Monday, February 1, 2010

For Friendship

Nothing confirms my conversion more loudly than this: I have never had such friends. It’s conceivable that I was a jerk all my life and only emerged from jerkiness during my first two years as a Catholic, which emergence led people to say, “Gee, I thought he was a jerk, but he isn’t that bad. . . . ” 

That would be a variation on CS Lewis’s “lunatic, liar, or lord.” Take your pick: (1) Webster was a jerk for 56 years; (2) Webster has gone soft in the head now that he’s a Catholic; or (3) there is something about the Catholic faith shared that opens one to deep and abiding friendship. You can say what you want, you have nothing to lose but your faith; as for me, I’m betting the house on (3). Call it Bull’s Wager.

For this Monday morning thought, you can thank EPG, his question and the comments that it evoked, and the readings this morning in the Liturgy of the Hours. The first reading prescribed for the Fourth Monday in Ordinary Time is from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (2:13–3:13) and carries a red-letter subhead, “Paul’s friendship for the Thessalonians.” The entire passage sings of friendship, and it reads like a love letter after a long separation: “When we were orphaned by separation from you for a time—in sight, not in mind—we were seized with the greatest longing to see you.”

Paul recognizes that these friends in Thessaly are more than friends. They are the proof of his faith: “Who, after all, if not you, will be our hope or joy, or the crown we exult in, before our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? You are our boast and our delight.”

They are in fact a witness of the presence of God: “What thanks can we give to God for all the joy we feel in his presence because of you . . . ”

The love of true friendship is a byproduct of that presence, of God’s love for us and ours for Him: “May the Lord increase you and make you overflow with love for one another and for all, even as our love does for you.”

The second reading, from a commentary by Saint Hillary, takes up the theme of friendship and makes a wild but beautiful connection. “It is pleasant and good for brothers to dwell in unity,” he writes, then with the prophet (which one?) compares this Christian friendship with “the ointment on the head which ran down over the beard of Aaron, down upon the collar of his garment”!!

The closing prayer for the day (and the week) wraps the theme in a nice, tight package: “Lord our God, help us to love you with all our hearts and to love all men as you love them.”

The meta-message I took from the discussion about the role of the laity triggered by EPG’s question was summed up beautifully by Warren Jewell. He cited “this delightful club of friends under the YIMC banner.” If this were the first group of friends like this that I have encountered in the Catholic Church, you might go back to Bull’s Wager and select option (2). However, I recognize this “club of friends,” a rather Pickwickian bunch actually, because I have become part of other such clubs in my first two years as a Catholic. Ferde roped me into two of them: the Saturday morning men’s group in our parish and our Friday evening School of Community, “under the banner of” Communion and Liberation (CL).

Let me say this about both of these groups: There have been times when I thought they were not really what I was looking for. But I recognized eventually with each that what was making that judgment was not my heart but my mind in isolation: “The presentations in this group are sometimes not so interesting.” “The discussions of Don Giussani’s writings are sometimes not so focused.” And so on.

What has kept me engaged in each of these groups is my heart, which tells me, These are friends, true friends without ulterior motives, true friends because they share with me a love of Christ. That keeps me coming back.

The picture at the top of this post is from a recent birthday party thrown for Katie by some of our CL friends in Boston. It is a picture of true friendship. It validates my conversion and everything else about my life.