We learn by contrasts, brass beside gold. Two years along, I am still learning what it is to be a Catholic, but one thing is clear: I have never known such friendships. Within the past week, I have been confronted with a “friendship” from years past, one based on power, fear, and lies. This week, I also have had numerous encounters with Catholic friends. What a difference!
How to understand this difference? “The first thing to worry about is whether something is to be loved or not. If it is a lie, I cannot love it.” The line is from a Catholic writer I admire, and reading it today brought this question of friendship into focus. Some people, some friendships are based on lies. I can try to love such people, and maybe if I were Mother Teresa or Maximilian Kolbe, I would. But I’m not and I can’t, so I turn to where the gold is.
Or as my wise-beyond-her-years daughter told me this morning, “Dad, just because you have to forgive someone doesn’t mean you have to stay in the line of fire.” There are “friendships” that should be left behind, and there are friendships we make on the road to Emmaus.
I think this is the difference. Like two fishermen who encounter Christ, we are bonded together with our Catholic friends because we have a common destiny, a common desire, a common love. It’s not about you or me. It’s about you and me, gathered together His name.
I have found gold in my parish friendships.
There’s gold in my friendship with C., whose e-mails are always a joy to read. C. has had health troubles, but she always has a smile for me, and a line in almost every e-mail to make me think and be grateful.
There’s gold in my friendship with P., whose troubles are mostly professional. I enjoy calling P. on his cell phone on his way home from work to catch up, to let him know I’m thinking of him, to share a laugh or a moment or a thought.
There’s plenty of gold in my friendship with F.—but, heck, readers of this blog know that I mean Ferde. He is not necessarily the last person I would be attracted to if I were not a Catholic, if we did not have Christ in common, but I might be the last person for him. Ferde once said to me, and he said it to tweak me, “That’s the difference between you and me, man: You’re upper crust and I’m lower crust.” I didn’t deny the comparison—I come from comfort, Ferde had to fight for everything he has. Instead, I only said, “Yeah, Ferde, but together we make a great sandwich.”
Every day, I find gold in unexpected places. Just this afternoon I was at the coffee shop across the street from my office, and I ran into R. I see R.’s wife at the coffee shop in the mornings sometimes, but—unlike self-employed me, for whom it’s always casual Friday—R. is a hardcore working professional who has to dress up for the job and commute to the city. I don’t envy him, although today I have to admit that he looked very sharp in a bow-tie. He must have been home early from work, taking his kids out for a treat. Though I don’t know a lot about him, in the sense of name rank and serial number, I imagine that R. is the sort of slightly shy but brilliant person who can seem standoffish. We run into each other regularly on Sundays, but it never seems that I pull two words out of him.
Today—well, it wasn’t Sunday, it wasn’t Church, it was late Thursday on a glorious spring day in New England—I stood and listened mostly as R. and I talked in the coffee shop for about ten minutes. Big deal, right? Two middle-aged white guys shooting the breeze? True, except that I understood that our friendship—because that’s what it is—isn’t based on power, sex, or money, or anything else that life has to offer. It’s based on our both being Catholic Christians and being very happy that way. We know hardly anything about one another, except that we both seem to love the Church, head and body. And so, in ten minutes of friendly conversation, I didn’t feel an ounce of suspicion or fear or doubt. It was, as they say, all good.
I’m sorry. This subject is hard to write about without sounding air-headed, lobotomized, superficial. But I know what I’m saying, and maybe you do too.