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11-LETTER-AMERICA

Communities based on love of God

Journalist BRANDON MCGINLEY writes a letter on true friendship from Catholic America. - BY BRANDON MCGINLEY

The money exchange app Venmo rose to popularity as a way for friends to split restaurant bills efficiently so that every penny is accounted for. No more must brunching young professionals have to settle up with cash or, worse, accumulate easily-forgotten debts and easily-cultivated grievances. Everyone can be his own accountant, ensuring he gets his due.

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with streamlining money transfers, the popularity of Venmo and other services to ‘keep the books’ among friends suggests to me an unseemly, even childish obsession with one’s own ledger and suspicion of one’s apparent friends.

Authentic friends do not behave like rival corporations: friends are not in competition for limited goods, but in solidarity for each other’s good and their common good. Friendship is not based on the notion of the contract but on the virtue of charity.

Now, I don’t claim to be the perfect Christian friend. I write these words just as much to reprove myself as to complain about our secularised culture.

And yet I do know this: I have been supported in my growth as a friend and as a Catholic in countless ways by becoming part of a group of friends who take friendship seriously—not as a series of implied or explicit quid pro quos but as part of the Christian vocation to build communities based on love.

My wife, my children, and I have been abundantly blessed to have met several other Catholic families in a similar stage of life who share a passion for building authentically Catholic lives.

We all have young children and we all live in reasonably close proximity—four of the families, including mine, even share a walkable neighbourhood. I will expand on our attempt at forming a distinctively Catholic community in subsequent letters, but here I would like to focus on one of the most beneficial aspects of this network of relationships: the emergence of what I’d like to call ‘habits of giving.’

Hardly a day goes by in our little community without someone offering something for free to the first family who claims it.

Sometimes it’s leftover diapers the baby has outgrown. Sometimes, like the newly-acquired rocking chair I’m currently sitting in, it’s full-scale furniture. Several times per week a family will announce they are visiting the grocery store or the hardware store or IKEA and will ask if anyone needs anything. And, unless it’s a big-ticket item, there’s no expectation of repayment.

In part because our proximity allows it, casual hospitality is common. Most weeks we eat a meal with another family at least once.

There are no gourmet expectations, especially with the kids bouncing around—whatever’s on hand will do. And when a baby is born, a city-wide network of Catholic mothers leaps into action, offering as many as 18 homemade dinners delivered in the first few weeks postpartum.

One might object that these habits of giving only work because of the implicit expectation of repayment in-kind. Some might go so far as to say it’s not ‘giving’ at all, but a complex system of quid pro quos only distinct from obsessive Venmo usage in its informality.

All this cynicism does, though, is demonstrate just how ingrained in our culture is the notion that goodness is impossible and therefore that grace is not real. Society, we are taught, is only possible through constant vigilance and mutual suspicion.

The common good is a mirage. Mitigation of wickedness is the very best we can hope for.

This anti-social thinking is corrosive to solidarity and inimical to Catholic tradition—especially when applied to Christian friendship. It’s true that any lifestyle can be corrupted by pride and envy and greed, but when we unite habits of giving with prayer and sacramental living, grace can and will transform those habits into authentic virtues. If all this giving balances out, that’s great—if not, well, that wasn’t the point.

This is where my wife and I want to raise our children—a community in which habits of giving make real the seemingly abstract notion of the common good, one in which popular cynicism is washed away by the love of Christ.

I know that our little community is not perfect and has much growing to do—and that there will be challenges. I know especially that I have to grow in prayerfulness and holiness in order to support rather than to obstruct that growth. But if the very early fruits are any indication, the rewards will be extraordinary.

 

Pic: Dan Gold

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