for every state of life, you're never a lone wolf; every individual has a person or group of people to whom he is intimately connected, at least one person who's opinion he's obliged to listen to, who is similarity obliged to give him honest feedback when he's veering off course. Priests and religious are connected to one another, to their orders or parishes, and to their superiors. Married men and women have their spouses and children to act as their traveling companions on the road to Heaven. Single people have their parents, siblings, extended family, and parish communities to draw them into intimate connections with others (also, in many traditional Catholic cultures, adult children lived with family as long as they were single). Hermits would seem to be the exception, though it's interesting to note that they don't interact with people at all: They might not have spouses or regular meetings with fellow hermits, but they also don't face the myriad temptations to sin that come with daily interaction with other human beings.
This sounds obvious when you hear it, but these ideas are quite counterintuitive in our culture of American individualism. Many people have never even thought to question the idea that it's best to be as free from the "burdens" of other people as possible, that a no-strings-attached life is the good life -- in fact, plenty of modern weddings even incorporate this idea into the core of their vows. Yet, as St. Peter Chrysologus would predict, the fruits of the life of an extreme individualist are rarely good; Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs because he knew that the devil loves a lone wolf.