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Friendship & the Parish PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 26 July 2007 14:04
My friend Mark has been meditating on Fr. Raniero Cantalemessa's reflection upon friendship:

"I've been reflecting a lot on friendship the last few days, so this is timely for me. I particularly like this:

It is a mutual attraction and deep understanding between two people, but it does not have a sexual component as does conjugal love. It is a union of two souls, not two bodies. In this sense the ancients said that friendship is to have "one soul in two bodies." It can be a stronger bond than that of family. Family consists in having the same blood in one's veins. In friendship one has the same tastes, ideals, interests.

It is essential to friendship that it is founded on a common search for the good and the true.

I had dinner the other night with Fr. Bernhard Blankenhorn, my pastor, and another friend of mine. In the course of the conversation, we discussed various things, including the different ways in which cradles and converts relate to the Church.

This led on to other reflections. One thing I got thinking about was the way in which Evangelicals seem to be so good at creating community and Catholics so lousy at it. I'm sorry, but I've never chalked that up (as cradles are wont to do) as simply and solely (or even primarily) due to some supposed Evangelical "emotionalism" that stands in negative contrast to the Deep Maturity of Catholics. This excuse may satisfy Catholics in profound denial over the intense loneliness many Catholics feel, but it remains an excuse. The fact is many parishes are crappy at giving their members a living experience of the love of Christ.

What got me thinking is that I am very grateful because I *have* been given a living experience of the love of Christ, both as a Protestant and as a Catholic. That experience has taken place, since entering the Church, largely at Blessed Sacrament parish."


"Part of it, I think, is that the parish is, like everything in the Catholic tradition, rooted in a "grace perfecting nature" mode of thought. Parishes presume a pre-existing human community with some stability: the village, town or polis where people are born, live and die and everybody knows each other. With that sort of natural soil you can get a parish which builds on the natural familial relationship to the divine familial relationship of the Body of Christ.

But what happens when the parish is placed in a culture like ours that is profoundly mobile and transitory. The soil gets pretty thin. And the attempt to fix the problem often results in things like my old parish: lots of plastic bonhomie and fake glad-handing of the "We are Community!" variety. Real communities don't have to organize rallies to remind people that They Are Community. They are too busy living the communal life, which is about something else and not about itself.

The surest way to destroy communal life is to try to make it be about communal life, just as the surest way to kill any hope of conversation is to stare into somebody's eyes and say, "Let's have a really good talk" and the surest way to induce illness is to obsess over your health. Healthy community is a by-product of a life lived toward some other end. And the end toward which the Church is supposed to living is God, not itself.

So what about Evangelicals then? Why do they do so much better? Well, they do and they don't. At their best, Evangelicals are freed by not needing to follow a parish model. They do not need to build an ecclesial community on the paradigm of a family, so they often wind up building communities that instead specialize in friendship, which is another form of love.

Partly this has to do with the congregational nature of Evangelical communities. Catholic communities tend to be like block parties. Protestant ones tend to be about bringing like-minded people together around a particular set of ideas. That can be fractious, but it can also produce close friendships as people with a common vision speak the essential words, "You too? I though I was the only one!"

Friendship can be a love every bit as intense as eros in some ways. Indeed, in our sex-soaked culture it is often identified with eros. And that, in turn, hampers friendships from happening, because there is a sotto voce fear that a close friendship will be identified as somehow homosexual. But real friendship has nothing to do with sex. It is, as Fr. Cantalamessa says, "a union of two souls, not two bodies". To have known true friendship, even once, leaves a mark of gratitude on the heart that cannot be erased.

That's why I've been thinking about my experience at Blessed S. God graced me with so many different experiences of love there. Familial love. Real experiences of friendship. Even fatherly love through a priest who had a profound impact on me.

I'm still sorting it out. But I think this experience of Church as family and the experience of the Church via friendship is very important. I will have to give it more thought."

And a commenter,Joe Roberts, made these observations:

"My .02: I'm a revert. One of the differences I note between the evangelical congregations I went to and the Catholic parishes I've been to is the essential disposition of the people vis a vis Jesus Christ

In the Greenfield Church of Christ, in which I was (re-)baptized by full immersion in my early 20s, every single adult had made a definite and defining decision to accept Jesus and follow him. Each could name the time and place this decision had been made. In my parish today (I'm now in my late 40s and back in the fold for around 20 years), I have a hard time knowing why many of the people are there at Mass. Lots of them neither pray the prayers, nor sing the hymns, nor pay attention to the homily. Not all, mind you, but more than just a few.

but I'll bet most of your readers know exactly what I'm talking about. You just don't see that sort of passivity, that sense of dry fulfillment of drudgery duty, in your average evangelical-Protestant church.

"It's ironic, really. We've got a full banquet in front of us, the fullness of truth and the Body of Christ, and we accept it with a shrug. They've got the appetizer tray, a key piece of the banquet but a very limited one, and they're excited about it as all get-out.

Evangelicals are mostly intentional disciples, to borrow a term from Ms. Weddell. They make friends with one another very naturally, almost exactly in accord with Fr. Cantalamessa's definition of friendship. Catholics are largely bored spectators. Neighbors, yes; friends, not so much."


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