The Community of St. John is one of a number of newer monastic communities within the Roman Catholic Church. These communities of brothers, living a simple, contemplative life in an apostolic (or mission) context, grew significantly during the pontificate of John Paul II. The Community of St. John was founded by a French Dominican, Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, in 1975.
I have visited the Community of St. John on three different occasions over the past four years Through these visits I have made some meaningful friendships with several of these brothers. My original visit was my first retreat taken in a monastic community. It opened my eyes to the way these men witness to the love of Christ through a simple, uncluttered life of prayer and service. The brothers, and sisters (located on the same grounds), have chosen to consecrate their lives to God through silent prayer in a common, constant search for the truth and fraternal charity. When I say this is an apostolic community this means that it carries out the work of preaching, teaching and working with the poor.
Following the Rule of Life, the community follows this purpose statement:
The Congregation of St. John wants to be a Community of children of the Father and friends of Jesus, gathered together by the Holy Spirit, in order to live a fully evangelical life, by following Christ and in intimate communion with Him. . . . a life of adoration and of contemplation lived in close proximity to Mary.
My visit at the Community of St. John in Princeville, Illinois (diocese of Peoria) requires a three and a half hour drive in a very rural part of central Illinois. I always find the drive fills me with a certain expectation as I look forward to this place and being with these brothers. On June 10–11 I made a visit to Princeville to share time with Fr. Didier Marie, who has become a wonderful friend. Fr. Didier is an excellent teacher and a dear man who has been inclined to build a unique friendship with me. On this trip I discovered more of the reason why this is the case as Fr. Didier lectured on friendship during the time I was in the community.
I took some extensive notes of Fr. Didier’s comments and thus share some of this teaching with you. In the first address Fr. Didier spoke about the eyes and how our eyes will welcome the other into our hearts. The way to seek to know another person is not primarily through understanding but by doing. St. Augustine said faith searches for understanding and the same is true in relationship with friends. We first love and then we understand. If I discover someone who is truly good I cannot use them for my own ends.
Real friendship is rooted in a metaphysical question: “What is it to exist?” To know who we are, and who another is, we must cultivate admiration and this means we must go beyond routines. If you ever stop admiring, you will lose the friendship. Friends are chosen, not to change them, but because I have discovered in the other a true friend. In this sense I do not make a friend, I discover them. There is a humble, open reciprocity in this that allows two to see more clearly because they are together.
Books cannot open you up to friends. They can inform you and teach you but they never can replace the commitment of friendship. If I love another I will realize that:
1. I love them because of their service to me (usefulness).
2. I love them because they are pleasant to me (pleasure).
3. I love them because they are honest with me (transcendence). They open up to me, both qualitatively and quantitatively.
Tomorrow I will share more about Fr. Didier and the friendship that I have come to treasure with him as my brother in Christ.
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I try to visit a friend of mine once a week. I met this man in 2003. In 2005 he was in a tragic accident; a driver going the other direction on a highway crossed over the line and hit his car head on. As a result, he is now without sight and has traumatic brain injury.
I have felt very inadequate when visiting him; although we were friends, we never got around to really getting to know one another. A few months after the accident when I first visited him in rehab, he was very talkative but then he had complications and when I visited him at home there was very little response.
You can imagine how I felt, when one day he returned my greeting with “Hi Rick”. In the last few months we have started to have two-way conversations, where he will now ask me questions. Needless to say, I’m glad I didn’t give up a couple of years ago when the visits were silent except for my voice.
My friends wife, who was also in the accident, but came through it with minor injuries, has a lot of scriptures and prayer cards posted around their house. One of them has caught my attention more than once:
“Our job is to love others
without stopping to inquire
whether or not they are worthy.”