Book I of Evelyn Waugh’s biography of Ronnie Knox is subtitled ‘Laughter and the Love of Friends’; and it is a phrase which comes into my mind from time to time, particularly when it is manifested in practice, as it was this last weekend; and if I may borrow from fr Bede Jarrett OP, ‘Oh dear friendship, what a gift of God it is. Speak no ill of it.’
Since I came home to the Catholic Church, I have been fortunate to have found much friendship – and much joy, not to mention a fair bit of mirth – amidst the friars of the Order of Preachers; and not a little amongst others who share my delight in belonging, more or less, to S. Dominic’s family.
A song of my youth contained the line ‘there was joy, there was fun, there was laughter in the sun’; and that was in many ways an excellent description of Saturday. I gave a lift to two friends who were going to make their way from London to Oxford, and we much relished an enjoyable, and substantially mirthful, day. The Ordination, of course, was devout and inspiring; but even then there were one or two modest moments of mirth; but thereafter all was laughter and delight as a large gathering celebrated, and many old friends had an opportunity to enjoy the hospitality of Blackfriars . . . which in its turn appeared thoroughly delighted (as always) at the chance to welcome so many friends and strangers.
Thereafter we wandered about Oxford for a while, and finally ate good curry in Southall on our way back to London : and all the time laughed, and rejoiced in God’s generous love.
Now, I know that there are those who are very worried by ‘particular friendships’; and indeed there are many authorities on the spiritual life who sternly counsel against them : but I’m afraid this is one place where I am unashamedly certain of the correctness of one particular approach . . . that of fr Bede.
‘Evil is overcome by good, by God, by love of God, by reaching for Him everywhere. You must not be afraid of looking for Him in the eyes of a friend. He is there. You can at least be sure of that. To love others is not to lose Him but if possible to find Him in them. He is in them. You will miss finding Him only if you merely love yourself in them. That is the blinding nature of passion; it is self-love masquerading under a very noble disguise . . .’
‘You love Y. because you love him, neither more nor less, because he’s lovable. You won’t find any other sincere reason however hard you try . . . Enjoy your friendship, pay the price of the following pain for it, and remember it in your Mass and let Him be a third in it. The opening of The Spiritual Friendship : “Here we are, thou and I and I hope that between us Christ is a third.” O dear friendship, what a gift of God it is. Speak no ill of it.’
Obviously it’s not always easy to restrain oneself; and to seek only God in one’s friends : although I think it’s quite a lot easier when you share a clear and distinct commitment to Holy Mother Church, and perhaps even more so when you share, for instance, a particular nuance of it such as the Dominican Family offers.
The crux, though, it seems to me, is that by accepting friendship – and one’s friends – as the gift of God, one not only gains enormously from the riches which the friendship offers you, but also has the chance of at least beginning to see Him in other people too . . . people with whom one has less in common, people – even – whom one dislikes; but the more one finds God in other people, the closer one moves to Him . . . and by His grace, the closer one moves to Heaven, where all relationships will, I presume, be perfect examples of such friendship.
To all my friends, then, who shared in Saturday with me, and who shared my delight and joy, I say from the bottom of my heart ‘Many, many, thanks; and may God, our Blessed Lady, and S. Dominic, richly bless you’ : and to those who were not there, all I can say is that you were there in my spirit, and in my prayers, and (I make little doubt) in the spirits and prayers of many others. I thank God for you all.