July 12, 2012

Holy Friendship, Mary and the Web of Grace

While on vacation with my wife and children, we have been blessed to find old friends and extended family. It is a great joy to see loved ones again, especially those with whom I am bound not only by blood but also by faith. Good friends and deep family ties can be important for the spiritual life - we are meant to encourage and persevere with one another in our devotion to Christ. Visiting one another and renewing pledges of love, celebrating together important events and memories, greeting and saying goodbye, brief and sometimes painful though it is, such heartfelt friendship is a real part of the jubilation we know in Christ, the joy we share in when we drink from the cup of salvation.

Whenever we taste the joy of seeing an old friend, the warmth in our hearts is evidence that we are made to join with one another in a celebration that has no end. Father Giles Dimock, O.P., one of my great teachers, calls the friendships we find in Christ a web of grace - we are caught together in a friendship that lasts forever when we let God catch us in his exceeding love. Father Dimock believes that Mary has a special role in the lives of Jesus' friends and that those who honor the Mother of the Lord get caught in this web in all kinds of wonderful ways.

The role of Mary in the mission of Christ implicates humanity in God's love - especially those most beautiful depths of humanity found in friendship. If we think about it, Jesus treasured his friendships: Lazarus, Mary, Martha, John, Peter and the others; each was important to Him in a unique and unrepeatable way. It was because He loved His friends and valued friendship that He understood what His mother wanted in Cana when her friends ran out of wine. Mary always implicates us in friendship with Jesus when she tells Him about our plight and we are implicated with one another in His work when we hear her say - go do whatever He tells you. To those who help the Bridegroom increase the joy of the wedding feast, He says that He no longer calls them servants but friends.

When we submit ourselves to the discipline of our faith, the Savior, in fact, protects and perfects friendship in our lives by ordering it to something that lasts forever. This is because God created us for communion with Him -- and with one another. This communion is not a cold or dry intellectual exercise. It is not superficial smiles and slaps on the back. Nor is it sentimental. It is heart bound to heart by a love that is stronger than death, a love greater than any power in the heavens or the earth.

Each friendship in the Lord and every family tie submitted to Christ is like a foretaste of the fullness of love God is waiting to share with us and longs for us to share with one another. In this life, our hellos contain goodbyes - but the sorrow of our goodbyes is bearable because of a hope that God gives, the hope that we will enjoy one another again. Whenever God grants these graces, it gives me courage to embrace the discipline of our faith anew. These graces touch heaven itself in faith - where the homecoming will have no end and there will be no more good byes.