The editorial of the month

The editorial of the month by Father Sebastian White, o.p.

Most years I make two brief trips  to see my family in Maine: once in the summer, right about now, and again after Christmas. We don’t do much at either time, to be honest—spontaneity and adventuresomeness are not qualities I have in spades. And what has long attracted hordes of out-of-staters to repair to Maine, whether for retirement or a brief spell, is the simple and slow pace of life it offers and the good clean air. In nice weather, my dad and I go on hikes, run on the local track, or head out on bikes if I can borrow one, as all of my old things have long since been disbursed. In the bleak midwinter I’m usually put to work shoveling snow. Whatever the time of year I’ll visit my sister and my nephews, watch a movie with my mom, and read a bit. I’m also sure to celebrate Mass each day, and walk to the convent down the street for Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Before I know it, it’s time to board a bus back to New York.

The simple things in life

One other simple thing we often do is take a day trip to some other part of the state. It might be inland to Moosehead Lake in the hopes of sighting one of those iconic but reclusive mammals. More often than not we head towards the coast. At this time last year we went somewhere I’d been wanting to go for quite a while: North Brooklin, the small village where E.B. White, the beloved essayist, humorist, and children’s writer, moved in the 1930s in order to take up farming. We drove by the barn that inspired his writing of Charlotte’s Web, meandered through the local cemetery to find his grave and pray for the repose of his soul, spent a little time near the water, and then headed back, stopping at a seafood shack along the way. It was an exquisite day, the memory of which I will cherish for a long time.

It’s not that I have any relation to Elwyn Brooks (though I’d love to think we share a common ancestor somewhere down the line). Nor, it goes without saying, does he rank as an important theologian, so I will not subject you to three pages of strained analysis of talking mice, geese, spiders, and pigs. I do keep handy his trusty and popular edition of The Elements of Style now that I too am a wordmonger. What I love about his classic stories, however, is their endearing portrayals of generosity, sacrifice, and friendship—albeit within Kingdom Animalia. Stuart Little, the dapper and chivalric little mouse who tries to keep his bird-friend Margalo from being eaten by a cat, was a favorite of mine as a kid. At the end of Charlotte’s Web, the eponymous arachnid-heroine tells Wilbur, “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing,” and goes on to say how her own life was enriched by her efforts to save the “terrific” pig. The Trumpet of the Swan is a charming little story about a cob, Louis, who stops at nothing to win the heart of Serena, the swan of his life. (He also saves her from life in the Philadelphia Zoo.)

The great things in life

Friendship does have theological import. A scholar no less than Thomas Aquinas wrote, “there is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” Why? It unites people in goodness and fosters virtue. “Friendship,” the saint added, “is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.”

Friendship is a kind of love, but “not every love has the character of friendship,” Aquinas clarified, only love with benevolence. In loving a friend, we will his or her true good, which is more than mere well-wishing. I was never a friend of Michael Jordan even as I passionately rooted for the Chicago Bulls all through the 90s. For true friendship, ­mutual love is necessary, “since friendship is between friend and friend and is founded on some kind of communication.” Our own lives confirm these truths. Do we not share our thoughts and pursuits with friends? Are we not blessed by their love and concern for us? And in loving our friends, do we not love what they love, even because they love it? In a word, we love a friend as another self.

The simplest and the greatest thing of all

As I’ve gotten older I’ve noticed something I could not have imagined as a child: I have even formed a friendship with my parents. They are still Mom and Dad and always will be. I will never not be their son, so our friendship is colored by the fact that I am not, naturally speaking, their peer. But our relationship is no longer one of mere dependence, but of mature communication and love.

Far more amazingly, God has made us his friends. I no longer call you slaves, Jesus said, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father (Jn 15:15). It may sound too good to be true, but Jesus, Truth itself, has revealed it; there is no surer word than his. If Jesus has told us everything, nothing is held back. We remain sons and daughters who owe God everything we have and everything we are, yes. But Jesus, our Savior, raises us up and invites us to share in his infinite goodness for all eternity, intimately and personally.

I can see, then, why Aquinas taught that “Christ is our wisest and greatest friend.” May our prayer this month, in union with the Mother of Jesus, make us realize how true that really is.