Saturday, November 5, 2011

Another Time, Another Friendship

Earlier this year, my friend Brian attended School of Community in Boston with me, and afterward he sat over a sandwich with Lorenzo, the leader of that group. “So explain to me,” Brian said, respectful and subtle as a brick. “What’s this CL all about?” He was referring to Communion and Liberation, the ecclesial organization within the Catholic Church which calls its local groups Schools of Community.

Lorenzo looked up from his sandwich and said directly, “It begins with a friendship.”

I was reminded of this exchange last night when our local, suburban School of Community met in an office opposite our parish church, and I thought of it again this morning, as I listened to that strange first Mass reading (Romans 16:3–9, 16, 22–27).

The reading begins with St. Paul’s greeting, via the scribe Tertius, to Prisca and Aquila, his “fellow workers in Jesus,” and then it goes on to mention such forgotten Roman men and women as Andronicus and Junias, both fellow prisoners of Paul; Ampliatus, his “friend in the Lord”; Gaius, who put up this whole crew in his house. . . .

How remarkable, I thought, as the list went on, that these individuals, with only the most basic attributes (prisoner, friend, host), are remembered today in the official canon of the Christian Faith! How could they have been so important? Were there not documents more theological or mystical that should have been included instead? What “apocrypha” were left out so that Ampliatus could get his inch of ink? 

Then, in the passage read thoughtfully by our excellent Saturday morning lector, Bill Rosser, came “Erastus, the city treasurer,” and I thought of my friend Carol, who is our city’s accountant. She was there last night in the office across from the church, along with Ellen the attorney, Michael the engineer, Tom the seminarian, a carpenter, a mother, a housekeeper, and so on. Fourteen friends in all gathered last night to read and discuss the first half of chapter 10 of Luigi Giussani’s book The Religious Sense, part of the core CL curriculum.

At that moment of hearing the name Erastus—a human person—the reading from St. Paul became something more than an intellectual curiosity to me. It became emotional.

Not CL alone but the Christian life in large “begins with a friendship.” The first friendship is with Christ, his for us, not the other way. But there’s friendship enough to go around, and for two thousand years, this has been the true story of Christianity. It is not a story alone of politics or even of ideas, the easy targets of its enemies. From a humble house in Rome to a crowded office in Beverly, Massachusetts, two or three or sometimes fourteen continue to gather in the memory of an event, making Christianity a story of friendship.

That is why I attend School of Community, the Holy Mass, and what falls in between.

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