The Church: Founded on Friendship
Aug. 26 issue column
The modern world, in its crazy rush to eroticize everything, has been profoundly destructive of the sort of love called "friendship."
Eros, of course, has a real place in human relationships. It has rightly been the subject of song and story for as long as there have been people. Indeed, Genesis honors eros by pointing out the sacredness of the command to "be fruitful and multiply." God is tickled pink when man and woman fall in love and get married. That’s why he invented marriage: so that the union and fruitfulness of sex would find expression in man and woman with their children, made in the image and likeness of a Trinitarian God.
In fact, the whole thing is so sacred that Jesus and the apostles raised the whole business to a sacrament — one of the Big Seven — and insisted that divine grace itself is mediated to the Church and her members through this awesome sacrament.
But, interestingly, the Church zigged where large swaths of the pagan world zagged. For though the Church has always, in the sacrament of marriage, acknowledged that sexual relations are sacramental, she never made the blunder of paganism, which worshipped the creature instead of the Creator; and, most especially, she never attempted to worship sex. Sexual relations were sanely kept in the privacy of the bedroom.
Its central sacramental rite — the Eucharist — centered on the satisfaction of another bodily appetite, hunger, rather than sexual desires, as the dominant image of our relationship with God. It worshipped a God who is indeed a Bridegroom to his Bride, the Church, but who is emphatically chaste and celibate, as is his Mother.
And it sent a band of friends, not lovers, out into the world to proclaim the Gospel and found the Church. As Jesus told his apostles on the night he was betrayed: "No longer do I call you servants; for the servant does not know what his master is doing. But I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:15).
Those friends were united by one thing only: the love of Jesus. Not their love for him (which was flickering and often weak), but his love for them.
They did not, he reminded them, choose him. He chose them.
And he sent them out, as friends, to announce the Gospel to the world. They were an unlikely band, and there is no earthly reason to think they would have even liked each other had not Jesus made them friends. A tax collector like Matthew and a collaborator-loathing guerilla warrior for Judean independence like Simon the Zealot had plenty of reason to despise each other. Peter’s impulsive faith and Thomas’ pessimism would seem to have nothing in common. Similarly, John and James, with their bellicose calls for divine wrath against Samaritans and their hubris at seeking first place among the disciples at the right and left hand of Jesus in his Kingdom, would not appear to endear them to the others — particularly since the others likewise bickered about who was greatest.
And yet, in the end, this band of men were forged into a bond of friendship that endured danger and cruel persecution and death — all without devolving into the sort of infighting we see among frauds when the chips are down.
Why? They weren’t frauds, but real friends in the risen Christ. For Christ creates friendship wherever he goes. Of which, more next time.
Mark Shea blogs at