I’ve been thinking a lot about the need for strong friendships and supportive communities to sustain good mental health. Men in particular are in dire need today for a camaraderie that goes deeper than sports scores and fishing gear. (We men excel at looking at and talking about external stuff together but do not excel in sharing our hearts aloud.)
From the eminently quotable Peter Kreeft: “If you love, you will suffer. The only way to protect yourself against suffering if to protect yourself against love – and that is greatest suffering of all, loneliness.”
Some people are uncomfortable with the concept of a culture war. I say, get over it. The primal culture war, if you will, is the spiritual battle that rages around us between angels and demons for our souls, otherwise known as Catholic teaching (See CCC 391 and following).
In any war, the army itself provides intense camaraderie. Shakespeare’s “band of brothers” speech from the magnificent Henry V bespeaks the power of this level of fellow-feeling and bravery.
But where is this to be found today? We barely acknowledge we’re in a war at all, despite the fact that our freshman-age kids come home by Thanksgiving as atheists, our teens are depressed at alarmingly high rates, and so many of our marriages are secretly hurting. Robert Putnam has describes this sense of isolation and disconnection from the goods of the community in his book, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.
The parish setting and the ethnic neighborhood that framed it used to be a powerful matrix of social support. Sniff at the notion of “Catholic ghetto” all you want, but as a network of interdependent supports buttressed by a shared sacramental life, it worked exceedingly well. Almost gone today are the sodalities, the parish sewing bees (which also served as prayer networks), the Altar and Rosary societies—all of which formed a kind of loose extended family beyond the four walls of the domestic church.
Fifty years after the Second Vatican Council, in an era of low-information Catholicism with greatly eclipsed Mass attendance, if you want authentic Catholic camaraderie you have to search for it. It’s rare, so sometimes you have to pray to St. Anthony to find it.
But the finding that comes from the seeking is worth it. Whether it’s Bible study, men’s fellowship groups, the Cursillo movement, a regular monastic retreat, Opus Dei, or your homegrown group of regulars who love Jesus Christ – anyone who takes discipleship serious must intentionally seek these extra sources of support.
The days of “Sunday Mass only” Catholicism are behind us. We have to wake up to the reality. And sometimes we need help a little help from our friends to leave the womb-like security of bed and to tackle the perils of the day.