Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Universal Call to Friendship

I would say that these WYDs are a sign, a cascade of light -- they give visibility to the faith, visibility to the presence of God in the world, and thus give the courage to be believers. Often, believers feel isolated in this world, somewhat lost. Here they see that they are not alone, that there is a great network of faith, a great community of believers in the world. [They see that] it is lovely to live in this universal friendship, and in this way friendships are born that cross the borders of cultures, of countries. The birth of a universal network of friendship that unites the world with God is an important reality for the future of humanity, for the life of humanity today… I think WYD should be considered as a sign, as part of a great journey; it creates friendships, opens borders, makes visible that it is beautiful to be with God, that God is with us.
Press Conference on World Youth Day, August 18,2011

Reflection – In this introductory reflection about World Youth Day, given to reporters while travelling to Madrid, it is significant that Pope Benedict focuses on the word ‘friendship’ as a central meaning of the WYD phenomenon.
WYD is about friendship: friendship with other Christians, other believers, friendships across nations and cultures, friendships built up within and among the pilgrim groups as they travel together and experience both the joyful and trying elements of the event: both beautiful liturgies and line ups for Porta-potties, if you will.
Friendship is a really important word, isn't it? I’m sometimes a bit surprised at which posts on this blog attract the most readers. The ones about sex, of course, are quite popular and that’s no surprise, but one that startled me with its popularity was this one on the nature of friendship in Christ. It has out-performed the ‘sex posts’ by a wide margin!
The whole business of friendship seems crucial to our humanity. Now, I have to admit that I tend to be a pretty solitary guy. I am truly content, by and large, to be left alone with my own company and thoughts. This is a helpful trait to have if you’re a writer. But God in his mercy gave me a vocation to live in community, to live with people who are not me, have their own thoughts, ideas, personality quirks and who I am asked to love and be friends with, in the truest sense of that word. So friendship is something I’ve reflected on quite a bit over the years.
Friendship: what does that word mean, anyhow? It’s a word thrown around a lot, debased perhaps (I have over 500 friends on Facebook!!!!! But how many could I pick out of a police line up?). To call someone a friend means, I think, that this person’s welfare matters in my life. My own individuality, my narrow frontier of concern for myself above all, is compromised. I have been expanded in my humanity: no longer is it all about me, no longer is the story of my life a one-man play, no longer am I only seeing through the one narrow lens of self-concern and self-direction.
To have a friend is to have a second self, to have another human being whose thoughts, opinions, reactions, feelings matter to me in some sense. It is a question of being broken out of the prison of the self, and this is the central task of our humanity, the task of love and charity.
WYD, then, is about friendship in a radical, global, universal sense. We all come from some little corner of the planet, whether it’s the Upper Ottawa Valley or New York City. We all are shaped by that little corner, bearing the cultural norms and traditions of our society. WYD, among other things, breaks us out of the limitations inherent in this and calls us to embrace, enjoy, celebrate the diversity and richness of the whole human fabric, and to make that diverse and beautiful fabric our own in whatever way we can. And all of this is wrapped up in this beautiful profound word, friendship.

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