Upon arriving at my parents’ house on a recent trip to Maine, I found a stack of my old yearbooks positioned hopefully on the bed in the room I use—the idea being that I would take them with me when I left, thus cooperating with my mother’s efforts to declutter the basement. Though I couldn’t bear the thought of having them in my cell in the priory, I did declare that only 1999’s—my senior year—was worth keeping. I also took a moment to flip through it and to thank God for leading me along his paths.
Inscribed on paper—and the heart
The messages committed to the inside covers of a yearbook are not generally known for their refinement of thought, abounding as they do in such maudlin imperatives as “Don’t ever change!” and “Promise you’ll never forget me!” The farewells in my own yearbook largely adhere to this pattern and therefore have not borne well the weight of time—though it is nice to be reminded that someone considered me “such a great guy,” while another found me “fun to be around.” One teacher prophesied I would “go to great places,” and though I have no recollection how, I seem to have made Mrs. Grindall’s accounting class more enjoyable for at least one person.
On a slightly more serious level, within the pages dedicated to the graduating class—the only section in color—we each included a quotation under our senior photo. Though I was not at eighteen what we would call a fount of wisdom, my faith, thanks be to God, had remained intact. Thus, rather than yet another lyric from Billy Joel or Dave Matthews, or a bon mot from Homer Simpson, one line above the list of clubs and sports I was involved in are the words of Proverbs 3:3: Let love and faithfulness never leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. It’s a verse I have never forgotten, and I thank God for the interior nudge that made me choose it twenty-four years ago. Perhaps after reading it a classmate looked it up or said a prayer.
Another part of the yearbook reveals the results of the “senior polls”: pictures of the top boy and girl vote-getters in two dozen important categories, from “Life of the Party” and “Class Flirt” to “Best Dressed” and “Most Likely to Succeed.” I stood no chance at “Most Athletic” but am honored to be memorialized alongside Jessica Jones as the “Friendliest” of Waterville High’s class of ’99.
A friendship made in heaven
With the feast of Corpus Christi this month, it comes to mind that the idea of friendship illuminates the mystery of the Holy Eucharist. In explaining whether the Blessed Sacrament constitutes Christ’s real and physical presence among us or is instead a mere symbol of his body, Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches that it belongs to the nature of friendship—a form of love—to be together: “Out of love, Christ took on a true human body for our salvation. And because it is the very law of friendship that friends should live together, as Aristotle says, Christ promises us his bodily presence as a reward [in heaven]. In the meantime, however, he has not left us without his bodily presence in this our pilgrimage, but joins us to himself in this sacrament through the reality of his Body and Blood.”
Aquinas acknowledges what we all experience: we want to spend time with our friends, to share a common life. In high school, I loved spending time with my friends and was sad to say goodbye to them. Sure, we promised to keep in touch, but we were going to be far away from each other, no longer enjoying a common life. As time has shown, most of those friendships were not very deep and did not last. This is not necessarily a problem or anyone’s fault. In a trite but not meaningless phrase, life took us in different directions. In my case, joining a religious order imposed a degree of separation from the world. I received a new name and new (medieval) clothes, forsaking the khaki pants, rock-band tees, and plaid L.L. Bean shirts I wore in the ‘90s. (My white Dominican habit proved to be quite a conversation-starter at my twentieth reunion.)
What is astonishing to remember, though, is that God would consider us his friends. I have called you friends, Jesus said, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. In Jesus, God entered our world, sharing our life. For thirty-three years he walked among us, embracing our sorrows and revealing the Father’s love. At his Ascension, Jesus did not move on to some new venture, leaving us behind. In the Eucharist he continues to live among us, fulfilling his promise: I am with you always, until the end of the age. It is a mystery of faith, of course, but no less real for being so. He is truly present: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
A friend indeed
This month, countless students across the country will graduate from high school, setting out on the grand adventure that is early adulthood. For most of us, of course, life will go on as usual. But whatever our age or state in life, may we never forget that in the Holy Eucharist we continue to find our greatest and wisest Friend. Jesus is the true man of the proverb: Love and faithfulness will never leave him; they are bound around his neck, the neck that bore a cross, and inscribed upon his Sacred Heart. He never changes and will never forget us, for Jesus Christ—our Savior and Friend—is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8). (Read More)