Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram – Friendship as a Basis for a Monastic Calling – 11/13/22

Chapter Talk – Fr. Michael Casagram – Friendship as a Basis for a Monastic Calling – 11/13/22


In his last two Chapter Talks Fr Elias had us look more carefully at chapter 58 of St Benedict’s Rule on the reception of new members. Awhile back Br Frederic brought to my attention an article in the Review for Religious called “I Call You Friends”: Toward a New Theology of Vocation by a Richard Gaillardetz who teaches theology at Boston College. I would like to touch on a few aspects of his thinking for the Church today.

From the House reports being read in the refectory, the experience in our own community as well as in many religious communities across the country there is a shortage of new members. Language of vocation has had a complicated history Gaillardetz tells us and up until Vat. II a vocation was viewed in terms of a:

“states of life” theology that presumed three fundamental Christian states of life: The priesthood, marriage, and professed religious. Within that framework, marriage was imagined as the default vocation of the vast majority of believers while the vocations to priesthood and religious life were presented as elevated and more heroic vocations, the essence of which were determined largely by contrast to married life. (p. 39 of Article)

It does not take much to see the limits of this kind of theology. What Vat. II has helped us to see is the universal call to holiness “to which all of us are called and within which discernment regarding more specific vocations to marriage and religious life will be undertaken.” (p. 40) For Gaillardetz:

“Christian friendship provides this more comprehensive theological framework, one that can account not only for our primordial baptismal call to holiness but also the more specific vocations to marriage and religious life”

A theology of vocation needs to have a sound theological anthropology if it is going to reflect the deeper movements of the human heart. We can approach the human person as a “thinker,” as a “believer” or as a “lover.” While our thinking and beliefs are of importance in discerning a vocation, it is when we forcus on the human person as lover, that we truly discern the working of God in our lives. Thus it is in a person’s ability to form caring and loving friendships that we have the comprehensive theological framework for specific vocations of marriage and religious life. “The call to holiness is deeply embodied in and driven by desire and.. the universal call to holiness is, in the end, a call to a life of love sustained by Christian friendship”

Any number of Christian thinkers from East and West, such as Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, Bernard of Clairvaux and Teresa of Avila have drawn our attention to the primacy of desire in the Christian life. “A fundamental premise of the Christian faith is that all embodied desires are ultimately fulfilled only when integrated into our deepest longing and desire, the longing and desire for God” as Gaillardetz is careful to remind us. This deepest longing and desire finds its concrete expression in friendship. He goes on to tell us:

Although the topic of friendship is generally neglected in the Christian tradition, one of the most noteworthy exceptions is offered by the English Cistercian monk, Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167), in his masterpiece, Spiritual Friendship. Aelred grounds the possibility of human friendship in the fact that God himself has already called us into friendship. It is out of God’s love and friendship that we are invited to seek out friendships with those around us. These friendships, in turn offer an entrée into participation in life with God, for Christ always abides in authentic Christian friendship. Aelred can assert this because he believes that authentic friendship is impossible without charity and charity always entails a genuine participation in God’s life.

Of course Aelred makes a distinction between love or caritas and friendship in that caritas calls us to love all whether friends or enemies but “friendship is built on reciprocity and trust.” We create the most authentic community life when it is grounded in this reciprocity and trust and this is exactly what so many young people are looking for in today’s world. I suspect this is what happened at Rievaulx that began with but a small group of monks but at the time of Aelred’s death, had 140 monks and about 500 laybrothers.

For the Christian, Gaillardetz tells us, “friendship has a circular character. Our friendship with God grounds our capacity for authentic friendship with others even as, for many, authentic friendship with others becomes, whether noted or not, an encounter with the divine.” Christian friendship “moves us beyond rivalry, competition and possessiveness and to properly situate our desire for intimate, vulnerable relationship within our deepest desire for the divine.” (p.45)

Although I am not able to give you the full content of the article I think the above gives the basic thrust of his message. It draws attention to our own relationships and how these create the basis of discernment for those seeking our way of life and can help countless others to find that way of life for which God has destined them.