Monthly Reflection: September, 2013

Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin.  —Proverbs 18:24

A fellow priest asked me this month if I had any good friends.  “Your wife, kids, and extended family–relatives–don’t count either,” he said.

This question got me thinking.  Good friends are easily made when one is young, or so it seems.  I can remember a friend I made in kindergarten.  Just the fact that we were kindergarteners alone gave us an instant bond: we were both leaving Mom and home for good chunks of the day for the first time; we both had to tackle the tasks of each day, perhaps independently but also in some sense together, as comrades; we explored the world of recess together; we endured the rigors of quiet/nap time, struggling together to acquire something of the self-discipline required of us to keep quiet; etc.  So, by the end of the first day, John and I had become fast friends.  I would have risked my life for that guy!  But, alas, at the end of the year his dad transferred to another part of the country and John moved away.  I’ve never seen him since.

As I grew into junior high and high school, new and good friends still came along, but not as easily, and certainly not as quickly.  Still, there was no shortage.

But in college, a sort of adolescent renaissance for me, friendships took on new meaning.  That is, I began to see them falling into at least three categories.  The first of these is acquaintances: people I interact with socially not by choice but because they are there.  You know, like fellow students (or colleagues at work), people you might come across out of necessity but whom, in reality, you know you’ll never keep in touch with beyond the breakroom.

The second category of friendships is what some have referred to as fair-weather.  These are the people who come into your life and find some interesting things in common: you hang out on the occasional weekend, taking in a movie or a game, a coffee or a beer; smalltalk comes easily.  But really the relationship will never go too deep, you realize in time; for you just don’t quite share the same understandings of things that matter at deep levels: matters of life, death, the universe, humanity, and so on.

Only the third category is where the deep friendships are found, those that will last regardless of however many miles come between.  The bonds here are similar in many ways to family.  But they’re not familial at all.  Rather, they’ve developed organically and become stronger and stronger, better and better after time, like a good Chianti table red.

So then, I took my friend’s question–a friend in Category 2, mind you (which could develop over time, granted, into a Category 3 friendship)–really to mean, “Do you have any Category 3 friends?”

“Not locally,” I answered.

Other than my wife and kids–who couldn’t factor into this question–I can think of only several Category 3 friends I’ve made in my life since college.  Most of these have morphed back into Category 2 over time, by the way.  Nevertheless, a few remain to this day.  Unfortunately they are spread all over the country.  Unfortunately none of them is local.

So, at the end of September, 2013, not yet four months into my vocation as a parish priest, I’ve taken something of a pessimistic turn and am wondering how lonely this calling will be.

I’ve recently spent three years far away from San Antonio, in seminary.  Three years is long enough to see old Category 3 friends morph into Category 2, but not quite long enough to establish new Category 3 friends.  And now my present curacy is only a two-year appointment, again making the prospects of new Category 3 friends bleak.  And can a pastor ever become Category-3-close to parishioners?  I am dubious.

There are other clergy, I suppose.  But I feel something of a misfit in that group. . . .

Then I think of my kids.  With our frequent moves and my relationship to the parish, will this calling of mine similarly prevent them from establishing and keeping Category 3 friends?  May it never be!

“What about you?” I asked, turning the tables on my priest friend.  “Do you have any close friends locally?”

“No,” he replied candidly, “and I’ve been here for nine years.”

Does the priesthood have to be a lonely calling?  Now that the wave of my curacy has crested and broken and I’ve come up for air and taken my first real breath and looked around, this question stands out.  No doubt I will be thinking about it a lot in the remaining twenty months of my curacy–and beyond.

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