by: Fr. Nicholas A. Marziani, Jr., D.Min ~ Pastor Emeritus, St. James Church

It was a blessed experience to recently witness (via satellite from Rome) the canonization of one of my favorite 19th century heroes, now St. John Cardinal Henry Newman, Oxford don and high cleric of the Church of England who would eventually complete his life’s spiritual journey in the Catholic Church.

Many things have been said of this remarkable man, but one thing in particular recently drew my attention. Beyond writing on theological and educational themes, Newman wrote something like 20,000 letters in his lifetime, most of it simple exchanges of friendship. He reminds me in that regard of mid-20th century Georgia (USA) author Flannery O’Connor, who apparently enjoyed letter-writing as much as crafting brilliant, if eccentric, novels.

“Friends.” It was the title of a sometime TV sitcom, which for all its “issues” (I won’t expand on that!) depicted a pre-social media age in which people actually talked to each other face-to-face. Newman’s extensive treatment of the topic of friendship is a refreshing contribution to the longer Western tradition of spiritual and natural friendship, which is in dire short supply today.

A recent study by Cigna found that college-aged young adults are the loneliest people in our society, nearly half indicating high levels of alienation in spite of “hook-ups” and almost ceaseless electronic connectivity with scores of acquaintances. Perhaps surprisingly (or not so) the least lonely Americans are folks over seventy-one. Huh!

The president of the Catholic University of America writing in an opinion column in the Wall Street Journal in October likened the online interaction that he observes among his students as “more akin to Kabuki theater than genuine human relations”, an arresting commentary on our times.

Newman squarely placed the blame of this state of affairs on our oversized emphasis on “independence” and the indifference it tends to engender among people. Interestingly, when he was elevated priest Cardinal of the church by Pope Leo XIII in 1879 he took the Latin motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur”, or “heart speaks unto heart.”

This was not mere Victorian sentimentality, no, this was deeply spiritual insight and conviction which he incarnated in his own life.

May we all learn to do likewise. – Fr. Nick