This article was originally published in Sword & Spade magazine.
Fr. Matthew Kauth, S.T.D., founding rector of St. Joseph College Seminary in Charlotte, describes the power of fraternity in forming the man and priest.
Life has no pleasure higher or nobler than that of friendship. It is painful to consider that this sublime enjoyment may be impaired or destroyed by innumerable causes, and that there is no human possession of which the duration is less certain.” —Samuel Johnson “The Decay of Friendship” from The Idler, Number 23, September 23, 1758.
Men and women are lonely. While the data on this is incontrovertible, the data is unnecessary. To know others is to know persons who are lonely. To know others is the first step in assuaging, to some degree, their loneliness. Consolation, as Benedict XVI once commented, denotes being with someone in his or her solitude. But how could we be lonely? Communication capacities have exponentially increased, population has increased and everyone is “connected.” How can there be loneliness? Because there is an absence of genuine friendship.
Aristotle once quipped that friendship is not a matter of bodily proximity, like cattle grazing in the same field. If you have ever been in a pasture, you would no doubt have heard quite a lot of chatter among the cattle. Cattle do call but not because they are lonely. We do. We live “out loud.” We call, text, tweet, insta-post everything with selfies and let the world know “I am here!” The best we can hope for is a series of “likes.” It is an absurd culture in which everyone “follows” and “friends” others and yet the real article is scarcely to be found. True friendship, one not simply of pleasure or utility, is rare
“We have fallen into the fallacy that the natural development of a boys’ body into an adult has coincided with the development of his character into a man.”
because persons capable of engaging in it are rare. It requires virtue. It requires a noble character. Once upon a time character was considered an art to be crafted. Education was not simply for the technical sciences, but for the whole person. Indeed, to this day if you want to tell someone in Italian that he or she is rude and lacking in courtesy you use the word maleducato. That person is poorly educated, that is, poorly led. People are lonely because they find it hard to be friends. True friendship is rare because it requires virtue.
As the Rector of a college seminary, I have had the privilege of watching the way in which growth in virtue with Christ as the goal and common good, allows for a fraternal life of friendship that is, quite frankly, infectious. It is the first thing young men notice when they come to visit. These men have such a joyful fraternity. How?
Toward Joyful Community
Virtues are perfections of our powers. Perfecting a potency requires training and a definitive knowledge of what the perfection looks like. Virtues must be achieved by education and practice. Once achieved they render a boy into a man. We have fallen into the fallacy that the natural development of a boys’ body into an adult has coincided with the development of his character into a man. We have many physically mature men who are children in their chests. To achieve manhood is, to a large degree, to have self-mastery. A man can give himself to another in friendship (whether the conjugal friendship of marriage with a woman or the fraternal life of his male peers) because he finally possesses himself. Manhood is an achievement rather than the passive effect of time.
Today there is much sculpting of the body and the discipline of personal health. One could say that our bodies are virtuous. In other words, we have them fit, trim, formed, we’re feeding them with food for optimal performance. Forming the man or woman today often means forming the body. The body is cultivated and crafted to a definitive end. We even sculpt our beards. One could say that there are relatively objective standards to the formation of the body and health, yet what one does with that body, what one chooses, is somehow beyond judgment. Judgment about action is not allowed because virtue of soul is not possible in the current creed. You can perfect the flesh but not the soul. The result of this is many fine looking cattle grazing on the same cyber hills. We are meaty without meaning. Our communications are little more than lowing in a field. No one hears because no one is listening. I cannot enter into communication with another, to know and to be known, to love and to be loved.
That requires genuine virtue. The causes of this post-Enlightenment isolation are many and varied but one simple cause, in my opinion, is at the root: liberty became an end and not a means. The autonomous self by definition cannot be a part of something. We are lonely because we are not virtuous, and we are not virtuous because we do not want to submit to the discipline of being formed. Ultimately, we do not want to submit to being a part of a whole. Without a whole you can have no common good—a good we share and hold together which has its own end and meaning. Indeed a common good by definition is something that can only be possessed by sharing. We have cultivated private goods only. Others exist (as evidenced by the social media phenomenon) as part of my personality or not at all. We can block, “unfriend,” erase, whatever and whoever does not contribute to the whole that is my “self.”
Liberty as an “end in itself” is isolation.
It is hell, properly speaking. We are the kinds of beings whose beatitude is found not in the self but in another (ultimately in One other). Friendship is that most liberal and liberating of realities because I bestow on another what I would bestow on myself, namely, the good that I see. When one loves only the self and others as only parts of which I am the whole, I condemn myself to loneliness. I lock myself in a room of my own universe that is as cold and dark as night.
I am god. Self-sufficient. I give meaning to myself. It is pride.
Pride is lonely. It is lonely being a false god.
Suicide rates among the young are epidemic in proportion. When one sits in the room of the enclosed self, having only chimeric relationships through social media, the walls begin to close in. We feed on ourselves, having nothing else to feed upon. Yet what we truly want is to be a part of something. The society of self-pleasure, individualism, auto-celebration, prohibition of judgment tantamount to absolute indifference, has produced hell on earth. I do not say that to be dramatic. It is, in fact, what hell is. The loss of the common good who is God. The loss of finding one’s place in His Providence. The loss of knowing and being known, loving and being loved. The loss of being wanted. The loss of self by choosing the self. Our Lord told us this. Unless you lose your life…you will not have it.
What is to be done about this? Begin to build. Begin with individual men and women. We are not creators. We are not a formless potency capable of being anything. We build according to right reason. We receive the blueprints. We are male and female and we have manhood and womanhood to achieve. We must cultivate the perfection of the whole person, and that means virtue. I have seen this in the seminary.
Shared Life and Friendship
As I mentioned earlier, the single greatest sentiment I hear when others visit the seminary is wonder at the fraternity. Any fraternity (brotherhood being a kind of friendship) requires what St. Thomas Aquinas calls a certain communicatio, a certain shared life. The type of friendship one has is defined on the common life they share. What is the life that seminarians
“Their goal is not each other or even that of finding friends. Their goal is God.”
share? Unlike secular “fraternities” a seminary fraternity has as its common life the pursuit of Jesus Christ. Notice I did not write the “pursuit of happiness,” that cherished right enshrined in our Declaration of Independence. Malcolm Muggeridge called the pursuit of happiness the most fatuous undertaking possible. This is in part first because it is equated with what one finds pleasurable and second it assumes it is a subjective affair. Seminarians do not pursue happiness, they pursue Jesus Christ. They fraternally pursue beatitude, which is an objective reality. Christ does not say I will help you be supremely happy but rather “well done my good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord.” It is His joy in which we participate. His is the life of beatitude in which we can participate. Such participation, of course, begins now.
Thus it is that men who are together for a common purpose, share a common life, and are formed in the virtues end up becoming capable of the friendship of fraternal life. Their goal is not each other or even that of finding friends. Their goal is God. That is what creates solid fraternity. The ingredients of discipline, order, recreation, self-sacrifice and the cardinal virtues are all present in the recipe. Yet these elements are suffused, supported and transported by the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity which direct their eyes to God. The men know that each wills the good of the other, his individual and common good. The men know that each labors for the good of the other. The men know they have concord (of one heart) in all that is most important. No one asks questions about first principles. They are known. Yet they also know that God is why they are there. He is the goal. What happens when you have a house like that? Peace and joy. The tranquility of order which is peace and the fruit of authentic love which is joy. Genuine joy that arises from mutual delight in the other. This delight is free because it is not dependent. The other friend is not pursued as an end but enjoyed as fellow traveler well met. He is a companion, one you share your bread with (cum + panis), the bread of ideas, conversation, recreation, and yes actual bread. All together pursue Christ. In other words, they want their brothers to be present. They want all the men that make up the seminary to be together as they are a part of that common good. A common
“A common good, like friendship, does not mean it is not a personal good.”
good, like friendship, does not mean it is not a personal good. It is not the reduction of the person to some impersonal state “for the good of the seminary.” Authentic common goods are deeply personal but they are not private. Being part of something does not destroy freedom but rather realizes freedom. Submission to an “order” governed for a common good as end allows the men to be part of something they could not accomplish on their own.
The very word “belong” can have a negative or positive connotation. We bristle at the thought of “belonging” to another after the fashion of an instrument or tool and yet we long to have a place and to have persons to whom we belong. As such it becomes “our place.” Persons become “our home.”
Post-Vatican II seminary’s disdain for clerical garb did not seem to consider this sense of belonging which is signified by men even in their garb. A man wears his allegiance. His uniform says that he is a part of something. It is that “one form” that defines him and gives him direction. The denial of this in favor of personal choice, the absence of order and form, is to make of yourself a whole and it is to make yourself alone. Our Blessed Lord once said that unless a grain of wheat dies it remains alone, but if it dies, it bears much fruit. In other words, you have to submit yourself to form, bind yourself to a law greater than you; directing you to an end that transcends you. To remain “alone” preferring to be your own universe and exalting the “self” as the only lord, ironically destroys your own dignity. There is nothing worthy of respect. No act greater than another. No noble or worthy deeds juxtaposed to acts of a knave. No achievement. There is just choice. The motto of the modern “man”: you do you and I’ll do me.
This “formation” into “one form” is seen above all in the Sacred Liturgy, in particular the extraordinary form (the Latin Mass), because of its precise and beautiful actions. Men submit themselves, their bodies, their time and attention to a ritual. They literally conform. The result is unified movement and a common expression that is greater than “personal” prayer. They enter into the Church’s liturgy and thus in the very sacrifice of Christ and the worship of the heavenly host.
The ultimate “common good” to which we are invited is Divine friendship. That can only be had by invitation and the act of grace raising us up to such an exalted status. St. Thomas calls this status charity, that is, a friendship between God and man. Yet when one is a friend of God, the common good of that friendship entails all the others with whom God is friends. Thus the command to love God above all things flows directly into those persons God loves, love of neighbor. When that friendship is pursued above all things in the manner of a seminary, seeking the common good of the priesthood which is a type of sacramental friendship with Christ, the end result is a powerful common life, a fraternal life, whose common good is Christ, His priesthood and all those who pursue it with you. What I see in the seminary is the peace and joy that comes from friendship. Friendship with Christ and with Christ’s other friends. What I see is facility of movement, creativity, energy and zeal. What I do not see is loneliness.