Memorial of Sts Basil the Great and Gregory Nazianzen, Bishops and Doctors of the Church
Saints Basil and Gregory Nazianzen, whose feast we commemorate today, were lifelong friends. They studied rhetoric together in the best schools, they lived a monastic life together, and later as bishops, they spurned each other on to greatness working out theology on the nature of the Trinity. We intuitively know that friendship is important, but perhaps we do not realize how important friends are for our growth in holiness.
The opposite is also true: we can influence each other negatively. In the gospel, we hear how a mob of people upset by John the Baptist’s preaching spur the cohort of Jewish priests and Levites to interrogate him. These people are comfortable in their own religious life – whether it is good, mediocre, or detestable – and want to be sure that John is not the Christ. This is the sticking point: he must be the Messiah for them to respond to his call to conversion. Their greatest fear would be that he is in fact the Christ.
When John tells them he is not the Christ they aren’t off the hook; there is in fact one in their midst. This is their greatest fear. The Baptizer tells them they cannot see the Christ nor accept His message. They are afraid to convert and their support group disables them. What would have happened if they had had a good friend who could challenge them individually to take the Good News on its own terms?
We humans are social creatures, although in modern America – disabled by COVID-19 – we can be distracted and secured in our own homes. Amazon can bring us all that we need for creaturely sustenance and entertainment. We do not need anyone. But turning inward kills us. The Church and holy friends are the places that challenge and support us for growth in holiness. Christ’s commands are better met when I hear His voice in His Body on earth.
Reflection by Fr. Pachomius Meade, OSB