Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Holy Spirit and the Scope of Friendship

The Lenten and Easter Seasons of 2020 have been unlike any that we have ever experienced.

For laypeople, the inability to participate by a fully bodily personal presence in the liturgical life of the Church has been peculiar, challenging, and often frustrating. We felt the lack of many of the customary elements of the seasons, and above all we felt "distanced" from the Eucharist at the very heart of the liturgical year.

We also missed the immediate company of one another as a living community accustomed to regular gatherings and collaboration in so many worthwhile activities.

There was much grace in this experience, nevertheless. We had to trust in Christ's love, in the confidence that the Mass was still being offered for us every day by our bishops and priests.

And we were able to engage with some level of "connection" and to share intentionally in those Masses that were livestreamed. In this way it was also possible to experience, with particular intensity and focus, the vitality of encountering Jesus in the Eucharist "by desire," by what is called "spiritual communion."

Moreover, though we were separated physically from one another and quarantined in our own homes, we remained united in Christ's body. And we found ways to "be together," to pray together, help one another, encourage one another in difficulties, and grow together. Many of us were assisted in this by audiovisual interactive media and social networks. Though this is not the same as being in the same room, it was overall something we were glad we could do. Now we have a little more freedom to interact "directly" (sometimes only from behind a mask) with our friends, and also to attend Mass and receive the sacrament of the Eucharist.

A more restricted situation may yet return, or some worse calamity may befall us. But we now know from experience something of the interior strength of the bond that keeps us together in the Church. We know it is deeper than the limitations and hindrances of any circumstance. We have been able to reaffirm that, indeed, God is good, all the time. Perhaps we have also learned something about the strength and value of friendship.

Today is Pentecost Sunday. We ask the Holy Spirit to come and draw us more deeply into the communion of life we share in Christ and with one another.

The Holy Spirit sustains friendships in Jesus Christ and the Church. He makes it real that we are brothers and sisters. He is the true, original, and enduring “social network” that brings us all together and gives us a concrete perception of our common hope and common mission. Friendship, like all human realities, is elevated and transfigured by the grace of the Spirit. If we live in faith, we will find many signs of God's hand at work in this important aspect of our lives.

This includes, of course, the blessing and gift of the awareness of the ultimate significance of those deep, cultivated human friendships built upon decades of interaction and mutual trust. I am long past the age where a person realizes that no one has many friends of this kind. The very human richness of such friendships entails also their particularity, which is defined by places and time, personality types, qualities, rapport, common experiences, and many other circumstances that allow a friendship to be sustained and to grow over a lifetime.

Nevertheless, it's true even on a purely natural level that people have a wider circle of cordial relationships where the bond of friendship is also expressed and lived in varying degress and approximations. Here you do find some people who have "many friends," and — for most of us — it's possible and worthwhile to "make new friends" within this sphere.

In God's plan, however, the human capacity for friendship is transformed and acquires a special stature.

While respecting and making use of all the natural distinctions in human relationships, the Risen Christ wants to generate in us by His Spirit a new kind of affection for the human person, a new capacity for empathy, a more powerful perseverance in active love, a space for hospitality within our hearts (and therefore also within our communities) that is so much larger than anything human nature could accomplish on its own.

Thus the Spirit builds up Christ's body, His Church, through friendships that bloom and thrive — sometimes in unexpected places, and with a variety of people — and prove remarkably tenacious even in the face of many human tensions, disagreements, and conflict.

The great strength of such friendships is Jesus Christ Himself, to whom we belong (together) with all our hearts, with whom we are brothers and sisters, children of the Father, co-heirs to the Kingdom.

Still, the reality is that we fight all the time, and we hurt one another. Some of this follows from our fraternal closeness: siblings fight all the time, but (in healthy situations) they work things out within the context of the stability of family life. Unfortunately, it is too often the case that our conflicts express something other than the squabbling of siblings. Too often, we fight against one another and do violence to one another because we have forgotten who we are.

We have forgotten our responsibility toward one another in Christ. We have forgotten the grace of the Holy Spirit, the love of God poured out into our hearts that is also a love for our brothers and sisters, a love that "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things" (1 Cor 13:7).

We have forgotten the reality of God's concrete presence in our lives. That is why we hate one another. "The one who says, 'I love God' but hates his brother is a liar" (1 John 4:20).

Misunderstandings cause tension. Diverse tastes and disagreements cause tension. The need, at times, to help one another to remember uncomfortable truths causes tension. The many stupid things we do to one another because we are still sinners cause tension. Many circumstances and things cause tension. These real human tensions, fractures, and wounds may require time and some "distancing" in order to heal, so that there can be real reconciliation.

Christians are not called to pretend that there is nothing wrong, ever, in their relationships, or that everything is always "great" (this pretense is a form of pride, because it evades the real character of the Spirit's gift, of His ways of transforming our humanity, in favor of a self-generated, artificial and inevitably inhuman facade the covers over our ongoing need for God's grace and forgiveness).

Christians are not called simply to be nice to one another and always appear to get along. Rather, they are called to remember that they are brothers and sisters. In Christ they belong to one another.

Openness to the Holy Spirit, in fact, will bring healing grace and the joy of the Lord to our lives and our relationships. We will love one another more, and within that mutual love God creates the "space" that welcomes others into this communion of friendship.

Every human person belongs to Christ, and is on a path (sometimes a very long and winding and mysterious path) toward Christ in the Father's plan. Our own contributions to evangelization intersect with and can shape (as God wills) the paths of persons in search of the meaning of life. These persons are also our brothers and sisters, journeying with their many traditions and the wisdom found in them, and according to the working of the Holy Spirit secretly in their own hearts, drawing them toward the embrace of Christ.

We are called to bear confident and patient witness to the Gospel, to point to Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of all that is good and true in the histories and traditions of their peoples and in the promptings of their own consciences and the longing of their hearts. Here too, friendships are born.

Every human person is created in the image and likeness of God, called to the embrace of Jesus Christ and the freedom of redemption in Him, and prompted by the Holy Spirit who leads them to long for and seek out the fullness of truth. Every person is our brother or our sister.

There is no place for hatred in our way of regarding or approaching any human person. We are called even to love our enemies... in the hope that they might become our friends.

The gift of the Spirit deepens and widens our capacity for friendship, not in the sense that we can have everybody as a "bosom buddy" (as I said, if we have a few of these over the course of a lifetime, it is a blessing), but so that we can walk together and help one another as companions on the journey towards our destiny, as brothers and sisters going home to our Father.

It is Christ our brother, the Lord of all creation and history, who leads us on this journey. Friendship is only a foretaste of the communion of love we will share with the Triune God and one another for all eternity when we finally arrive at the journey's end.

Come, Holy Spirit! Sustain our hope that we might persevere until we reach the fullness of life for which we have been created.

In the glory of the Father's house, we will dwell forever with God, seeing Him as He is. What does this mean for human friendship? Very much, because we are all called to be friends, to be brothers and sisters, to be together forever!

It should not be surprising that our growing in God's grace in Christ in this present life makes for enduring and faithful and forgiving friendships. There is no greater foundation!

Veni Sancte Spiritus!šŸ”„ Thank you, Lord, for everything. Jesus, I trust in you.