A few years ago, a girl came to speak with me. She wanted to tell me about herself, about a few problematic affective decisions, and about whether her life was still “compatible” with the Church. She didn’t want to give up the lifestyle she was living, nor did she want to give up her faith
It was not an easy conversation. I told her what I thought, trying to be delicate but clear. I told her how Christ loves people and how the Church has learned from him how to love. I asked her what kind of love she was searching for, and what kind of love she had encountered. She left our discussion upset, and definitely not convinced. I was left with a certain sadness, for not being able to find the right words, but also with an underlying peace, because I hadn’t lied, I had been true and honest with her. I knew I had sought the truth, not an easy escape or mere words that would please her.
This same search for the truth is what defines the way that many of my friends treat me. They are persons who know how to sustain and valorize, but also how to correct. This is friendship. Fr. Giussani described friendship as “the meeting of two people who desire the destiny of the other more than their own life.” To desire another’s destiny means to desire his happiness, fulfillment, and truth. For this reason, correction is an expression of love, of charity. Correction amounts to saying: “I desire your good, my friend, and so the truth (which is the answer to the question about what one’s good is), and I desire it more than my own personal gain.”
Our present culture, though, is marked by many objections to true friendship. Think about the rhetoric used to speak about individual rights, which affirms thoughts and wants affirms as absolute and unarguable, not because they are true, but simply because they are yours. What is yours is untouchable. Or think about how we have interiorized a politically correct way of relating with others, which considers my actions or words right because they are said or done in a certain way, but not because they are true. Think about relativism, which is so rooted in us that we feel guilty when we discover that we are sincerely convinced about something. Language itself has become so malleable and ideological that objective communication has become difficult; it is not easy to share with others, or even to be honest.
We are immersed in a culture that has in many respects excluded the truth from existence, thus making real friendship rare. So much loneliness, in us and around us, is born from this distance many live from the truth. It is difficult to want someone’s good when you can’t believe in a good. It is hard to be friends when you can’t say what you believe.
The truth, however, is indestructible and fascinating. It doesn’t leave the scene so easily. And the desire for friendship is so profoundly rooted in us that it makes us search tirelessly for it.
Recently, I met the same girl, the same friend. She told me that our previous dialogue had been important to her, not because she had understood what I had said to her in the moment. She would understand in time (and she didn’t hide the fact that my way of speaking had hurt her!). However, from the very beginning, she knew that I wanted her good, because I was telling her the truth. Precisely because friendship seeks the truth for another, it is intrusive and uncomfortable. Without it, we are definitely more comfortable, but also more alone. Christ Himself, whose sense of friendship was so high that it merited even the gift of His own life, called his disciples to correction, and to a tireless correction. The friend who was in error was to be corrected first face to face, then, if that wasn’t enough, in front of some friends, and if that wasn’t enough, in front of the whole community.
When my brothers in the house correct me, which is not a rare occurrence, I always feel a certain difficulty, but I also feel great joy. I am with friends who love my life and who do not let me stay in error in the name of a false peace. I thank God every day for this immense gift. Today, more than ever, there is a need for places of true friendship, places where the truth is sought after and affirmed as an expression of love. Places like this become home, where we rediscover ourselves, our face and our value, where we rediscover that we are loved. As Joseph Roth said, “Friendship is the true homeland”.
(In the photo, a moment during the summer vacation of the Fraternity of St. Charles, August 2019).