Cardinal Sarah, Friendship and Law

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Convivium, 29 March 2018

Convivium editor in chief Father Raymond J. de Souza returns to Cardinal Sarah's address from earlier this month to examine how the law of love can shape our Holy Week. 

On this day of the Last Supper, Christians the world over will read with devotion the biblical accounts of that most dramatic evening. St. John sets several chapters of his gospel on Thursday evening, first with the farewell discourses in the upper room (John 13 & 14), and then continuing on the way to Gethsemane (John 15 & 16), before the great high priestly prayer of Jesus (John 17).

At the heart of those five chapters, we find some of the most consoling words in all of sacred scripture, Jesus including His disciples in the love of the Father and the Son:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another. (John 15:9-17)
Last week I wrote in this space about the honour of hosting Cardinal Robert Sarah, one of the Vatican’s most senior officials, in Kingston and Wolfe Island. In his addresses in Canada, he spoke on that passage, giving attention to what we might pass over. Jesus calls us “friends”, including us in the mystery of Trinitarian love. But then He adds, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14)

Cardinal Sarah invited us to think about the connection between friendship with Christ and obeying His commands. We are not accustomed to thinking about friendship and obedience, love and law, as going together. Indeed, we might well reject as a friend someone who attempted to command us. Or we might think that it is simply not possible to befriend those who have a right to command us, even if we desired it.

In this we think about Aristotle’s teaching about friendship and equality, that a true “friendship of the good” – as opposed to friendships of pleasure or utility – requires some measure of equality between the friends. Does this not mean that friendship between the commander and the commanded are not possible?

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