Ministry Tip of the Week
So, says Aristotle, the highest of all virtues must be friendship. Nobody is perfectly virtuous on their own. We all have moral weaknesses and therefore true happiness becomes an impossible goal. But where we are weak, others are strong. The friend, therefore, is the one who shares this vision of virtue (living and acting well) and is there to help you where you are weak; and leaning, of course, on your strengths where he/she is weak. Sounds like the Body of Christ to me! Friends, according to Aristotle, are an indispensable aid to the attainment of personal happiness, and that makes friendship the highest of all virtues.
How do we know that virtue is the secret to happiness? How do we know that virtuous action is the "correct" way to live? In a society that promotes radical individualism and an utterly blind moral tolerance, we don't. This is making authentic community nearly impossible and true friendships extremely difficult. Unfortunately, without agreement on our human need for virtue, everyone's idea of happiness is given equal weight and we walk around feeling judged by everyone if we subscribe to an objective value system. We very quickly begin to feel isolated and alone, all the while in desperate need of friends to help us in our shortcomings.
But we can know the right thing to do and when to do it! That's the virtue of prudence. Courage is a real thing, too; it's the prudent middle-ground between fear and recklessness. Without the virtue of moderation, enjoying a beer or two is no better than indulging the twelve-pack; and without justice, there's no objective reason to love our neighbor, or God, or ourselves. VIRTUE IS REAL, and Aristotle is right. We can't be happy without it.
So we can't be walking on egg shells when we feel a friend is in the wrong. We need to love our friends (and family), and sometimes this means finding sensitive ways to draw them out of their weaknesses and sinful attachments. Of course, it begins with us. Our friends can't be walking on eggshells around us when they feel we are wrong either. This requires and openness to correction that flows from a mutual trust and a common goal.
Lest we forget the whole point, it's good to remind ourselves of what friendship is all about from time to time, and this [should] make us more willing to receive constructive criticism and encouragement in the areas where we struggle. It's true I can't expect this disposition from all of my friends and family, but I can require it of myself. I can "lead by example" and show those around me what kind of friends I hope we can be, that I'm open to and in need of their correction (as long as they're nice about it).
True community hinges on this kind of humility. It begins with the common ground of virtue, and from there opens to a trustful embrace of one another's fraternal correction. If we trust, we admit our faults. If we trust, we let others point out our blind spots. That's what community life is all about and, without this kind of vulnerability, there's no "common unity" to strive after. Do we have a common goal? Is virtue (taken up by the divine strength of grace) the secret? If it is, then fraternal correction is an essential attribute of any true friendship and indispensable for healthy community.