Faith & Thought

The Grace of Friendship After One Person’s Death

by Father Robert Lauder 

Within the past year, two of my closest friends died. This has moved me to appreciate the enormous blessing that friends can be in our lives. I imagine that they are more influential than we can ever appreciate. As I have aged, I have come to see what a unique role close friends have played and continue to play in my life. 

They have blessed my existence. In this weekly column I have reported previously on an experience in my life that, when it happened, surprised me. Years ago when some of my closest priest friends had resigned from the priesthood, I was asked why I did not resign. I surprised myself when I answered, almost spontaneously without giving the question much thought, “I have been blessed with great friends.” 

Why did I give that response? I suppose way down deep in my consciousness I was aware of what a great gift and blessing friends have been in my life. The recent death of my two friends has caused me to reflect on how much we receive from those who love us. I miss my two friends a great deal but I do not think that death has destroyed our relationship. 

I believe that relationships with those we have loved may intensify and increase when these loved ones are with God. I have come to believe that this may be part of what we believe when we say love is stronger than death. 

In my philosophy courses at St. John’s University, whenever I lecture on the mystery of love, I suggest that lovers are creatures that are most like God because lovers can create the beloved. Of course only God can create from nothing. 

Lovers cannot do that, but they do possess a creative power that can help the beloved grow as a person and become more free. The philosopher Martin Buber claimed that love is the godly in existence. I believe Buber’s view of love is true. Lovers are like God. The death of my two friends has helped me to appreciate that and also to appreciate in a deeper way how my two friends and other close friends have been almost incredible graces and gifts in my life. I have come to believe that every person has a radical vocation, a primary vocation, and that vocation is to be a lover. 

Every person is called to live as a gift to others. This is what close friends can be in our lives. They help us to be more human, more free, more capable of living as a gift-giver. 

In his book “Sacraments and Sacramentality” (Twenty-Third Publications: Mystic, Conn., revised edition, 1994, $14.95, 241 pp.) Bernard Cooke writes the following: 

“What this book hopes to do is to show that ‘sacrament’ is not something limited to certain formally religious actions. ‘Sacrament’ includes much more than religious rituals; as a matter of fact, it touches everything in our life that is distinctively human. 

“Moreover, this book is written with the conviction that sacramental rituals themselves can never be revitalized until ‘sacrament’ is understood and lived in this broader sense. Nor, for that matter, can people thoroughly understand what it means to be Christian if they do not understand the fundamental sacramentality of their human and Christian lives. … 

“So, while its purpose is certainly that of making sacramental liturgies better understood, this book is about a broader topic: the sacramentality of Christians and their everyday lives” (p. 2). 

Many years ago when I was sent by my bishop to Marquette University in Milwaukee to obtain a doctorate in philosophy, I learned upon arrival that the university would allow me to minor in a subject other than philosophy, that is to take six credits, in addition to the 24 credits I had to take in philosophy. 

I learned that Bernard Cooke was the chairman of the theology department. I had heard about Cooke, had even heard him lecture once in New York. I knew he was an extraordinary lecturer and so I suggested to the chairman of the philosophy department that I wanted to minor in theology. 

As I type these words, I can recall easily my meeting with the chairman of the philosophy department who tried to persuade me not to minor in theology. Back in those days, I was rather docile and yet I persisted and decided to minor in theology. This has to be one of the most important decisions I have ever made. 

I took two courses with Cooke: one on grace and the other on priesthood. The courses changed my life. They were the best courses I have ever taken, and Cooke was the best teacher I have ever had. Looking back on that meeting with the chairman of the philosophy department, I have to suspect that the Holy Spirit was guiding my decision. 

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.