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Must We Like Each Other Equally?

January 13, AD 2012 12 Comments

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’][/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]

About the Author:

Sister Lisa Marie Doty is a Canossian Sister. She enjoys giving retreats and vocational talks to teens and young women, and providing on-going formation to her Institute’s Lay Canossian Associates. She is a director of youth and young adults at Our Lady of the Annunciation Church in the Diocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and the national director of the Association of Lay Canossians, and regional coordinator of vocations for her religious family. She also gives retreats and talks on various religious topics. In her spare time, she enjoys graphic design, learning guitar, taking walks and making rosaries. Her website is Nunspeak.

  • Miriam

    I enjoyed this greatly. I have always felt that we are required to love one another, not like. I love everyone, I dont like everyone that I know. God knows that I dont always like my husband but I love him with my whole heart. Same thing goes for my children. One of my mottos is ‘ people are stupid love them anyway’

  • Fr Jason Vidrine

    Sr Lisa, you answered it well! Those same inquisitive, young minds appreciated your answer! Thanks again!

  • Thank you, Miriam for your insight. Yes, we are called to ‘love them anyway’. I will take it a bit further,and suggest that, in the face of even our enemies, or those we think should at least ‘like’ us and we see no signs of this, I say, ‘love them anyway’. It is what Jesus did on the Cross. He poured out love upon his attackers even in the midst of their attacking. May our Lord grant us the grace to desire to do the same, and the courage to carry it out when we are placed in the crucible of opposition. God bless you!

  • Thank you, Fr Jason! I really did enjoy meeting your class! Thank the Lord for the gift of technology that made it possible for me to journey – via internet – to your school! 🙂

  • Rebecca L. Hardee

    Sr. Lisa Marie, you have become another wonderful blessing from our Lord via our holy and faithful principal and pastor, Fr. Vidrine! Thank you for sharing your time, wisdom, and love with us. We will continue to keep you, your community, and your ministry in our prayers. -Becky Hardee, 5th-8th Religion Teacher, SPS

  • Thank you, Becky, for your faithful apostolate as a teacher at St Paul’s School, and for the prayers! Let us continue to pray for holy vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life. Mary, Mother of all vocations, pray for us!

  • Kim

    Dear Sister Lisa

    We as a people try for the most part show love for one another this can be hard sometimes when we see things we know are not right. If you look at TV sister Lisa and see the dysfunction it percents in the shows of today it teaches how to fight with each other go against the people in ones life, be immoral and how to get even! Yes Jesus showed us how to love and to love one another. But when the world is showing hated threw TV and all the evil it percents how can love grow in the heart of man? with TV a very real problem in our world today? Can you love everyone NO you can’t but you sure can pray for them… May the Heart of Mary our Mother Trump!

  • Dear Kim, I agree with you when you speak of the obstacles in our society that deprave us all of the wholesomeness we desire (and need), and how hard it is to love when we see a situation or a person acting in a way that “we know is not right”.

    All the more reason to love. You ask the question, ‘Can you love everyone’? I disagree with your answer, and so does Jesus. He said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Is it easy? No. We are called to be persons of love. We are also called to hate sin. It is important that we learn to recognize the difference between the sin and the sinner. Who knows? Maybe our love for the sinner may open his/her heart to conversion and their return to God?

  • Barbara

    A new movie coming in March, October Baby, has this great line, “to be human is to be beautifully flawed” when we look at others through that lens (and ourselves too) it is easier to forgive and love.

  • Kim

    Dear Sister Lisa Marie

    Jesus does say to love your enemies, I understand this very much sister! and he said to love one another as he has loved us, and forgive others, show compassion, kindness, and understanding. I pray for conversions threw the Immaculate heart of Mary and I pray for mothers heart to trump! and it will. I myself sister hate no one and have no enemies to think of I try very hard to be a fair person but in saying this I am human and I ask our loving Jesus to help me be the best that I can be for love of him and his most Sacred Heart. God blessings to you Sister Lisa Marie! and Thank you.

  • Thank you, Kim. I share your anguish for the conversion of souls, and yes, let us unite ourselves with our Mother Mary’s Immaculate Heart. God bless you!

  • Thank you, Barbara, for the beautiful quote! Yes, we are all flawed in our humanity, and to recognize it, opens us to love for others. God bless you!