Brothers-in-arms: Friendship in Combat
“Most gracious host, it was said to me by Elrond Halfelven that I should find friendship upon the way, secret and unlooked for. Certainly I looked for no such friendship as you have shown. To have found it turns evil to great good.” (Frodo to Faramir, The Lord of the Rings)
The Society of Ignatians is made up of men who know full well that the priest’s life on earth is a spiritual warfare ‒, warfare that is no less real than physical warfare ‒ in which it is very important to be surrounded by comrades-in-arms with whom one forms one soul through unity in truth ‒ the Truth of the Catholic Faith ‒ and unity in mission: to spread the Catholic Faith tirelessly.
Ignatian fellowship is therefore a verb. Shakespeare places in the mouth of Henry V an address to his soldiers before the Battle of Agincourt in 1415: “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.” “That sheds his blood with me…” : the brotherhood was to spring not primarily from being together but from acting together and from suffering together. For when a group of men go into action together for a shared goal working and suffering, they mysteriously bond through sweat and pain into a fraternity. Men who have come together to live out the priesthood as a mission will spontaneously cause fraternity and the typical comradeship such as you find among soldiers in wartime. The secret therefore is looking at mission ‒ fellowship spontaneously follows.
Ignatians know that the strength of their brotherhood flows from their common ethos in Catholicism and the Ignatian spirit. But they are also convinced that its strength lies in the fact that they all bear each other’s burdens and claim no privileges. Hence, all Ignatians, live the same lifestyle. All, from the first superior to the last novice who crossed the threshold of the novitiate, wear the same uniform, eat the same food, travel in the same conditions.
With one exception: Ignatian superiors eat last, sleep less, and vacation least.
Men “all for one and one for all”.
Ignatians are a fraternity of men bonded by soldiering together, in fair and foul weather, for love of God and the salvation of souls. A close-knit band of chivalric souls, they strive to live out St. Bernard’s description of chivalrous knights: “brothers in joyful and sober company (with) one heart and one soul. … There is no distinction of persons among them, and deference is shown to merit rather than to noble blood. They rival one another in mutual consideration, and they carry one another’s burdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ”. Thus, in the Society of Ignatians there is no distinction of race, continent, or color: we are one in Christ, one in His Mystical Body, one in mission.
Through thick and thin we stand by each other; we contribute to each other’s projects and aspirations, each Ignatian finding among his brothers a shoulder to lean on with whom sorrows can be halved and joys doubled; a haven of encouragement, inspiration and support to overcome personal and mission challenges; a sure protection. Alongside his brothers each one fights more eagerly and tenaciously to win the private victory of prayer and virtue in his soul: and thus can hope to attain the public victory of creative projects. As St. Ignatius of Antioch stated:
“For everyone must work together in unison at this training of ours; comrades in its wrestling and racing, comrades in its aches and pains, comrades in its resting and its rising, like God’s good stewards and coadjutors and assistants. Make every effort to satisfy the Commander under whom you serve, and from whom you will draw your pay; and be sure that no deserter is found in your ranks. For a shield take your baptism, for a helmet your faith, for a spear your love, and for body-armour your patient endurance; and lay up a store of good works as a soldier deposits his savings, so that one day you may draw the credits that will be due to you” (The Epistle to Polycarp, 6)
Comradeship under the Fierce Light of Eternity
Ignatian fellowship and friendship is lived under the fierce light of eternity; one that rejects all that is unChristlike and impure. It is a pathway upon which all tread towards holiness; a power for enthusiasm; “I look to the faithful in the land that they may dwell with me. He who walks in the way of perfection shall be my friend.” (Psalm 101)
For an Ignatian’s friendship with his brothers flows from his friendship with his Lord Jesus Christ. It is therefore a superior friendship for it is a supernatural friendship by which he loves his brothers in God and for God with the desire to help them become Christlike men. The ultimate end of Ignatian fellowship is therefore God’s glory, the proximate end each one’s spiritual progress and the fulfillment of the mission, and the bond of union is friendship with Christ. With each of his brothers he can say “We are two, you and I, and I trust a third One is with us, Christ”. (Blessed Ethelred). It is therefore a friendship from God, for God; a heavenly friendship lived on earth; and therefore one that will endure beyond death, forever and ever.
We Ignatians intend to allow no comrade to fall into the hands of the Enemy. This means that we will defend each other by pulling each other up, with utter virile frankness, correcting each other unflinchingly in the spirit of God’s word (Gals 2: 11-14; Mt 18: 15-17). “We renounce no friendship. But it may be the part of a friend to rebuke a friend’s folly” (Tolkien, The Silmarillion).
Thus, like a band of brothers in wartime, Ignatians will talk directly with each other. With words that will sometimes seem like a hard punch, if this is what it takes to build the other, to man up, to improve in spiritual weaponry, to accomplish missions more effectively, and to be better spiritual fathers to the laity who expect them to lead by example.
A friend will always urge his friend to be faithful to the true, the right and the noble even if it demands sacrifice. He will also correct and rebuke his friend for that is the privilege and duty of friendship. No true friend will allow his comrade to endanger his salvation. He wants his buddies with him in Heaven.