There was a time after I finished school that I lived in a community of volunteers. We talked a lot about the potential for conflict, the importance of ‘I’ statements, and going directly to the source of the conflict rather than “triangulating” (gossiping with those who didn’t need to hear about it and thus creating the awful middleman). This all made perfect sense to me. I was sure I’d lean hard on these suggestions on the off chance that in our super-cool group, there might be any… conflict.
As it turned out, conflict isn’t especially hard to come by, even amongst this super-cool group of volunteers (you could insert siblings, spouse, vowed religious, or roommates here).
We had varying expectations on everything from bathroom cleanliness, to dibs on leftovers, carpooling, and prayer times. This would have been an ideal time to employ those tools for communication and conflict.
But I didn’t.
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Fortunately none of the issues that arose were big enough to do significant damage. But, for my own sake, I mourn the lost opportunities to have built confidence in my ability to articulate what really mattered to me, especially when that task is difficult. Because the counter-intuitive truth is that having hard conversations with one another is evidence of a deeply-valued friendship. Not its demise, as we might fear.
I’m still guilty of surrounding myself with those who help me to stay comfortable. After all, it can be vulnerable and even frustrating to feel the need to articulate—or worse, defend—my opinions and beliefs to another. And yet, it is so vitally important to be able to forge and maintain friendships with another. It must be, for communication it is the fabric of our relationships.
This is not to undermine the value of the relationships that do stem from a common experience or belief. These friendships can moor us in ways that few others things can. So it seems this is a case of “both and” instead of “either or.”
Who models this well?
One of the striking characteristics I notice about many of the Saints that I have come to deeply admire are the intimate friendships they maintained. The kind of friendships I observe are those letter-writing, spiritual-directing, counsel-seeking sorts of soul friendships that were maintained by occasional visits and exhausting conversation.
These are the kind of friendships we all yearn for, I think. But perhaps we aren’t groomed to maintain them. Add to that the fact that these friendships each existed between men and women and you’ll quickly note what a treasure they are. These relationships were not (necessarily) built on the convenience of the same convent/monastery, religious order or gender, but a common vision.
St. Scholastica and St. Benedict
These twin siblings belonging to different monasteries, maintained a solid friendship and profound respect for one another. They frequently sought counsel and camaraderie from one another.
St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal
These Saints influenced one another significantly—specifically through the role of spiritual direction. They attended the parish where St. Vincent de Paul presided (does that make you think twice about who could be attending your parish?).
St. Louis Martin and St. Zelie Martin
They are most remembered for their holy marriage and forming children who lived vowed, religious, saintly lives.
St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila
These counterparts were both mystics, writers, and reformers within their Carmelite order.
St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac
These visionaries and innovators worked among the rich and poor of Paris in an effort to best serve those existing on the margins.
St. Francis of Assisi and St. Clare
Co-founders of the Franciscan order, these two recognized the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They pursued simplicity and poverty in a way that attracted the people of their time (and ours).
The Feast of St. Clare of Assisi
Clare as a cloistered woman, and Francis as a mendicant preacher, exhibited two very distinct approaches to the Gospel Rule. Their distinct approaches send a clear message that they complemented one another and were likely able to speak words of wisdom and encouragement that the other would have needed to hear.
As a dear Franciscan friend of mine put it, Clare was as much a support to Francis’ work as he was a support to Clare’s. Maybe we hear less of her because her abilities to communicate beyond her community would have been quite limited.
From the beginning, Clare admired the simplicity of Francis’ call to live the Gospel with one’s life, and received Francis’ encouragement to do so. Yet as she began putting together her own Rule for the women in her community, she received little support for her simplistic idea from Rome.
Clare maintained her devotion to the charism and vision that Francis had put forth in her own life. Rather than take up the charism of a previously-established order as she had been advised, Clare was adamant that her Rule be the Gospel. Through her wisdom and guidance, the Poor Clares integrated Francis’ Rule into their own practice—a rule that received papal approval days before her death.
Francis and Clare’s was a friendship that withstood the sands of time. When Francis died, Clare continued the vision he had put forth.
Pope Francis’ grasp on the life of Francis from its emphasis on simplicity, reaching the marginalized, and caring for creation have brought renewed attention to the Franciscan tradition. It changed and continues to change the hearts or ordinary observers simply because it is the Gospel—the good news of Jesus.
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