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True Christian Friendship

Immediately following the new year's celebration, the Church celebrates two theologians, bishops, and Doctors of the Church, Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, whose friendship would can learn much from.

Well, January 1st has come and gone, and with it so many New Year’s Resolutions.  Yet, with more than 360 days left in 2019 this is no time to give up the fight.  Just because New Year’s Day was a bacchanal of epic caloric intake amidst uncounted hours of mindless bowl game viewing doesn’t mean that all is lost.

Almost as if She had our proclivity for self-inflicted wounds in mind, the Church presents to us a feast that can help get even the most self-indulgent reveler back on track.  Immediately after the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, the liturgical calendar turns to two friends from the 4th Century: the theologians, bishops, and Doctors of the Church Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen.

These two men, who met at an early age during their studies and became as close as brothers, were among the brightest of shining lights of the Eastern Church in an era when the Western Church had to concern herself with the decay and eventual fall of the Roman Empire.  Basil and Gregory were among the great theologians from the Greek East who were instrumental in forming the orthodox beliefs professed at the universally accepted first Seven Ecumenical Councils, all held in cities of the Eastern Empire.

But it is not their influence as theologians that makes Sts. Basil and Gregory models of New Year’s Resolutions.  Few in the history of the Church could achieve their heights in the realm of theological insight, but every Catholic can follow in their footsteps when it comes to striving for a life well lived. For as with any person who is declared a saint of the Church, it was their sanctity and not their intellect that determined their heavenly status.

In his work known as the Panegyric on St. Basil the Great St. Gregory of Nazianzen wrote of the deep friendship that bound these two great men together, and of those qualities in Basil that drew Gregory to him: “his upright character, his maturity of speech, and his prudence.”  Gregory describes a friendship that would have made Socrates and Plato proud: “We cultivated a rivalry free of all jealousy, for each strove to have the other, not himself, win the prize, each regarding the other’s glory as his own.”

Gregory then goes on to place their friendship in the broader context of their Christian vocation:

“Our common goal was virtue and a life based on future hope; our aim was to dispose ourselves to be liberated from our present life even before leaving it.  We therefore directed all our actions according to God’s commandments and stirred each other’s zeal…Others have names won by their ancestors or themselves for their pursuits and deeds; for us, however, it was a great thing to be Christians and to be called such.”

It is often said that if you want to achieve any big goal like weight loss or quitting smoking, then you should do it with a friend.  It is not so much that misery loves company – although I’m sure there is a bit of that, but that friends can help each other when times get difficult and one person is tempted or wants to give up.

Gregory and Basil helped each other to achieve goals much more important than those we usually set for ourselves each January 1st.  They strove for what we are all looking for in this life – true friendship, as well as for what we are all looking for in the next – true happiness.

There is an inseparable link between these two goals.  To spend 2019 strengthening our ties with those we love, to do what we can to help God to bring about what is truly best for them, is a New Year’s Resolution that will bring us closer to the ideal of true friendship as well as true happiness.  And that would make this year’s New Year’s Resolution one that, as St. Gregory would say, wins for us a great thing: “to be Christians and to be called such.”

A.M.D.G.