Wednesday 23 November 2022

Our November Friends

This month began with All Saints, when we pray to our friends in Heaven, those known and unknown. Then the following day we mark All Souls, when we pray for those who have gone before us and, beautifully and comfortingly, we are reminded that our love for them survives even death and our prayers still help them. Friendship is the cornerstone of our Christian life; our daily conversion, our daily turning to our Friend so that in becoming more like Him that love may overflow from our hearts into our encounters with others. The Church, we might say, was founded on friendship: that of Our Lord for His Apostles and indeed for all whom He encountered. In the Oratory too, where we seek to imitate Christ by imitating St Philip, friendship is a hallmark of our vocation.

For St Philip, Cerrato writes, “[the notion of] ‘people’ did not exist, only ‘friends’ and everyone could become so”. The beginning and whole life of the Oratory consisted of St Philip making friends and drawing them into friendship with God and this remains the task of the Fathers today. Our Cardinal took as his motto “cor ad cor loquitur” (based on a similar phrase of the Oratorian bishop St Francis de Sales) and Newman himself led a life marked by friendships, by their loss and by their gain.

Our friendships are a great gift to us and enable us to experience in an especial way the love of Christ for us. Those whose names are written on our hearts, whom God has given a love for us, help us, rejoice with us, and offer us a support on the narrow way to Heaven — it is not so narrow that no-one can walk beside us.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote that “love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction,” and for Newman, “the love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men.” There is a note of caution there. One thing St Philip always warned of was ‘particular friendships’. That phrase, which might sound rather Victorian to us, reminds us that friendships, whilst a special relationship, cannot be marked by exclusivity. We know (or hopefully can only imagine) the dangers of favouritism in families and workplaces; whereas for us as Christian we are called to love everyone from the depths of our heart and our task is to draw others into friendship. Father Spada of the Roman Oratory warned that “the closer anyone draws near to certain persons, the further, of necessity, he withdraws from others”. Our friends help us to overcome the walls we put up between ourselves and others and between ourselves and God; true friends do not help us suffocate love but rather to extend it.

We must then always pray to love our friends without exclusivity, without a sense of possession or a desire of control. In short, we must always pray to love them as Christ loved His friends. St Augustine wrote: “One does not lose those one loves if one loves them in Him whom one cannot lose”.

In November, indeed every day, we have the opportunity to pray for our friends who have gone before us and thus to love them still. Today (Wednesday) all our Masses are offered for those on our November List and after the 6pm Mass we will sing Vespers for the Dead. Come and pray for your friends.

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