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Thursday, May 4, 2017

On Friendship: from Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson

Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, a convert from Anglicanism and the son of the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a wonderful little pamphlet in 1912 titled, The Friendship of Christ. I'm blessed to have a copy. It's an especially significant little booklet in the Facebook age when people revel in their thousands of "friends" many of whom they've never met "face to face" and never will. This is how words are stripped of meaning. But that's a subject for another day.

Be a little child in Christ's presence;
It's the quickest way to His heart!
Real friendship, according to Benson, is "this mysterious mighty as it is mysterious." And part of that mighty mystery is that:
It is bound to rise, so far as it is true to the laws of its own development, to a pitch of passion far beyond that of ordinary relations between the sexes. Since it is independent of those physical elements necessary to a love between husband and wife, it can rise mysteriously higher in certain respects, than the plane which those elements sustain. It seeks to win nothing, to produce nothing -- but to sacrifice all.
Have you ever had a friendship like that -- a person you would call a "kindred spirit" or, as Anne of Green Gables described, a "bosom friend." This is no casual acquaintance, but a friend of the heart, one whom you would trust implicitly with your deepest secrets.

Sadly, however, nothing earthly can ever satisfy and no human person can fail to disappoint us. As Fr. Benson says:
When my friend fails me at a crisis or when I fail my friend, there is hardly any bitterness in life so bitter. And, again, while friendship itself has an air of eternity about it, seeming to transcend all natural limits, there is hardly any emotion so utterly at the mercy of time. We form friendships, and grow out of them. It might almost be said that we cannot retain the faculty of friendship unless we are continually making new friends. 
Everyone has experienced the death of what was once considered a permanent friendship. I can think of two that I mourned for months, losses that brought tears and sorrowful dreams. And here is where Benson reminds us that "earthly things," even deep human friendships, can never satisfy us. The longing for permanent friendship is a human desire that points to "Divine Love," the only real answer to our human need for a deep, profound, and permanent friendship.

Jesus Christ, of course, is the "Ideal Friend," perfect and complete for whom our hearts long. But Benson points out that Catholics are especially challenged because of their knowledge of Christ and His Creation because:
...this knowledge may be so great as to blind us to the value of its details. The blaze of the Divinity to him who sees it may be so bright as to bewilder him with regard to the the humanity....Catholics then, above all others, are prone -- through their very knowledge of the mysteries of faith, through their very apprehension of Jesus Christ as their God, their High Priest, their Victim, their Prophet and their King -- to forget that His delights are to be with the sons of men more than to rule the Seraphim.
Devout Catholics, he says, often complain of their "loneliness on earth" and emphasizes that, "There could scarcely be a more evident proof of their failure to understand one at least of the great motives of the Incarnation...intimate knowledge of and companionship with Him in which the Divine Friendship consists." The "supreme longing" of Christ's Sacred Heart is "that He should be admitted not merely to the throne of the heart or to the tribunal of conscience, but to that inner secret chamber of the soul where a man is most himself, and therefore most utterly alone."

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, longs for our friendship! That is so monumental a statement that I need to repeat it. Jesus Christ, Creator of the Universe, the Word Made Flesh, wants to be my intimate friend!

How can this come about? That question is for another post. In the meantime remember the question from the old Baltimore Catechism which is no less true today than when it was written. "Why did God make me?" The first thing mentioned is "to know Him." Friendship begins with knowing the other. How do we do that with Jesus Christ? St. Jerome pointed us to the answer when he said that "Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." We can begin to know Jesus by reading the gospels. The entire New Testament vibrates with Christ's presence, but especially the gospels.

Wouldn't it be a great thing to read one chapter or even a paragraph a day from your favorite Gospel, reading it as if we were sitting and having a conversation with a friend. "I want to know more about you, Jesus. Open my mind and heart to your presence in these words and help me to love you with my whole heart, mind, soul, and strength." That is one prayer, I can assure you that Jesus will answer with a resounding yes!

Mary, Mother of my Savior, take my hand and lead me to Your Son.  See part 2.

1 comment:

  1. Mary Ann...thank you so much for this....truly beautiful!

    I printed it out and took it with me to Adoration and read it....IN THE PRESENCE OF THE KING. I can't begin to describe the graces that He poured out. I read the first Chapter of John (tears streaming down my face), and read Baruch 3, taking special note of the last verse (tears streaming harder), and just basked in the unimaginable love of our God.

    Thanks for this magnificent gift. :)