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Friendship and Evangelization

It is more and more apparent to any unbiased mind that what is left of what used to be known as the Christian West is collapsing. Just look at the falling fertility rates in the United States as well as in all those European countries that once were solidly Catholic.

Taking their place almost inevitably are procreating Muslims who, unless there is a radical shift to fertility, will attain at last to what they could not achieve at Malta, Lepanto, or the Gates of Vienna. And as we know now, given the recent events in Ireland regarding the definition of marriage, perhaps only the return of St. Patrick himself could save even Ireland from also becoming Islamic.

And we should not expect mercy from the Muslim, given what we are witnessing with great sadness: the destruction of historic Christianity in the Middle East. There, great multitudes are being driven from their homeland or martyred for their Catholic faith, with virtually no help from what is left of the Christian West.

So the question is: What can be done? I think it unlikely that Pope Francis will be calling for a crusade, as did several of his predecessors in the papacy at times of attacks on Christian countries and people by the infidels of Islam, although he could surprise me.

No, if what’s left of Christianity can rise up and save the West, it will be through the Christian laity having children, many children without fear, and bringing them up as strong members of the Church founded by our Savior Himself.

They must also be willing to man up. And one way for men to do that is simply to have many male friends with whom they share their Catholic faith. Every year a well-known newspaper in the United States publishes a survey asking, “How many friends do you have?” Sadly, the common answer for men, year after year, is two: his wife and one male friend!

“The Battle of Lepanto” by Juan Luna, 1887 [Palacio del Senado, Centro, Madrid]

This is utterly sad in itself. But it also shows the lack of true manliness and, unfortunately, the impact of our individualist Protestant culture in the United States (and even that is falling apart).

Two of my favorite writers, both Oxonians, one a Protestant (C.S. Lewis) and the other a Catholic (Blessed John Henry Newman), wrote eloquently on the importance, even the necessity, of male friendships. Lewis stated, “Friendship is the greatest of worldly goods. Certainly to me it is the chief of happiness of life. If I had to give a piece of advice to young man about a place to live, I think I should say, ‘sacrifice almost everything to live where you can be near your friends.’”

In a letter he writes, “Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?” His book The Four Loves devotes an enlightening chapter to friendship, including this: “To the ancients friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves. The crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world in comparison ignores it. . . .But in friendship – in that luminous, tranquil, rational world of relationships freely chosen – you got away from all that. This alone, of all the loves, seemed to raise you to the level of gods or angels.”

In the same chapter, Lewis writes that “Friendship arises out of mere companionship when two or more companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste that the others do not share, and which, till that moment, each believed to be his unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’ Emerson said Do you love me? means, Do you see the same truth?”

Blessed John Henry Newman says in his sermon on Love of Relations and Friends: “Love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men. The love of God is not the same thing as the love of our parents, though parallel to it; but the love of mankind in general should be in the main the same habit as the love of our friends, only exercised towards different objects. The great difficulty in our religious duties is their extent. This frightens and perplexes man – naturally, those especially, who have neglected religion for a while, and on whom its obligations disclose themselves all at once. We are to begin with loving our friends about us, and gradually to enlarge the circle of our affections till it reaches all Christians and then all men.”

To sum up all of the above, if true Christianity is to survive, then it is necessary for Catholic men to be lovers of one woman and desirers of many children. And also, as that manly man Hilaire Belloc wrote, “There’s nothing worth the wear of winning, but laughter and the love of friends.”

Fr. C. John McCloskey is a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.