five years since the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI

Today, February 11, 2018, marks five years since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Recently, the pope-emeritus published a short note to a newspaper in response to an inquiry about how he was faring, a response that radiated with his characteristic warmth and wisdom:

It’s a great grace, in this last, at times tiring, stage of my journey, to be surrounded by a love and goodness that I could have never imagined.

Today, I simply post a link over to the Spiritual Friendship blog, where Ron Belgau has written about the pope emeritus’ writings on friendship with Christ.

May God bless the remaining days of the life of this remarkable disciple.

a friendship between two great men

From a recent episode of Fr. Groeschel’s Sunday Night Live, in which George Weigel shares about the friendship between Pope John Paul II and then-Cardinal Ratzinger:

I don’t know of a relationship of this consequence for the life of the church that is quite like this… certainly [in] the modern history of the papacy. They worked in very close harness for more than twenty years, and they did it as very different types of guys. I mean, you have this great public personality, and you have this more shy and retiring scholar. You have a philosopher and you have a theologian. You have a Pole and you have a German. All of this should not have worked and yet it worked fantastically well, which is to both of their credit. I think each saw in the other something that he didn’t have. John Paul II clearly recognized in Ratzinger a more comprehensive theological intelligence than his own. Ratzinger saw in Wojtyla a personality of the type he could never be and didn’t pretend to be, which is good, because you can’t fake this stuff. Real humility on both sides as well as genuine affection.

John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger ©

It’s worth thinking about how they were the same, though. These are two men who both were formed in this great Catholic renewal ferment in central Europe in the mid-twentieth century: the movement to rediscover the Bible and the Fathers of the Church; the liturgical movement in its early classical period; the Catholic social doctrine movement, etc; the renewal of theology and philosophy. There was this great ferment going on that eventually produced the Second Vatican Council, at which these two men played significant roles, and of whom they are the last two great witnesses.

We have no idea who the next Pope will be; one thing we know for absolutely certain is that he will not have been at the Second Vatican Council. In fact, were Pope Benedict XVI to be Leo XIII 2.0, which could happen, the next pope might not have even been born at the time of the Second Vatican Council. So I raise this because these two men who… have to be seen in tandem represent both the apogee — the high point — and the end of a period. With the death of Pope Benedict (which we hope is many, many years away)… with the end of that pontificate we will have brought this period in the history of the Church to a close. So we’re very, very fortunate that this (pardon the phrase) “cashed out” the way it did with these two personalities and their capacity to work together.

Full podcast here.


I’ve been thinking about putting together a short book on friendship in the spiritual life, by expanding on a paper I wrote on the topic of friendship as part of my Great Books seminar during college. I posted the sections of that paper on my blog back in 2005.

Since many visitors arrive at my blog while searching for the posts on friendship, and because recent technical difficulties with my Blogger account have rendered the original posts a bit hard to find, I have reposted the articles here on my new WordPress blog.

I introduced my paper in this way:

The topic of friendship has been addressed through the ages in a variety of ways that reflect the very personal nature of friendship; each of the writers that I have researched for this paper have distinctive views on the subject, probably the result of their own personal experiences. However, my goal in writing this paper was not to discover why these writers have arrived at different interpretations of the nature of friendship. Instead, I wanted to examine recurring themes in order to arrive at a description, however incomplete, of what friendship truly is. I chose to analyze the ideas of Aristotle, Cicero, Saint Augustine, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Michel de Montaigne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Robert Hugh Benson. What follows is a summary of my discoveries.

Here’s the outline for the college paper, along with links to each section:

Friendship as Natural for the Human Person

Types of Friendship

Characteristics of True Friendship
* Familiarity
* Choice
* Shared situations and interests
* Pleasure
* Charity
* Self-love
* Trust
* Respect
* Justice
* Criticism
* Virtue

Perfect Friendship
* The nature of ideal friendship
* Exclusivity and perfect friendship

Aims of Friendship

Friendship and Happiness

Caution in Friendship

The Degree of Loyalty Proper to Friends

Can Friendships Last?

Friendship with God

Personal Reflections on Friendship

I’ve added a few sources and quotes this time around, and amended some sections.

personal reflections on friendship

One reason that I think friendship is so enjoyable is that it allows us to appreciate qualities in others that we do not ourselves possess. God has made each person unique – indeed, unrepeatable – and friendship gives us a chance to recognize the gifts of others. It can liberate us from some of the narrowness of our own point-of-view. While we possess certain qualities in common with our friends, I think that much of the pleasure we receive from friendship arises from the uniqueness we discover in others.

As a final comment, I would agree that ideal friendship is singular in nature. I think it describes the relationship we can share with God. We can have strong and vital friendships with others to the extent that we have this primary friendship with God, a relationship that, with His aid and our cooperation, will reach its fullness in the life to come. His love becomes the source and stimulus of our love not only for Him, but for others. Our friendships in this world can help prepare us for the self-giving love of beatitude, in which our union with God and our communion with others will finally be experienced as a single movement of love, as the gift of friendship fully realized and shared, corresponding completely to the desire and design of the human heart.

friendship with God

Paul Henry, S.J., explaining Saint Augustine’s concept of friendship with God, writes: “Divine existence is the ideal of all personal existence – to be fully oneself, but only in dependence upon, and in adherence to, another in the communion of unity.” We are naturally ordered to God, and our union with Him can be perfected when, aware of His love, we respond to it by developing a relationship with Jesus Christ. Robert Hugh Benson writes that

the consciousness of this friendship of Jesus Christ is the very secret of the saints. Ordinary men can live ordinary lives, with little or no open defiance of God, from a hundred second-rate motives…. But no man can advance three paces on the road of perfection unless Jesus Christ walks beside him.

He continues by observing that human friendships are incomplete unless these relationships are informed by our friendship with God:

Even the most sacred experiences of life are barren unless his friendship sanctifies them… The purest affection – that affection that unites my dearest friend to myself – is a counterfeit and a usurper unless I love my friend in Christ – unless he, the ideal and absolute friend, is the personal bond that unites us.

Through our friendships with other people we can come to understand in a limited way the sort of friendship we will one day enjoy with God. Aquinas, recognizing the parallelism between the two types of friendship, uses it to explain the dependence of charity on the other two theological virtues:

Charity signifies not only the love of God, but also a certain friendship with Him…. Just as friendship with a person would be impossible, if one disbelieved in, or despaired of, the possibility of their fellowship or colloquy; so too, friendship with God, which is charity, is impossible without faith, so as to believe in this fellowship and colloquy with God, and to hope to attain to this fellowship. Therefore charity is quite impossible without faith and hope.

Saint Francis of Assisi expressed a similar insight. G.K. Chesterton, in his biography of the saint’s life, recounts a letter that Francis had written to a friar who was, in the words of Chesterton, “struggling between humility and morbidity”:

Do not be troubled in your thoughts, for you are dear to me, and even among the number who are most dear. You know that you are worthy of my friendship and society; therefore, come to me in confidence whenever you will, and from friendship, learn faith.

Saint Paul tells us that charity is not only dependent on faith and hope, but is also superior to them: “Faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Friendship is an instrument through which this supreme theological virtue can be expressed.