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Reflecting on Friendship

[caption id="attachment_3318" align="alignright" width="200"]Associate Tara Tuttle, OPA Associate Tara Tuttle, OPA[/caption] Newly committed Associate of the Dominican Sisters of Peace, Tara Tuttle shares her reflection from the day's ceremony: In John 15:12-17, Christ uses the word "friends" three times and applies it to those who follow Him as He commands us to love each other. "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants [. . .] but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you. [. . .] These things I command you, that ye love one another." When we met for lunch last week, my friend, Dominican Sister of Peace Mary Louise Edwards, brought her copy of "The Dialogue of St. Catherine of Siena" to share with me. It's always interesting to borrow a friend's book because when you look at what passages they have marked, you learn something about what intrigues them or what is meaningful to them. Flipping through to inspect what she had underlined, I noticed that Sr. Mary Louise had marked a passage addressing friendship. In The Dialogue, Catherine of Siena writes that God asks us to love Him with the same love with which He loves us, but that God acknowledges we cannot succeed in doing this. Catherine intuits God as saying, "This is why I have put you among your neighbors: so that you can do for them what you cannot do for me - that is love them without any concern for thanks and without looking for any profit for yourself. And whatever you do for them, I will consider it done for me" (section 64). In a previous section of The Dialogue, Catherine writes, "You must gather together as he said, either two or three or more. Why did he say 'two or three?' Because there are not two without three nor three without two. One alone is excluded from my companionship, since I cannot be in the midst of someone who has no companion." tuttle-edwardsGrowing up in a religious community steeped in the Word, I had often heard the verse "where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20), but I had never before given much thought to what that statement meant for the one. Catherine emphasizes the need for companions as a way to invite in the presence of God and as a way to serve God. Though I do not interpret Matthew 18:20 to mean God is not with us when we are alone, it is clear that something special may happen when humans gather together. What I have learned is that Dominicans figured this out long ago. Community is, of course, one of the Four Pillars. The Dominican Sisters of Peace website explains, "Community life for the Dominican is a place where companionship, support and prayer, serve to refresh and ground us for service. Shared prayer, shared hopes, dreams and struggles form the bonds of community for us. Community life is formed by living together, but more importantly, in a variety of circumstances, community is a place of friendship and laughter, where we foster inter-dependence, and a sense of the common good. Community is where we find strength when we feel weakened; inspiration when we are low; and joy when we have reason to celebrate." "Community" can take many forms, but from what I have seen, Dominican community is often synonymous with Dominican friendship. It is friendship as a spiritual calling. It is friendship as a spiritual practice. As I thought this over, I wondered how many Dominican Associates made the commitment I am making here today because they first became friends with a Dominican Sister. As a researcher, I need to see a reliable data set to make an accurate determination, but just here among friends I am willing to bet its a significant majority. I am sad to say that before I came to work with Dominicans, I had not heard articulated the idea that one could serve God through the practice of friendship. You won't be surprised that not only did I hear this idea here repeatedly, I saw it practiced. I experienced it firsthand. You've heard me speak about my friendship with Sr. Mary Louise before, and that's because that friendship has meant so much to me on both a personal and spiritual level. Sr. Mary Louise models for me this idea of friendship as a spiritual practice. Through that friendship, she not only expresses concern for me, she guides my spiritual path. I saw that Dominican friendship means we don't simply become friends with those who happen to share a similar set of beliefs but we act as friends who offer love in a way that bears us up spiritually. She delights me with sprigs of  lilacs on my office doorstep, thoughtful notes in my mailbox, book recommendations and Xeroxed articles she doesn't want me to miss, and what I enjoy the most, just time to talk with me every few days just to catch up. Without her friendship, I probably would not have remained at the college after challenges that hit in 2012, I definitely would not have been brave enough to get on a plane alone to travel to Fanjeaux, France, I wouldn't have met other Dominicans (in person or intellectually in books) who've shaped my life and my spiritual worldview, I wouldn't be making this commitment as a Dominican Associate today, and I wouldn't be in the process of becoming friends with many of you. Her friendship has made me better, has clarified my values, has shaped my understanding of community, and has transformed my concept of friendship from something secular to something sacred. Though the balance is tipped in my favor, I hope I reciprocate a fraction of that love and support back. In the way Sr. Mary Louise's spiritual practice of friendship has edified me, I understand how friendship and community bring us all closer to God. In his interview with Krista Tippett for the public radio show and podcast On Being, the Catholic actor and activist Martin Sheen said, "if you were doing well - and I mean 'well' by you were living an honest life - you were a part of community, and when you were not, you had drifted from that community." When he said that, I hit pause and played it back. That line struck me. When I thought about when in my life I was farthest from God, it was when I was disconnected from a meaningful community. The decisions I made that I regret most were shaped by a lack of connections. Conversely, I think some of my best decisions have been made from a sense of interconnection. In connection to others, we overcome barriers of difference and consider far-reaching consequences of our actions. In connection, in community, we invest in each other, as friendship requires time, patience, effort, and discipline. Friendship is a serious commitment. Catherine sets it forth as a path to godliness. To become a Dominican Associate or to reaffirm one's commitment as a Dominican Associate is to engage in friendship as a spiritual practice, not only with each other but with all those we hope to serve, one which answers the call of scripture and the words of Catherine of Siena and one which affirms the pillar of community. Catherine makes clear, the spiritual practice of friendship is how we may serve God. In the spirit of this friendship, we have gathered here today to affirm our partnership with the Dominican Sisters. May this spirit of friendship inform all we do as we engage together as Sisters and Associates.

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