1st Tuesday of the Christmas Season
Memorial of Sts. Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen
Basil and Gregory were friends of God, and friends of each other – in that order. Their whole life was bound up, not simply with one another, but with God, and it was because they recognized that fact that their friendship served only to bring them closer to God. Both put God first, and their friendship thus became a way in which each led the other to God. That is what real friendship means: to have the humility to recognize and admire God’s life in another, and to put into action whatever that tells me about my own spiritual life.
St Basil knew that not every friendship is of this spiritual kind, even in a monastery. In his Longer Rules, he writes: “The brothers should maintain mutual love for each other, but not so that two or three at one time conspire and form cliques, for this is not charity but sedition and division. It is a sign of evil behavior in those who join together in such a way”.
St Basil seems to have known from experience that it is possible for some monks to get together and constantly criticize this or that aspect of monastic life, or other monks in their community. This isolates them from the rest of the community, causes divisions which will need healing, and leads to much inner turmoil.
The way to avoid such situations is brought out in the first reading: “Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you”, and what monks heard from the beginning is to ask if the novice truly seeks God. If we continue to truly seek God, “this is the promise that he made us: eternal life” – not an easy life, or a life according to our plans, but eternal life.
St Gregory learned from St Basil what true spiritual friendship is, and he wrote about it in his sermon in praise of Basil. He said, “Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come….We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong”.
Often a friendship like this can begin when one person shares something that is very deep and not easily revealed, and then finds an understanding response in another person. If both people remain centered in Christ, each can say to the other, as John did in today’s Gospel, “There is one among you whom you do not recognize, the one who is coming after me”, because every spiritual friendship begins in Christ and leads to Christ and includes him as a friend on the way to the Father.
The same Christ who was the best friend of Basil and Gregory comes to us today in the Eucharist. He emptied himself of his eternal glory and became like us to be our friend. Let us ask him to empty us wholly of ourselves, and make us like him, so that we may love him wholly, as he has loved us infinitely.