THE FRIEND OF MY FRIEND

– Carlos M. Frota

Three weeks ago I decided to take the challenge of a very good old friend to have a conversation with him every day. He convinced me that it was worthwhile, for practical reasons, not just philosophical ones. He is in Europe, I am in Asia – when he wakes up early in the morning, the afternoon just begins in my part of the world.

Our dialogue always has a main topic to be discussed, but he allows himself the freedom to go further, in different directions, when he intends to stress a particular point useful for me. The book he follows to guide our conversations is well known and apparently an inexhaustible source of wisdom and inspiration.

But what is the common denominator of our dialogues ? It’s (no more, no less…) than human nature, human frailty, and the art of dealing with the mysteries of life exactly from the starting point of that frailty. And on the other side of the equation is God, the One who justifies everything, explains everything, AND ACCEPTS US as we are.

So immense is the Universe, says very often my friend, and look at us! … so small, so vulnerable, and at the same time so poisoned by the belief of understanding everything, controlling everything, and with the illusory power of re-creating everything!

I forgot to mention that my friend is 83 years old and has got a lifetime job that doesn’t allow retirement. When he accepted it he knew already the harsh conditions surrounding his engagement. Nobody abandons that job,  with a few exceptions (his immediate predecessor and some others) in a particular career created two thousand years ago. The first, the precursor, was a curious man, humble and at the same time irreverent, who one day told their common Friend, the Founder,  a statement which reverberates even today: “because only you have the words of eternal life.” Everything in history has changed since then.

The friend of my friend

Our relationship, I must confess, is a very particular one. I met him for the first time seven years ago, when he suddenly appeared before the crowd on the balcony of a famous window, in a famous building, in a famous capital. His soft voice pronounced then very simple words of hope so much awaited by millions across the world. I’d like to pretend that our first meeting was an exclusive encounter between two persons. No, it was not. It was a meeting between my friend and the world. But the strangeness of the situation doesn’t stop here. Because even then, when millions “touched” the newcomer, I felt that from his side of the balcony he was not alone.

Of course, he was not alone! A lot of people accompanied him since the first moments of his inauguration. But more. His words, their full meaning, the softness of his voice,  the first gestures, the smile, everything surrounding him gave me the impression that he was not only himself. Some other or somebody different completed the personage. And after all these years, this impression of an invisible company never disappeared.

It’s why I believe that in our more recent meetings my friend was not alone. And I was invited to discover the friend of my friend.

The God of the impossible things

The friend of my friend is invisible. And very special.

The Indian writer Arundhati Roy was awarded the Pulitzer Prize,  some years ago, for the publication of a beautiful novel, The God of the Small Things. I loved the novel and I loved its title and always pronounced it as honey in the mouth:  The God of the Small Things. Because I like the idea. God, the immense Being, the Creator, is also the God of the small things.

The other day, my friend proposed the following idea as topic of our conversation: God, my neighbor. The Creator is also the One who accompanies me in the small things of my life. It’s the same idea and… it’s beautiful! – I told him. So distant from the idea of hopelessness so common in contemporary literature.

God my neighbor walks with me in my street,  goes with me to the church but also to the supermarket, and presses me gently on the shoulder when something goes wrong. In our conversations,  my friend talks about his friend as an old acquaintance, somebody he discovered when he was a child and with whom he never severed relations, despite the small treasons, or better the random malice of the young boy he was.

A morning call…

You’ve already guessed the identity of my friend. And to disclose everything about our daily meetings, the place and moment of our conversations are his daily Mass at Santa Marta House, at the Vatican.

Beautiful moments of intimacy with God, those of every afternoon (2 PM) in Macau, during these last days of Lent. So strange, these times we are living in, and at the same time so appropriate to better understand the fragility of the human being!

We watch TV or the internet and see the streets of Europe, the United States and more and more Latin America and all corners of the world and we feel an invisible hand reducing us to the true size of our smallness!

And from everywhere come stories of old and not so old people dying alone, infected by the virus.  Churches closed. Every public place closed, actually. And families decimated by the pandemic, making the tragedy even bigger in many households.

I don’t have enough faith to be an Atheist is the excellent title of another book by Norman Geisler.

Yes, I don’t have enough faith in science to allow it to replace my relationship with God. I want science, I respect science, I admire the scientists, I praise and welcome their discoveries, but they are just what they are. The coworkers of the immense job of disclosing to us the mysteries of Nature. And I have enough faith to believe that Nature is God’s creation.

Praying in a desert place…

Wednesday, March 25, Pope Francis prayed in a deserted St Peter’s Square. And I felt the deep meaning of his initiative.

I cannot explain why, but I always loved gestures or behaviors which defy what is reasonable, normal, common, in our human understanding of life. It’s why I feel myself inspired by liturgy. Not because of the theatrics of the ceremonies, but because of the richness of meaning hidden in every one of its actions.

Millions of people followed the Holly Father in his humble gesture to “touch” the Divine with the humility of the prayer Jesus taught us. And the unity of the Christians, overcoming divisions, at that moment, was another sign that the Human Family was together before the gravity of the moment.

I am sure, the friend of my friend was there…in the middle of the deserted square.

(Photo shows Pope Francis before the miraculous crucifix of Saint Marcello al Corso, transferred to the foot of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Credit: YARA NARDI / Reuters)

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