08 May 2011


On a college campus, there is no topic that gets you more traction than "relationships." We joke that you can draw a crowd for any event, so long as you throw in the words, "and dating." For example: A talk entitled "The Precepts of the Church...and Dating" would be a standing room only event. I only partially jest :-) So please do not think that I am using such tactics in this post today -- and in the homily for Mass today -- just to drum up some business on our "low Sunday." Would I do such a thing? --Don't answer that question!

I am looking at the gospel of the disciples on the road to Emmaus for the third time already this Easter season so maybe I am stretching, but I think that I have good precedent for considering this gospel in terms of relationships. Dorothy Sayers (Chad, don't tune me out now!) offered the idea that the disciples were Cleopas and Mrs. Cleopas! More usefully for us, Fr. Cassian Folsom proposes the idea that the Emmaus disciples offer an icon of Christian relationship, as seen by Blessed Angelico. (Unbelievably, I cannot find an image of this fresco to post. If you come to Mass today, I will give you one ;-))

In this fresco by Bl. Angelico, the disciples, who are dressed as Dominicans -- the original is after all in a Dominican house -- are on one side; and Jesus is on the other. The disciples contact each other in their focus on Jesus. They are not looking at each other but at Him. It is a good image of the love of friendship as described by C. S. Lewis, except in this case the friendship is explicitly Christian. Christ is that "something" outside of the self that brings the friends together. Like so many of Fra Angelico's other frescos this one has a message for its original setting. In religious life, "particular friendships" are destructive to community life. So this is a good lesson for the brothers who would have originally seen the fresco as how to befriend each other. But the lesson is much wider.

Earlier in the story, the disciples are either looking down or looking at each other in their misery. It is getting them nowhere. As a matter of fact, they seem to be losing what little faith they have, and they have deserted their community. They need to be pulled out of themselves. This is when Jesus comes along. As they enter more into relationship with Him, even asking Him to stay with them, they find their joy again. After that ultimate intimacy of communion in the "breaking of the bread," they rush back to communion with the community that they had left behind in the isolation of their sadness. This is Christian friendship as it should be.

I think that potentially marital relationships -- the kind that young college men and women are pursuing -- are essentially friendships. Or ought to be. The "need" aspect of eros should be carefully regulated until much later. It might help for "falling in love" but not for much else until marriage itself. Otherwise, the love of friendship is the best love for dating. It gives freedom to ask the questions that need to be asked for marriage, an act of ultimate freedom. If one is already wrapped up in neediness for the beloved, especially when reinforced by physical arousal, then freedom has already gone out the window. If a couple has already committed exclusively to one another even in the sacrificial love of agape, then freedom is compromised. Eros and exclusive agape must wait until marriage! Only friendship gives what is needed: communion (not yet exclusive) and detachment.

I hope that this is not too much of a leap from the text! And I hope that you do not think that I am crazy. I realize that my ideas on this topic are not in the mainstream, which likes to propose emotionalism as the criterion for relationships. I see relationships as part of Christian discipleship that should follow the same rules. All is not fair in love. We are still Christians, even when we are in love. The disciples on the road to Emmaus show us that our relationships with each other are best when following Jesus and living in His community.

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