• Treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated
  • Strive for excellence, not perfection
  • Return barrowed vehicles with the gas tank full
  • Compliment three people every day
  • Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them
  • Leave everything a little better than you found it 
  • Think big thoughts, but relish small pleasures
  • Be forgiving of yourself and others 
  • Have a firm handshake
  • Be the first to say hello

From a sermon by Saint Gregory Nazianzen
Let us show each other God's generosity
Recognise to whom you owe the fact that you exist, that you breathe, that you understand, that you are wise, and, above all, that you know God and hope for the kingdom of heaven and the vision of glory, now darkly as in a mirror but then with greater fullness and purity. You have been made a son of God, co-heir with Christ. Where did you get all this, and from whom?
Let me turn to what is of less importance: the visible world around us. What benefactor has enabled you to look out upon the beauty of the sky, the sun in its course, the circle of the moon, the countless number of stars, with the harmony and order that are theirs, like the music of a harp? Who has blessed you with rain, with the art of husbandry, with different kinds of food, with the arts, with houses, with laws, with states, with a life of humanity and culture, with friendship and the easy familiarity of kinship?
Who has given you dominion over animals, those that are tame and those that provide you with food? Who has made you lord and master of everything on earth? In short, who has endowed you with all that makes man superior to all other living creatures?
Is it not God who asks you now in your turn to show yourself generous above all other creatures and for the sake of all other creatures? Because we have received from him so many wonderful gifts, will we not be ashamed to refuse him this one thing only, our generosity? Though he is God and Lord he is not afraid to be known as our Father. Shall we for our part repudiate those who are our kith and kin?
Brethren and friends, let us never allow ourselves to misuse what has been given us by God’s gift. If we do, we shall hear Saint Peter say: Be ashamed of yourselves for holding on to what belongs to someone else. Resolve to imitate God’s justice, and no one will be poor. Let us not labour to heap up and hoard riches while others remain in need. If we do, the prophet Amos will speak out against us with sharp and threatening words: Come now, you that say: When will the new moon be over, so that we may start selling? When will the sabbath be over, so that we may start opening our treasures?
Let us put into practice the supreme and primary law of God. He sends down rain on just and sinful alike, and causes the sun to rise on all without distinction. To all earth’s creatures he has given the broad earth, the springs, the rivers and the forests. He has given the air to the birds, and the waters to those who live in the water. He has given abundantly to all the basic needs of life, not as a private possession, not restricted by law, not divided by boundaries, but as common to all, amply and in rich measure. His gifts are not deficient in any way, because he wanted to give equality of blessing to equality of worth, and to show the abundance of his generosity.

In the book The First Circle, author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gives us an excellent example of three of courage’s best qualities: patience, persistence and endurance.

In the First Circle there is a conversation between prisoners Sologdin and Nerzhin, Sologdin explains the Rule of the Final Inch to Nerzhin.

“And now listen to The Rule of the Final Inch! In the language of Maximum Clarity it is immediately clear what this is. The work has been almost completed, the goal almost attained, everything seems completely right and the difficulties overcome. But the quality of the thing is not quite right. Finishing touches are needed, maybe still more research. In that moment of fatigue and self-satisfaction it is especially tempting to leave the work without having attained the apex of quality.  Work in the are of the Final Inch is very, very complex and also especially valuable, because it is executed by the most perfected means. In fact, the rule of the Final Inch consists in this: not to shirk this crucial work. Not to postpone it, for the thoughts of the person performing the task will then stray from the realm of the Final Inch. And not to mind the time spent on it, knowing that one’s purpose lies not in completing things faster but in the attainment of perfection.

Creating Endearing Friendships

Chi dorme con cani se leve con le pulci[i]

The quotation above is one of the first wise maxims learned in our home. It translates, “He who sleeps with dogs awakes with fleas.”

In our neighborhood, rowdy gangs roamed the alleys, used fowl language, smoked and swore. My parents were forever reminding me, “Seek respectful friends who stand for values!” This didn’t imply being snobbish, but rather finding friends who could lift you up intellectually and morally.

When we speak of friendship, what defines it best?

Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero states friendship is “mutual harmony in affairs human and divine coupled with benevolence and charity.”[ii]

Cicero’s definition may sound philosophical, a closer look at it, however, reveals down-to-earth principles leading to goodness. The charity of which he speaks is a heart-felt desire to do acts of goodness. Benevolence, on the other hand, moves us from desire into action. 

As enlightening as is Cicero, I believe the primary virtue of friendship lies in promoting the well-being of another; it is here where charity’s affection of the heart and benevolence come together. 

How does promoting another translate into everyday life?

In the letter to the Romans, St. Paul states; “Each should please his neighbor so as to do him good by building up his spirit.” In stating this, Paul points us to the essence of friendship: bolstering the spirit of another. Among other things, this can translate into concern for a friend’s religious faith, well-being, intellectual development, and encouraging him or her to use their talents. 

During World War II, we lived in a time of food stamps. I was just a child then, but I can still remember the religious lesson my grandparents and mother taught me at our kitchen table, “Gini, don’t forget to say your prayers before eating. Many people are not as fortunate as we are.”

The admonition wasn’t a great theological treatise, but oh what it taught me about our faith. As Christ’s life revolved around concern for others, so too, should our life. To this day, I feel the pain of people in warring countries and pray for their well-being. Thanks to a simple lesson learned at the dinner table, I am still practicing one of my first religion lessons. My grandparents were forever promoting my faith! 

I can also remember my mother imploring me, “You need to eat properly if you are to grow up strong!” “Put on your hat or you will catch a cold!” “Don’t cross the street until the light turns green!” And, too, she would cook simple delicious Italian dinners and urge me, “Mangia bene [eat well], you are a growing boy and need all the strength you can get.” She was forever fostering good health.

Not only did my parents and friends promote my health, they also desired I become cultured and emphasized learning music as one means for achieving this. In school, teachers stressed knowing other languages in order to be better rounded.

The philosopher Plato states, “Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” [iii] I don’t think my parents were thinking of Plato when they encouraged me to play the violin. I do know they wanted the best for me that would “enthrall me with charm and gaiety of life.”

Thanks to teachers who emphasized learning foreign languages, I traveled to various European countries and spoke their language. This in turn broadened my education and introduced me to life-long friends from various cultures around the world. It is also one reason I am at ease with and enjoy our growing multicultural country.

In my first assignment as a priest, my pastor was forever promoting my well-fare. His repeated advice to me was, “Gino, continue to pursue your education; no one can take it away from you once you have it!” He not only encouraged me to pursue my studies, but paid for them. I believe his appreciation of a good education was based on his awe of Cardinal John Henry Newman.

In his book The Idea of a University. Newman wrote,

“It is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility. It shows him how to accommodate himself to others, how to throw himself into their state of mind, how to bring before them his own, how to influence them, how to come to an understanding with them, how to bear with them. He is at home in any society, he has common ground with every class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is able to converse, he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently, and gain a lesson seasonably, when he has nothing to impart himself; he is every ready, yet never in the way; he is a pleasant companion, and a comrade you can depend upon; he knows when to be serious and when to trifle, and he has a sure tact which enables him to trifle with gracefulness and to be serious with effect.” [iv]

Newman’s reflection on the importance of education is truly inspirational. Not only did it inspire my pastor, but he passed on that inspiration to me; in doing so, he helped a young priest get off to a wonderful start in his ministry.

I would never have written and accomplished the things I did were it not for friends who believed in my talents.  One priest friend with whom I worked at the Bishops’ Conference in Washington, D.C. was forever encouraging me to write. Thanks to him, I am a life-long writer and enjoy it as a hobby that fills me with a continuous diet of fresh ideas.

Call it a competitive spirit, pride or just jealousy; more often than not we don’t like anyone getting ahead of us. True friendship, however, is the direct opposite of this: it takes joy in creating rising stars, and is happiest standing off stage taking pride in the success of a friend as he or she takes their bows.

In addition to promoting another’s faith, well-being, education and talents, what else nourishes true friendship?

To answer this, we need only to reflect on friends who called us or who wrote to learn how we were doing in difficult times. Not only did they think about us, but they phoned, wrote and personally visited us, exemplifying friendship consists in enlisting the most personal means available for conveying heart-felt concern! They were benevolence par excellence!

The role of giving gifts is crucial to friendship.  It’s not the gift, but the meaning behind it, leading to the principle: a heartfelt gift is friendship taking joy in giving joy to a friend. My library is filled with books that are gifts from friends. Every time I open one it re-enkindles my love of them. My kitchen contains cooking utensils my brother and his wife gave me. Napkins, place mats and dishes in my cupboard are from a friend with whom I worked. Three beautiful prints adorning my dinning room are gifts from my sisters who are forever embellishing my apartment. These gifts were given from the heart, and when this happens we have hearts touching hearts, which is the heart of friendship.

Friendship has a side we seldom consider: fraternal correction. I often think of my mother hitting us over the head with a broom when we got out of order and telling us, “Someday, you will thank me for the lessons this teaches you! This is tough love!” To which my brother and I would say, “If you keep hitting us, we won’t live to see that day.”

During my schooling, we had strict teachers and pushovers. I will never forget our Greek professor giving us a test every day. He would tell us, “Don’t consider these tests work; they are opportunities.” At the time, we didn’t think much of his advice. Although his classes were tough, they were driven by a tough love that said, “I am putting myself out for you so you will learn well.”  He taught us well, we learned well and to this day I still use my Greek because of the wonderful foundation he gave us.

Interestingly, in St. Thomas Aquinas’ schema of love, fraternal correction is one of its essential qualities.

As we can see, true friendship and all that goes into it is precious. But like anything precious it can be lost. What might be a sound principle to practice to guard against its demise?  William Penn gives us our answer in stating; “There can be no friendship where there is no freedom.”[v]

Friendship requires giving a person room to be who she or he is! In German we have the word Ehrfrucht. It consists of two meanings: being in awe of another and maintaining reverential space between another and our self. 

Most marriage breakups I have experienced are caused by one or other spouse not respecting the space of the other. When this occurs, ill disposition sets in resulting in unkindness. Suddenly stinging remarks fly through the air, or partners become deadly silent and no longer talk to each other.  As one wise elder once told me, “In marriage you must learn how to live together, and also how to live apart from each other.”

This wise lesson is at the heart of many lasting marriages. Space is precious glue for keeping together an enduring friendship.

There’s the saying, “If you end up with one good friend at the end of your life, you are truly blessed!”  It is a lesson in treasuring friendships because friends don’t live forever. When suddenly we realize they are gone, there is a dreadful feeling friendship has gone out of our life.

As difficult as it is to lose a life-long friend, the spirit of friendship we enjoyed can still live within us brightly. How is this so? It is because friendship is always at the tip of our fingers. All we need do is reach out and touch it.  A warm sense of friendship may touch us unexpectedly from a heartfelt greeting of a neighbor we hardly know. It can be enkindled in a nursing home by the beautiful smile of a caring person. It can be felt on public transportation when a stranger’s warm eyes greet us although no words are spoken. As long as we desire the warmth of friendship we can find it. Equally true, the more outgoing and friendly we are, the more the probability we will never be without friends.

A Benedictine friend points us to the ultimate friendship we will never lose. “I make it a practice throughout the day to remind myself I am in the presence of God”, he confided in me.  As he said this, it brought back memories of my favorite Italian proverb; “La provvidenza di Dio non manca mai,”: “The providence of God never fails us.” It reminds us God is presence at every moment of our life, encouraging us to have friend-to-friend talks with our Creator and to never feel alone. 

Even though Cicero wasn’t a Christian, we have to wonder if in stating friendship is a harmony of human and divine affairs, he was reminding us not to forget God’s divine friendship.

  

[i] Mario Hazon, editor, Garzanti Comprehensive Italian-English – English-Italian Dictionary (New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1961) 702
 

[ii] Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship (Notre Dame, IN, Ave Maria Press, 2008), 32

 
[iii] Taken from http://www.brainyquote.com/ quotes/quotes/p/plato109438. html
 

[iv] John T. Ford, John Henry Newman: Spiritual Writings (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012), 174-175

 
[v] http://quotationsbook.com/ quote/16217/#sthash.EVxk1xR9. dpbs