Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good-and goodness is an enduring thing. – Aristotle (Nichomachean Ethics, VIII, Ch. 3.)
I had the opportunity to help out with the music at a pre-cana prayer service last week. I really enjoy these sorts of opportunities because most of the people who are present are about my age. Its not the first time I was able to assist, but this time, it was particularly nice because the other musician was a colleague who consistently delivers his best, and does so with sincerity. As musicians, we hear many well-prepared homilies, but on this occasion, the homilist delivered an outstanding message based on Deus Caritas Est. The homily concluded with a description of Aristotle’s three classifications of friendships.
According to Nicomachean Ethics, there are useful friends, pleasurable (pleasant) friends and true friends. Useful friends are temporary friendships and “when the motive of the friendship is done away, the friendship is dissolved, inasmuch as it existed only for the ends in question,” (Nichomachean Ethics, Book VIII, Chapter 3.) A useful friend might be a coworker, a classmate who takes good notes, or the older, wiser colleague who helps you discover how to advance your career. Pleasurable friends are those whose company we enjoy- a workout partner or the neighbor downstairs who throws fun party.
“Such friendships, then, are easily dissolved, if the parties do not remain like themselves;” (ibid.) and if you stop working out or move to a new apartment, or maybe have a disagreement, the friendship also fades. The final category of friendship is that which is true. According to Aristotle, true friends are enduring friends who naturally want the best for one another. True friends have a lasting relationship
Maybe this is not unique to St. Nick’s, but it appears that many couples who marry here become true friends of the community. Our pastor, who witnesses most of the weddings, sets the example of how to build lasting alliances. The manner in which he interacts with us, in turn, makes us want to follow his lead. He is human and approachable, confident yet non judgmental and above all, Christ-like. Months after the wedding, its not uncommon for couples to continue their relationship with the parish by regularly attending Sunday mass. In fact, I noticed its fairly common for couples who married in our parish to baptize their first child in the parish a few years later. Last winter, all in one day, I recall three couples stopped in to share the news that their families were growing. In at least two other instances, the relatives of newlywed parishioners were encouraged, after years of civil marriage, to celebrate the sacrament in the church.
These moments are particularly affirming. So many of these encounters are living examples of communion, or koinonia-a Greek word for fellowship- that we have with one another in Christ. (Acts, 2:42, speaks of this fellowship as “the communal life.”) There are many circumstances that influence a decision to get married in the church. The bride or groom may have a particular connection to the parish, it may be a tradition to return to where earlier sacraments were received or it might be at the insistence of a relative. Sometimes, parents want to learn more about the faith as their children grow, and along that journey, the parents are led to marry in the Church. Regardless of why the bride and groom come to minister the sacrament to one another, they become sacrament to us as well, but not merely in a “church is bride of Christ,” model. The sacrament for us is the relationship that develops between the couple and the parish- through the preparations, during the liturgical rite and among the community as they return to share more good news. Each time a couple marries, it is an outward sign of God’s grace at work in our parish.
As a music minister, I’ve recognized I am particularly responsible for strengthening the alliance during the marriage preparation process and the liturgy. There are some great tips that I’ve learned from my colleagues, and some common-sense wisdom in Sing to the Lord. I’ll unpack these thoughts in a subsequent post. Ultimately, the people who marry in our parish have taught me to recognize a potential for friendship. Should I assume that we’re going to be useful friends and we will help each other out through a mere business transaction? No. Should I presume that we’re pleasurable friends, and that we will lose touch after the big celebration has ended? No. These are alliances that have a potential to be true, lasting, life-giving and faith filled.
Among colleagues, let’s discuss….
Do you think these observations are preposterous? Do you agree with some of the points that are raised?
How do you help couples to plan a wedding?
How do you build true alliances in the process of preparing for a wedding?
Let’s get some good discussion going! Please comment below!