Many years ago when I was teaching, one Friday after school, around five o’clock, I encountered a few senior students sitting in the Common Room talking about things they might do during the summer. They had been discussing travelling around Europe, and at the point I arrived they were debating the importance of travelling companions. During this brief exchange they asked me about the idea of travelling alone versus travelling with others and I said that in my experience of travel whilst it was great to have good travelling companions I would prefer to travel alone than travel in difficult or wearing company. To my surprise this conversation widened out to include attributes of friendship and the ability and desirability of enjoying one’s own company. Over the years I have met a number of those lads, now men in their forties and I marvel at how we remember that conversation
about friendship and aloneness from a Friday evening so long ago. We have all travelled a lot since then, though no roads more exciting nor challenging than the highways and byways of the heart. Thankfully all of us that chatted that afternoon in the Common Room have enjoyed the company of good friends and also struggled with some success to accept our own company as among the richest.
In discussing companionship we will all have our own take on what makes for a good companion. Having said that I think there would be broad agreement that the good companion is company that gives us life rather than drags us down. For me my best companions listen to me, make some effort to understand me and generally speaking accept me as I am, warts and all, as the cliche says. I in turn try to do the same for them. There is a mutual acceptance that we are trying to better ourselves and grow as people as we journey along. Common ground is indeed a help, whether that be movies, literature, perhaps politics, though the latter can lead to argy bargy. Faith can be a great meeting place. Sometimes we are fortunate to meet a companion with whom we can share our inner world or at least most of it. This can be greatly enhanced if there is a common love of the Lord, and a desire
to serve him.
This is not the first time in the rumblings that I have spoken of the value of befriending or adopting spiritual friends from Sacred Scripture or the lives of the Saints. Maybe it’s more accurate that they befriend or adopt us. Sometimes this takes the form of developing a particular devotion to a Saint, perhaps taking their name for Confirmation or marking their Feast Day in a special way. In my own case my Granny introduced me to St. Martin de Porres and I was happy then and more than happy with the passing years that I took the name Martin as my Confirmation name.
In the coming week the Liturgy puts before us two saints that I would imagine may prove very valuable companions for all of us from time to time. The first of these is Matthew, patron of our parish, sometimes known as Levi. He is of course, an apostle and an evangelist. The second of these is Padre Pio, a priest and Capuchin friar. Matthew of course knew the historical Jesus. In other words he saw and listened to Jesus. He spoke with him and walked with him. In the case of Padre Pio, more a contemporary of our own, the call of Jesus and the ensuing life of service is no less real. Often reflecting on great figures such as these and the many wonderful qualities they have we can see there is much in their lives that is worthy of imitation. In the case of Matthew perhaps it is worth noting his generous and gracious response to Jesus. This is Matthew’s conversion. How greedy and corrupt Matthew actually was we do not know. However we do know that there was a tendency in his profession to both of these vices. His prompt following of Jesus and his giving of every last drop of his life in following Jesus is certainly worthy spiritual food and possible example for our imitation. In Padre Pio we have one who knows suffering. The suffering he encounters gives way to very little reprieve and not only this: it is a suffering not just of body but also of mind and soul. The reality is that Padre Pio straddled the interface between the kingdom of Heaven and the
kingdom of the underworld. In these days to have the companionship of these two spiritual combatants would be valuable indeed. To know that Matthew who having been gazed at by Jesus left the known and plush for Jesus and the path of uncertainty and poverty, is on our side helping us to get closer to Jesus. Equally to know that beside us in any of our suffering is the pained Capuchin who endured it all for love of Jesus has to be of huge support and encouragement. Be sure not to miss these two on the pilgrim path this week.