I look back to a time in high school during my sophomore year. It was a rainy and dark November night. I was sitting in an old Subaru with one of my dearest friends. We talked for about two hours with one another building a deeper communion of friendship. We shared our lives by discussing our hardships and struggles that we were experiencing; we also discussed some great joys that were constant in our lives. Conversations like this happened every now and again but I specifically remember this past fall a similar instance while talking with my roommate. We sat in the room on a gloomy Saturday evening simply talking. Again, we spent time with each other talking about good experiences and tough trials thus building a communion of friendship. By building a communion of friendship I mean revealing a part of your life to another so that they may share your burden. I remember moments like these distinctly as being important and extremely formative points in my life. These conversations deeply affected my person; they changed my outlook and my response to the world, even if only a little. They changed me by clarifying my views that I had, I was able to get an opinion different than my own. They made me more of a person. This was so because I grew in relation with them thus deepening my personhood because a person is only understood in light of others.
But what about these moments made such an impact on my life? Was it the content, the time, the act of sharing and building communion with each other? Created material goods, like a field of flowers or an old redwood tree, can motivate man to an affective response. This is also the case with spiritual goods like the virtue of courage or humility. It would seem that a good whose nature includes both the material and the spiritual would be able to motivate the deepest of affective responses in our hearts. In Liturgy and Personality, Dietrich von Hildebrand says:
“For of all created goods, the true communion of love with another human being
is the highest and noblest one of all...“ (1)
Man is the highest of the material beings. When we exist in communion with one another and build it up, we are sharing in one of the highest forms of created goods. Considering that the beauty in nature and in works of art has such a power to move us affectively, think of how much more the human person can motivate that affective response in us. In the beauty that shines forth even in the person’s brokenness, we are called to love them.
When we share in communion with man, we are experiencing two sides of an instance. First, we share with the other person our own lives in many ways by talking, walking, studying together and taking part in the feelings and affections of the other. By this self-gift we have the possibility of motivating them to respond to values of the world around us. For by response to these values together we can build community on the basis of this respect for this common value. For an example I told my friend about an encounter I had with my grandma at her church group where I was able to talk to another elderly woman and help get her dinner. This encounter moved me, and my friend can in turn be moved by sharing in it with me. Second, we can receive the gift of their self by being present to them. For example, in the same way that my friend listened to the recounting of my story with the elderly woman at my grandmother’s church group and was moved, I could listen to her retell a story that deeply moved her and in turn be moved myself. When we truly give someone our undivided attention, we are able to show them love by the simple act of listening. In the act of being present, we open our hearts and our minds to being touched by the content of what they are saying as well as the value of their very being. This is due to the listener’s experience of the humanity of their friend on a newer level. By this listening you have reached a newer level of understanding of their personality giving them greater meaning to you then before.
After these experiences, there seems to be a new level of friendship and a more personal understanding of the other as a whole. These moments enliven friendships and can warm the coldest heart by their beauty. In the same way that I was affected to respond to the value of my friend by her presence and driving in the old Subaru, we can come to see the importance of communion with each other. By this communion we are motivated and moved to a greatest extent. By experiencing love in this way and being motivated to respond to it, there will be no need for any greater material because the communion of persons is good.
(1)Dietrich von Hildebrand, Liturgy and Personality,(Baltimore: Helicon Press, 1960), page 61
Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel
Two girls talking