Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The concept of friendship has died

There are two things in the media which are annoying me at the moment. (What, only two?).

The first, is the narrow and bigotted reporting by the BBC on the wonderful event of World Youth Day in Sydney. 20,000 young people from England and Wales went to Sydney - represented perhaps two hundred times as many from their various parishes. I wonder how many will travel to Beijing for the Olympics? Perhaps not quite so many ... yet we all know what coverage that event will get on television and radio. I'm not going to write any more, the case is well made by Fr Tim Finnigan and Abbot Christopher Jamison. It's mostly about the media's obsession with sex.

The second annoyance grieves me a little more. As is widely reported (here, and here) the Vatican has instructed the Oratory in Birmingham to arrange the exhumation of the body of Cardinal Newman from the tiny cemetery at Rednal and to the Oratory Church in Edgbaston, in preparation for his beatification and the expected stream of pilgrims.

The reasons for this are clearly explained by Fr Paul Chavasse, Provost of the Oratory

One of the centuries-old procedures surrounding the creating of new saints by the Catholic Church concerns their earthly remains. These have to be identified, preserved and, if necessary, placed in a new setting which befits the individual’s new status in the Church. This is what we have been asked to do by the Vatican with regard to Cardinal Newman’s remains, which have laid at Rednal since his death in 1890. We hope that Cardinal Newman’s new resting place in the Oratory Church in Birmingham will enable more people to come and pay their respects to him, and perhaps light a candle there.

Clear enough? Well it seems not. You see, Newman was buried at Rednal at his express wish in the same grave as his close friend, priest, and fellow convert from anglicanism, Fr Ambrose St John. The exhumation of Newman's body, does not, of course include that of his friend.

So along comes the Daily Telegraph claiming that the Vatican has 'ordered Newman to be parted from his priest friend in their shared grave', that the Vatican has 'overridden ... his dying wish', and also that the Vatican had 'slowed his path to beatification' because of 'misgivings' over his relationship with Fr St John. Hardly surprisingly, others have picked up the spin on this story, most notably the homosexual campaigning journal Pink News: Cardinal's same-sex resting place upsets Vatican saint makers.

Responding isn't so easy. If we cry 'Lies' 'A slur on his character' we will be accused of homophobia. If we say that there is no evidence of any kind that Newman was homosexual, we will similarly be accused of being foolish - a man who doesn't marry, who has a close friend whose death leads to a bereavement which he himself compares to being widowed, surely ... it must be ...

Fr Ian Ker, quoted in the Telegraph article, makes a vital point: "The concept of friendship has died". In our age, in which sexual activity is not the expression of marital love open to the creation of new life, but no more than pleasurable self-expression, people actually find it difficult to understand how a close and deep friendship between two people can exist without it being sexual. 'Come on', they say. 'Get real'.

We live in a society which thinks it understands humanity so well, and yet which has such a limited understanding of Love.

Fr Ambrose St John and Cardinal John Henry Newman


Clayton said...

Interesting. I am working on a book on spiritual friendship -- or what the Catechism refers to as "disinterested friendship". Starting from a paper I wrote in college, but including St Aelred, Newman, and others as additional sources..javascript:void(0)

Fr Peter said...

Thanks for this, Clayton.
It is something I think which really needs exploring and explaining as a positive antidote to a highly secualised culture.

Adam Mitchell Bond said...

I humbly ecommend, Mr Emmer, that you consider using the inklings as an example, if you have not already done so. Lewis' description of friendship in The Four Loves would be invaluable, I should think.

As well, Fr Peter, this idea of the death of friendship has been a source of great pain for me, since I have suffered the sneers and accusations that accompany true friendship, masculine companionship.

The idea that two gentlemen could enjoy each others company without having a sexual thought is inconceivable to a world that is so centred on sex. Interestingly, in over-emphasising its importance and centrality, society has succeeded in sterilising sex.

It is no longer a mysterious expression, as you say, of marital love. It is not spoken in subtle terms which emphasise its quite, personal beauty. I think of Alice von Hildebrand who wrote on the flippancy with which we use words.

She said that we are so quick to banalise a word, make it common. No longer to we say 'marital embrace,' but instead we refer to it, if not with raunchy vulgarities to sully it, with ridiculous formality.

We sterilise it and in sterilising it we make it just another part of our mundane lives. It loses its unique... specialness (is that a word?). When a thing becomes common, it becomes uniteresting... and... tedious.

I think this is why people are dissatisfied with the simple embrace of man and wife. They need something better to arouse them, and so comes the perversities en mass.

Sterilise a thing, cleanse it of all mystery, and that part of our soul that feeds on mystery will seek poison elsewhere in novelty.

The problem is that the novelty is only a temporary relief, bereft of true value, and so we eat up every new fad, every new thing that we can get a hold of.

In the end nothing can satisfy and no matter what we take, nothing is sufficient.

Well, I going to stop playing quack psychologist and go to bed.

Adam Mitchell Bond said...

That should be 'true friendship and masculine companionship'. I don't want it to seem like I think true friendship is synonymous with masculine companionship.

Clayton said...

Thanks, Adam. I will be using The Four Loves indeed.