I have studied the idea of friendship, so I probably know more about the history, the philosophy and theology of friendship than most people know. I have valued the way Aristotle talks about different kinds of friendships. I appreciate the way Cicero, right before the time of Jesus, developed some profound ways of understanding how friendships are formed and how they should be lived. Friendship came to be a very important idea in the history of Christian spirituality.
In fact, in the New Testament Jesus calls his disciples “friends.” I really like the fact that the Greek language of the New Testament uses a word that normally translates “love” as the friendship word. So in biblical Greek the language of friendship is love. That heightens the importance of friendship, as I understand it. My own religious tradition, namely the Quakers, have a more formal title called “The Religious Society of Friends.” I like being a Friend and a friend.
All of this was not really on my mind as I turned to the lectionary of the day. I usually do this each morning in order to spend a little time in my spiritual discipline. I like to do some reading, spend a little time in prayerful waiting and meditation. The lectionary---daily readings---I use comes from the Benedictine monastery. It gives me regular readings. Another feature that comes with it is the notation of particular saints’ days.
Although I am not Catholic, I am catholic in spirit. And many of the Catholic saints I would also claim as my own. If I am part of the greater Christian tradition, then the best of that tradition is shared by all of us. So I am always pleased to see when a particular day singles out some special holy person.
Today the person was Ignatius of Loyola. I immediately recognized this sixteenth century Spaniard as the founder of the Jesuits. Ignatius began his adult life in the military, but was soon wounded. During his recovery he read some spiritual literature and decided, in effect, to become a soldier of Christ. He and some buddies formed a spiritual group and offered themselves to the Pope to be used as the Pope saw fit. Soon this band of serious spiritual soldiers were recognized as the Society of Jesus---hence called the Jesuits.
I was intrigued by the role friendship played in the whole process of the Jesuits’ founding. No doubt, a key component was the personality of Ignatius of Loyola. I did a little background reading. Soon I found a fascinating sentence that I found revealing. The author of a little article talked about the leadership role Ignatius played in the beginning of the Jesuit formation.
We read that “Ignatius had a gift for inspiring friendship, and was the recipient of deep spiritual insight.” In the article it was an innocuous little sentence. But it stood out to me as a clarion characteristic of a spiritual leader. Interestingly, the article does not claim that Ignatius was a naturally talented guy---although he may have been that, too. He had a gift. The gift was to inspire friendship. Going back to the root meaning of friendship---love---we conclude that Ignatius had a gift for inspiring love.
To inspire love is to inspire relationships. Relationships of love are typically grounded in a commitment to the relationship. Commitment entails doing enough---and usually more than enough---to develop and deepen the relationship. If it is truly a love relationship, then you matter more than I do. This is a very spiritual way of seeing love. It suggests the way I understand Jesus to be loving. You matter more than I do.
The brilliance of this, however, is the recognition that if everyone is a friend in this fashion, you have the ingredients of a powerfully effective community. If everyone is a friend in this fashion, then everyone is committed. If this commitment were lived out with the assumption that you matter more than I do, then there would be little selfishness or egocentricity present in this community.
With this kind of community, almost anything is possible. When a group is non-defensive, non-egotistical and compassionate, then there is tremendous power available to make the world a better place. Just reading about this inspires me. In its own way, Ignatius’ story is still inspiring friendship. If I can get this, then maybe I can begin to get the deep spiritual insight Ignatius apparently had. Thanks friend!