Though it is a busy semester, one of my joys is a small community I am part of here in Edmonton known as Communion and Liberation. Though lately it has been difficult for me to attend meetings due to the priorities of seminary life and prayer, I did find time this past weekend to join them for Mass and a meal.
I had not planned to stay too late that night, but ended up staying an hour longer than intended. Over the course of the evening, our conversation moved from the happenings of our lives, to serious theological topics, to questions of discernment, to simple world and secular events. Yet the Person of Jesus was the unifying focus of all our conversation. Indeed, I have discovered that in that community I have real friendship, that there is a real care for the other, a delight and love for the other simply as other. What unites us is an ecclesial friendship, that is, a friendship that is centered around Christ and is lived as a miniature communion that reflects the communion of the Church. In this group I realize questions that affect my destiny, that allow me to engage in the struggles and trials of my life, and, most importantly, it is a group that constantly challenges me to recognize the Presence of Christ in all that I am and that I do. I am challenged to accept the reality that is given in front of me and to embrace what Christ has given me. In short, I find myself constantly challenged to live the beauty of my Christianity by the support and love of these friends.
I find, at times, that the word ‘friend’ has been greatly diminished in our culture. I myself even use it too flippantly at times. Yet we must have a certain reverence in front of such a word, for the Lord uses it in a strikingly deep way when He says “I no longer call you servants, but friends.”. The word is not flippant, it denotes an intimacy that most friendships lack. In other words, most friends are not really friends, they are acquaintances. Recently, one of my friends from CL (the abbreviation we use for the movement) e-mailed me and was getting me in contact with others from the movement, encouraging me to be in touch with them so that I may develop friendships with them. I was really moved by the use of the word ‘friend’ because it was not being used irreverently. It was being used with devotion, awe. Friendship, as the movement sees it, is deeply sacred and beautiful because through it we are made into the images of Christ we are called to be.
It helps me, then, to realize that I cannot always be ‘friends’ with everyone because friendship is sacred and therefore demands work. Friendship is to be beautiful and beauty demands effort, attention, time, space. In short, it demands devotio. By this I mean a real dedication of self to an other. This does not entail copious amounts of time spent with the other – I have friends in the true sense of the word who I may only see once or twice a year, if that – yet the time is done with great devotion with an aim towards creating something beautiful for God.
Yet, unfortunately, our culture lacks this true friendship and it is something that is so beautiful, that we long for in a deep way. It is in image of the intimate friendship we have with the Lord and is always for the upbuilding of the other. If our friendships do not have an aspect of ‘building up’, then there is something lacking and we may want to re-evaluate our dedication to that friendship. But we need friends, true friends, whom we can be with in the Lord, with whom we can constantly talk about the true state of our hearts, our desires, disappointments, and all of it centered in the Lord.
I have learned what it means to be a friend from the movement because it images the friendship the Lord has with us.