This week, as part of vocations week, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Fr. Jason Vidrine‘s middle school class in Louisiana (via Skype), to discuss religious life.
After briefly introducing myself and why I became a sister, the floor was opened up for them to ask questions. One wanted to know what I do for fun. Another wanted to know how many times a day my community prays together. Then came a very interesting question,
“Do you like all your sisters equally?”
Wow. what a question!! And it is an important one. There wasn’t time to discuss this question at length, outside looking at community life being similar to life in our families. I asked the class, “Do you like all your brothers and sisters equally?” To which I could pan across the room at the faces and see they were not all that sure they did. Naturally, we have siblings we get along with better than others, while other siblings can get on our nerves a bit more. And, also like a family, community must strive to include all, and to love all, especially the ones least likable. The family – and religious community – is where we put the Gospel into practice, “love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 13:34).
Today, as I was thinking about my conversation with these inquisitive mid-schoolers, I was reminded of some recent writing on monastic friendship through the eyes of Aelred of Rievaulx. To understand what true friendship is, one first understand what charity is.
To understand charity, Aelred speaks of love in three parts:
attraction (natural impression made in our mind by person or object);
intention (inclination of our will towards person or object); and
fruition (result of this act of the will by which we enjoy the result of this act of the will).
Since man is corrupted by original sin, it is possible for each of these three parts of love to be flawed. Man can be attracted to the wrong object, or in wrong proportion to it or other objects. Love, when any of these three parts are corrupted – moving us to love wrongly – ceases to be love and becomes cupidity instead (and sin enters into the picture).
Aelred uses these distinctions, looking at love and cupidity to distinguish between true friendship (which comes from right loving) and false friendships (based on some imperfect or corrupt love). In this way, he defines friendship as a perfect form of love, even when we consider our enemies whom we are called to love.
Taking this brief (and most inadequate summary of Aelred’s teaching!), we can take a look at the mid-schooler’s question, “Do you like all your sisters equally?” Based on attraction, we are naturally attracted to some more than others, just because some are easier to like than others. Based on intention, we do intend to love all of our sisters because we know the Gospel calls us to this ideal. The fruit – or quality – of our community life is manifested by how we choose to love. Where we sincerely strive to love each sister, we find a richness in our community life; rather, when we consciously choose to treat each one according to our attraction, our community life is fragmented, and does not portray the love of Christ as brightly.
Our foundress, Saint Magdalene of Canossa, in speaking on Canossian religious life, encourages us to live out a perfect love of charity in her words, “Union of heart and love among sisters is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Institute.” These words also reflect Jesus’ priestly prayer, “ut unim sint” – that they may be one. Both of these ideas are only possible though, if our love is like that of our example in Christ, “love one another, as I have loved you.” And our living in community in whatever form that takes – religious life, family, married life – has all the tools it needs for success.
Spiritual Friendship, Aelred of Rievaulx
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/profile_sr_lisa-e1313147535417.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women in the Sacramento Diocese, and on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is also the local vocational director for her religious family. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, playing with new media, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website isNunspeak.[/author_info] [/author]