I remember like yesterday my first time in Lebanon. It was 1983, during the war. I was brought safely through the airport to Ghosta, then on to Qozhaya in the Holy Valley. On my walks there I noticed the hand carved caves that were once inhabited by monks and hermits. I was impressed with the way our Maronite ancestors “carved out” a way of life for themselves in life and in history. It was such a splendid example of determination and devotion.
Finding genuine love and authentic friendship in this world is not easy; it is something like “carving out” a place in our lives with our bare hands! Yet, like our ancestors of old, we do not “go it alone.” God is with us in this difficult but most satisfying task. It may seem at times that there is no one to help, no guide, at times, no hope. I wonder if the monks and hermits, our spiritual ancestors, felt the same! But God is with us.
At the beginning of the first Maronite Youth Organization (MYO) Retreats between the parishes of Flint [Michigan] and Youngstown [Ohio], the Pastors of that time worked hard to bring youth together at our National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon. One year the youth were asked to rank their deepest longings and needs. One would think that finding a career, living well under peer pressure, or something mundane like that would be their first concern. Instead, they articulated this phrase: “Love between friends should be mutual.” I was taken aback, as were many of those assisting. What touched me most was their honesty and vulnerability. To want a friend and to be a friend was important to them. They probably had already been hurt and disappointed in their search for love and friendship, perhaps they felt used or lied to as well. Whatever their experience was, the world that they wanted to live in was a world in which “the love between friends should be mutual!”
Coincidentally, the years of those first MYO Retreats correspond to the years that the late Pope John Paul II was writing his most beautiful but little known works on love and friendship. As a university chaplain, then a young archbishop who spent time mountain climbing and canoeing with young singles and couples, he nurtured within himself a “love for human love” as George Weigel, his biographer describes it. For Pope John Paul II, “love between friends should be mutual,” because love never uses the other, never lies, is always a gift of God. True love and friendship is difficult. We are tempted with discouragement; we easily get scared that nothing is happening. We give of ourselves and wonder if the other person (or God) is really listening!
Today we may be too busy for love or friendship, afraid of being hurt, disappointed, perhaps the love we give will not be returned. We do not want to feel rejected, disappointed or used. Nonetheless, every effort we make to be a person worthy of trust, friendship and genuine love, is a little like the work of the monks of the Holy Valley. God dwells not in temples but in humble and contrite hearts (Isaiah 66:2).
Like the efforts of our ancestors to carve out a place in history, may we too carve a place in our lives for friendship and mutual love. Pope John Paul II and others before him have said that God created us “to love and be loved.” It takes effort, but there are also great graces for one who is convinced that “the love between friends should be mutual.”
+Gregory John Mansour
(Reprinted with permission.)