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Chapter 7: Equal Dignity, Communication, Interpersonal Relationships, and Resitution

Question D: What Are One’s Responsibilities in Voluntary Associations and Friendships?

Responsibilities in the Church, the family, and political society are treated in other chapters (3.D, 9, and 11). Commitment is required for full participation even in these three communities, but involvement in other associations, to be treated here, is voluntary in a stronger sense (see GS 25). Either they are friendships, grounded in natural affinities but willingly cultivated for their own sake, or they are more structured associations, deliberately formed to promote more or less well-specified common interests.

Associations of the latter kind are many and diverse. They include religious societies such as orders and congregations, charismatic communities, sodalities, informal Bible study groups; charitable organizations such as St. Vincent de Paul societies, the Red Cross, shelters for the homeless; political and patriotic associations such as political parties, civic associations, groups concerned with specific rights; economic associations such as businesses, cooperatives, trade unions, professional societies, consumer clubs, automobile associations; cultural and recreational associations such as universities, schools, communal libraries and museums, theater companies, athletic leagues and teams, collectors clubs, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts; health and welfare organizations such as hospitals, organizations to deal with specific diseases, Alcoholics Anonymous chapters, volunteer fire companies, hospices.

Most responsibilities regarding voluntary associations will not be treated in this question, but many of these—including responsibilities regarding communication, promises, secrets, and the exercise of authority and the practice of obedience—which hold in every interpersonal relationship, are treated in other questions of this chapter. Some others, proper to particular associations, have the force of positive law (see CMP, 11.D–E). This question deals only with certain responsibilities in regard to and within voluntary associations: namely, those which pertain either to all voluntary associations, or to all associations of the more structured sort, or to all friendships.

1. Some Responsibilities Pertain to All Voluntary Associations

Because friendships and associations of the more structured sort differ greatly, few specific responsibilities pertain to both. But these few are important.

a) One should subordinate voluntary associations to faith. Obviously, a person should not join any voluntary association whose specific purpose is at odds with the truth of faith or is morally wicked. But the point here is broader. Faith, as fundamental option, should overarch one’s whole life, and involvements in voluntary associations should be subordinated to faith in a particular way. Either they should be elements of personal vocation, coordinated with its other elements, or they should be subordinated to personal vocation as a whole, so that they do not conflict with it in any way but rather make their contribution to its faithful fulfillment. For example, a friendship or participation in a religious community should be an element of one’s personal vocation; membership in a consumer cooperative or a country club should be subordinated to one’s personal vocation.

This responsibility is blatantly violated by those who regard their membership in the Church and their practice of the faith as only one part of their lives as a whole, more or less coordinate with other parts—for example, work, politics, and leisure—carried on through other associations in virtually complete isolation from faith (see GS 43). Sociologically, of course, being a member of the Church is distinct from and parallel to being an employee of a business or a member of a political party or fraternal association. Psychologically, each of these involves an individual with a distinct group of people, makes a distinct set of demands, and offers a distinct set of satisfactions. But hope’s absolute primacy in Christian life—“Strive first for the kingdom of God” (Mt 6.33)—requires a person to go beyond the sociological and psychological appearances, and subordinate every other aspect of life to membership in the Church, understood not merely as a human community, but as the People of God, the communion of divine and human persons.

This responsibility also is violated, though not so blatantly, by involvement in voluntary associations in ways that otherwise would be morally good but somehow detract from or conflict with responsibilities flowing from personal vocation.44 For instance, active involvement in groups dedicated to good causes unrelated to one’s personal vocation diverts one’s time, energy, and other resources from the fulfillment of vocational responsibilities. Again, certain ways of cultivating and carrying on friendships, which in themselves would be good, sometimes can create difficulties for a person’s marriage and family life or someone’s life as a priest or religious, and so every friendship must be shaped to harmonize with such fundamental elements of personal vocation.

b) Communal selfishness in such associations should be avoided. Because human goods are not in themselves individuated and human persons are social by nature, very few people are so egoistic that they consistently pursue only their individual satisfaction. Indeed, except for those who are deeply and thoroughly wicked, blatant egoism ordinarily appears only in intimate relationships, such as those within the family, and egoistic selfishness in other contexts is more likely to be due to psychological weakness than to moral fault. Everyone, however, is tempted to social selfishness: the restriction of love and community by unreasonable partiality to his or her own family, nation, or other group. Thus, selfishness, as the contrary of Christian love and justice, often takes a nonegoistic form, and is found in the commitments, structures, policies, attitudes, practices, and actions of various communities.

Examples make the point clear. Friends can be generous to one another but selfish by developing their relationship for mutual escapist gratification at the expense of mutual help in living good lives and growing in holiness.45 Associates in a business enterprise can make great personal sacrifices for the company’s success yet disregard the impact of their business on the economy as a whole. Parents can devote themselves to their children while the family as a whole violates the rights of neighboring families. Monks can fulfill their vows personally yet care more about their monastery’s prestige than about their apostolic responsibilities.

Sometimes it is impossible to be part of a voluntary association without endorsing and serving its communal selfishness; for example, some businesses require all their employees to cooperate in practices unfair to customers or competitors, and some civic associations are open only to those who agree to protect the privileges of one region against the common good of the wider community. In such cases, a person should not enter the association or else should leave it upon discovering its inherently selfish character. Sometimes, to be sure, it is possible to participate in a community without formally cooperating in communal selfishness, but even so, one should do what one can to reform what needs reforming in the association and shape all its activities in accord with the requirements of justice and love.

2. Some Responsibilities Pertain Specifically to Structured Associations

Like friendships, the more or less structured voluntary associations one forms and joins to promote specific common interests are rooted in the social nature of human persons.46 However, such associations aim less at the good of community itself than at other goods which members hope to realize through their cooperative activity. Thus, specific responsibilities in respect to such associations flow mainly from the practical requirements of their more or less specified purposes, rather than from the requirements of the interpersonal relationship itself (see GS 30–31).

a) One should form or join associations to fulfill one’s vocation. Often, participation in voluntary associations to promote specific common interests is not morally optional but required, for in many cases it otherwise is impossible to fulfill one’s personal vocation.47 Although the costs of involvement, in money, time, and energy, may discourage one from forming or joining appropriate associations, one should do so. And even though an association’s purpose could be promoted as well, or perhaps better, by the political society, subsidiarity (see 6.E.5.c) requires trying to fulfill responsibilities through voluntary associations whenever this is reasonably possible.

When there is a choice to be made among various voluntary associations serving the same interests, a person should prefer the one which offers most for meeting his or her vocational responsibilities. For example, someone seeking graduate or professional training should judge first which school’s program is likely most fully to develop his or her abilities, then try to find the means, and if possible make the necessary sacrifices, to go to that school, rather than preferring one with an easier program, or located in a more attractive place, or able to offer funding. Again, those seeking employment should decide which job to accept by first considering how best to use their gifts for service and to meet other vocational responsibilities, such as those to family; only then should they take into account factors such as the work’s pleasantness or its location.

b) Sometimes groups rather than individuals should associate. Because individualism is so pervasive, there is a tendency to suppose that only individuals can and should form and act in voluntary associations. Sometimes, however, the specific purpose would be better served by an association of couples, families, or groups of some other sort, in which case the individualistic assumption ought to be set aside. For example, sometimes couples or families, rather than their members as individuals, can better associate to promote goods such as growth in spiritual life or recreation.

c) One should participate actively in voluntary associations. In a typical voluntary association, a few members are energetic and dedicated while many take a much less active role. Within limits, this situation is inevitable and indicates no moral fault, provided a fair relationship obtains between the contributions members make and the benefits they receive. Fairness must take into account not only the strict proportion between contributions and benefits, but also other factors, such as differences in members’ abilities to contribute, subjective differences in the value or burdensomeness to different members of objectively similar contributions and benefits, and the limits of the association’s capacity to distribute burdens and benefits.

Even when all the factors which justify differences among members’ contributions are considered, however, it can be clear that many benefit without doing their fair share. Often, a voluntary association lacks effective means of compelling them to do so. Therefore, members must be conscientious in judging how much to contribute and contributing it.

Moreover, there often is a responsibility to contribute more than would be one’s fair share, as determined by the distribution of burdens and benefits. For if involvement in the association is, as it should be, a way of fulfilling one’s personal vocation, and if that cannot better be done by withdrawing from the association (and perhaps joining another), one should participate sufficiently so that the association will succeed and the prospective benefits will be realized, and so should contribute proportionately more when others fail to do their fair share.

Again, an individual member of an association bears some responsibility for its actions. When those more active fail to direct these actions rightly, one must intervene, if there is a morally acceptable way of doing so, either to remedy the situation by becoming more active or to separate oneself from the association. Someone who does neither thing accepts responsibility for the association’s wrongdoing and failure to fulfill its good purpose.

One or more of the preceding considerations can require a person to accept the responsibility of leadership in a voluntary association. Someone who does so, or who accepts that responsibility without being obliged to, should fulfill it conscientiously, taking care to promote the common good rather than his or her personal or party interest, and to treat other members fairly.

In all these matters, people are inclined to resent having to contribute more than others and to hate those whose benefits outweigh their contributions. However, such situations should be accepted as part of the fallen human condition, in the awareness that one participates in this relationship for the sake of the kingdom, and is required to practice mercy, the justice of the kingdom, instead of insisting on the justice proper to the association itself.

d) Each association’s specific purpose should be respected. A structured voluntary association’s specific purpose is the primary element of its constitution and one factor determining its identity. Still, constitutions sometimes are unwritten, usually are somewhat vague, and always are capable of being ignored. It is not uncommon for an association’s resources and capacities to be used to pursue objectives outside its purpose, and indeed for members to be interested in such goals. Often, too, the temptation to proceed in this way is aggravated by the fact that the association’s members have other bonds with one another; they may be relatives, fellow members of some other association, or friends, or they may become friends or form a party within the association itself.

However, inappropriate use of an association’s capacities and resources lessens its effectiveness in respect to its specific purpose. If participants have rightly associated to promote that purpose, they act wrongly in lessening its effectiveness. Moreover, while all members share the association’s specific purpose, not all are likely to be interested in any extrinsic objective. Thus, action for such an objective will be divisive; and it will be unfair to those members, even if few, who are not interested in the extrinsic objective, because it will use the association’s resources and capacities in ways that will reduce the benefits which would accrue to them if its specific purpose were respected.

Therefore, in any structured voluntary association, members should carefully distinguish between their special bonds arising from solidarity in pursuing the association’s common good and bonds originating elsewhere, and should not allow the latter to determine their participation in the association or their position on issues that arise within it. Each member should be careful to initiate and support only proposals for action in accord with the association’s specific purpose. So, one should not try to persuade the garden club to take a stand against abortion or the right-to-life group to participate in a project to line the suburb’s streets with oak trees. Moreover, one should resist others’ attempts to divert associations from their specific purposes.48

e) Amending an association’s constitution can be unjust. Sometimes, attempts to alter an association’s purpose involve efforts to amend its constitution. Often, of course, there are good grounds for supporting an amendment that clarifies and refines an association’s purpose without substantially altering it; but one which radically changes an association’s purpose, even if technically legitimate, can be incompatible with the common good and unfair. That will be so if the association could still serve its original purpose, but the change will interfere with serving it, and members who joined and contributed on the basis of that purpose oppose the change because they remain committed to the original common good. In such a case, the change will be detrimental to some members, and cannot be justified by the association’s common good; rather, it is grounded in the particular good of some members (even a large majority) to the detriment of the good of others (even a small minority). Thus, the change is not an act of the association.

It might be objected that there need be no unfairness in such a case, since those amending the constitution are in reality terminating the original association and establishing a new one, leaving the minority free to form their own new association along the lines of the original one. If that is so, however, the original association’s assets should be disposed of according to the constitution’s provisions or divided fairly between the two groups; the majority evades this responsibility by taking over for its own purpose the original association’s assets, including its very structure and history.

f) One should carry on one’s apostolate in every association. In every association, a Christian should live according to his or her faith and, when occasion offers, be prepared to bear witness to it explicitly. Cooperating in the association’s good work with members whose motives are morally faulty often can serve as an important means or preparation for evangelization. For instance, students with true Christian motivation, working closely with teachers and fellow students motivated mainly by the desire for status and money, have a special opportunity to bear witness to the gospel.

In the context of many associations (for example, school, work, and neighborhood), those who share apostolic consciousness and commitment should associate together, if only informally; this sometimes can be an ecumenical group. In this way they can lend one another moral support and share their observations, judgments, and suggestions for action. Thus, without defining themselves as a party within the politics of the association, they can work together more effectively in carrying out their apostolic commitment.

3. Some Responsibilities Pertain Specifically to Friendships

Unlike more structured voluntary associations, which are deliberately formed and directed toward more or less limited purposes, friendships are not chosen as means to other ends. Rather, they depend on natural affinities and are cultivated, at least in part, for the sake of the communion itself. Of course, friends must have some common interest—for example, studies, work, prayer, a sport, the common concerns of a neighborhood—and common commitment to pursue such an interest can cause a friendship to develop spontaneously, without even being chosen. But a friendship is not restricted by any such common interest; it can embrace any and all of the friends’ interests.49

Friendship’s starting point is that certain individuals who share a common interest attract and are attracted by each other, feel mutual sympathy and affection, and enjoy being together. They reveal themselves to each other by sharing their feelings and personal information, especially about their hopes and commitments, admire each other’s good qualities, discover some significant agreement in values (and generally in basic convictions and commitments), are hopeful about each other’s potential for communion and growth, and begin to give each other gifts and confer mutual benefits.

In giving gifts and conferring benefits, friends, in the sense under consideration here, do not choose to do these things as means to any ulterior end. Rather, friendship begins precisely insofar as each looks to the other’s well-being, not seeking any personal advantage except the mutual advantage inherent in and flowing from the association itself. Jonathan, for instance, valued David’s well-being for David’s own sake, and so sought to protect and benefit David, seeking nothing for himself except his share in their very friendship and in the common good of Israel, to which they both were committed, by being David’s friend and having David as his own friend; David was disposed and acted similarly toward Jonathan (see 1 Sm 18–20). In this way they together brought into being their friendship, a communion in which the “I” of each for himself and the “you” of each for the other by no means disappeared, but were sharpened and intensified, by being joined in their common “we,” that is, in the bond of friendship itself and in their fulfillment together in the other goods, such as the welfare of Israel, in which they shared as friends.

Friendship requires reciprocity, and reciprocity often is easier between two individuals than among three or more, or between communities. Friendships of two individuals are therefore comparatively common and are what people usually think of as friendship. However, a friendship can be a circle of three or more persons, and communities can be friends, for example, two married couples or two whole families can develop a genuine friendship.50 But for simplicity’s sake, what follows will be formulated in terms of the friendship of two individuals.

The idea of friendship can be realized more or less clearly, completely, and purely in different instances, depending on the psychological health, maturity, and moral character of the persons involved. Hence, in some cases the norms that follow are open to qualifications when applied to actual friendships, which are likely to be limited in various ways.51

a) Friendship is intrinsically good and valuable for Christian life. Any friendship of the kind under consideration here is an instance of a basic human good, and so is good in itself. Friendship also is necessary for the full development and perfection of human persons, who are created for communion. Moreover, it facilitates the apostolate, for Christians have many opportunities to share their faith, like other things they value, with their friends, who, due to friendship, are disposed to be receptive. Finally, friendships are among the good fruits of human nature and effort destined to last forever (see GS 38–39). Therefore, while children and others subject to authority cannot be commanded to form friendships, parents and other authorities should do what they can to encourage and support authentic friendships.

b) One should seek and offer friendship. While friendship, especially in its beginning, is a gift more than an achievement, in view of its value people should dispose themselves for this gift. Children often seek and offer friendship very simply: “I would like to be your friend. Will you be my friend?” Adults, having learned to be cautious in interpersonal relationships generally, are less trusting. Yet even if they are right to be so, childlike directness is appropriate when friendship seems possible, since such directness effectively tests the apparent possibility, verifying it when genuine, and discarding it when not.

Fear of the possible humiliation of being rejected, anxiety about the possible pain of being wounded in consequence of entrusting oneself to another, and reluctance to accept the responsibility of reciprocating others’ gifts and benefits are motives for not seeking and not accepting friendship. These concerns do warrant some caution: “When you gain friends, gain them through testing, and do not trust them hastily” (Sir 6.7). But loneliness, which also is painful, can be overcome only by friendship and other forms of authentic intimacy, not by the superficial relationships and distractions many people try to use for the purpose. The responsibilities of friendship can be great, but they are not burdensome, because they are lightened by love. Moreover, the benefits of friendship outweigh its costs, first, because one need do nothing to earn friendship’s greatest benefits, which flow from it insofar as it is a natural good and gift of God, and second, because the gifts friends must give each other mainly are goods which are not diminished by being shared. In any case, given the role of friendship in moral and spiritual life, a person should be ready to pay the necessary emotional and practical price to seek and offer it.

c) One should make oneself available for friendship. Focusing too exclusively on definite ends to be realized through interacting and cooperating with others leads one not to pay attention to them as whole persons, existing in themselves, with their own, not-yet-completely-defined potentiality for growth and perfection. But that attention is necessary for the beginning of friendship. Therefore, a person should try not to experience and think of others exclusively in terms of their practical importance, but to regard them contemplatively, as realities in themselves, having a certain beauty, even if damaged and incomplete, as the unique images of God that they are.

Making oneself available for friendship, however, should not be confused with creating an illusion of friendship. Without dishonesty, people can and should be affable and obliging in every social relationship, including those that are purely practical. However, certain expressions and ways of behavior are signs of interest in the relationship itself rather than in anything to which it would be instrumental. For example, it violates not only truth and justice but friendship itself to elicit confidential information by feigning personal interest in a couple’s family and home in order to develop a relationship for some ulterior end, such as making a sale, for this renders the essential language of friendship ambiguous and makes it more difficult for people to accept other, sincere expressions of availability for friendship.

d) Friends should communicate their real selves. Because friendship is a communion of persons precisely in their personhood, it depends upon the mutual giving of true selves. Friends cannot cultivate their oneness without mutually understanding each other from within. They should trust each other and communicate without reserve what constitutes themselves.

That does not mean friends should tell each other everything they think and feel, everything they do, every secret they have. Such total communication not only is impossible, but in particular cases would be wrong. Friends, even more than others, should not scandalize each other, betray others’ secrets to each other, bore each other with constant and pointless self-revelation, or waste each other’s time in idle talk.

But they should confide in each other not only their deep convictions and commitments but their doubts and weaknesses, and should allow their habitual attitudes and feelings to show, so that each can grasp the other’s self-understanding, motivations, and potential for growth. In their intimate communication, they not only should avoid deception and dishonesty but should let down their guard, put aside the personae which may be appropriate in other situations, and allow themselves to appear as they are.

e) Friends should facilitate and protect their communication. The communication essential to friendship is thwarted if attempts to communicate are not properly received. One friend’s self-revelation must be treated by the other as a gift, not received skeptically and critically examined for subconscious motives. If there is to be any psychological analysis, the friend whose motives are in question must initiate and lead the discussion. When each becomes the object of the other’s examination and insight—for example, by employing techniques of psychoanalytical interpretation—mutual objectification has replaced mutual self-giving.

When friends make themselves vulnerable to each other, each must protect the other’s exposed self. Because friendship depends on self-revelation in trust, friends have a special responsibility to safeguard what is entrusted to them; betrayal of a friend’s trust violates the special good of the friendship itself. Although secrets sometimes should not be kept, wrongly revealing a friend’s confidences, other things being equal, is far more likely to be grave matter than revealing the secrets of someone not a friend (see Sir 27.16–18).

f) Friends rightly enjoy precedence in the order of charity. Like family relationships, friendship is a natural good of human persons, a good healed and perfected by grace. Genuine friendships rightly nurtured belong to one’s personal vocation, and so friends, like family, should receive preference in one’s care and beneficence. Of course, that is no license for unfair favoritism.

Every person sometimes has some very great need which nobody but a friend can meet. Friends should be prepared to meet such needs if they can, and may rightly subordinate other responsibilities, except those to family members, just as they should when family members have similar needs.

g) Friends should defend each other’s reputation and honor. Individuals seldom can defend themselves adequately against unjust attacks on their reputation and honor; their attempts are likely to be dismissed as self-interested, and even to enhance an attack’s significance. It also is difficult to proclaim one’s own goodness without seeming immodest and to struggle with dishonorable opponents without seeming to share their bad qualities. Moreover, and most important, rather than protecting their own interests at the expense of further alienating the enemy, Christians are constrained by love to respond to unjust attacks in a way likely to promote the enemy’s spiritual welfare. Therefore, Christians are especially vulnerable to enemies who seek to destroy reputation and honor.

While such attacks sometimes can be tolerated, damage to reputation and honor sometimes will seriously impair a person’s ability to fulfill his or her personal vocation and serve others faithfully. In such cases, an effective response is needed. Friends should undertake that defense, which is more effective if they act promptly and on their own initiative, without waiting to be asked.

h) Friends should not allow conflicting interests to divide them. People often think friends have all things in common, but that is not true. The distinct selves do not merge into one; each friend has his or her own personal vocation and life to live. Therefore, friends have different interests and goals, and it is almost inevitable that these sometimes will conflict. Then friends can be tempted to try to force each other to subordinate their legitimate but conflicting interests to their bond of friendship or else to let their differences divide them. Doing the former means failing to fulfill responsibilities to the goods that underlie the conflicting interests, as well as abusing the bond of friendship by making it into an instrument of self-interest; while giving in to the latter temptation means forgoing the good of the friendship.

But that is wrong—unreasonable because unnecessary. Even when their interests conflict, one friend can still will the other’s goods without willing contrary to his or her own; for their personalities remain distinct, and the distinction itself is essential to the good of friendship. For example, athletes who are friends have conflicting interests when competing against each other. But it is not necessary that they stop trying to excel or that they cease being friends. Instead, both can do their best, each wishing the other to do likewise, and both rejoicing in the victory of either. All conflicting interests that could strain friendships can be dealt with in this way, provided friends recognize their responsibility to be themselves, not merely other selves of their friends.

i) One should avoid confusing friendship with comradeship. People closely associated in the pursuit of specific goods—for example, fellow soldiers, members of a school class, coworkers—often develop group spirit and more or less strong emotional bonds. These bonds are very similar to those of friendship, and friendships often spring up among comrades; but the possible coincidence of the two sorts of relationship does not mean they are identical, and it is an error to confuse them. Comrades who are not friends are not interested in each other as whole persons and do not desire their relationship for its own sake, but only for the sake of legitimate self-interest and the specific good they serve together.

Those who confuse comradeship with friendship are likely to make two additional kinds of mistakes. First, they may wrongly suppose that comradeship should have the same moral status in life as friendship, and so commit themselves too much to comrades, allowing them an unwarranted priority in the order of charity, and communicating with them more unreservedly than they should. Second, wrongly expecting comrades to fulfill all the responsibilities of friendship, they may make unreasonable demands and suffer avoidable disappointments.

j) One should avoid confusing friendship with romantic relationship. Like the inclination that leads to friendship, erotic inclination, which leads to romance, is universal. However, while everyone may and should seek and offer friendship, only spouses and single persons with marriage in view should nurture a romantic relationship (see 9.I.1.c–d, 9.I.2.b). Yet even in those who are neither married nor free to marry, inclinations toward friendship and romance often are commingled and easily confused, with the bad results that possible friendships are mistakenly treated as occasions of sin, actual friendships are spoiled by becoming occasions of sin, couples in love fail to cultivate friendship, and romantic relationships are wrongly nurtured as pseudofriendships.

Although the integrated emotions of a mature person serve his or her commitments, healthy emotions initially serve biological needs, and, biologically, the most fundamental interpersonal relationships are those between spouses, parents and children, and brothers and sisters. Hence, the affectionate feelings characteristic of these relationships no doubt color all interpersonal emotions. Some call all such feelings “erotic,” and if the word is taken in that broad sense, no doubt it is true that all affection for others is basically erotic. A romantic relationship, however, involves erotic love in a narrower sense. It is the feeling which includes sexual desire but tends not only to sexual satisfaction, which can be entirely self-centered, but to a fuller union of two bodily persons, who thus belong to each other more or less permanently, enjoy each other, and delight in each other’s enjoyment.52

Whenever a relationship begins and develops between two unmarried persons who either are not free to marry or are of the same sex, they need to know whether it is romance or friendship. Several characteristics distinguish the two.

While both erotic love and love of friendship draw persons together into intimate communion, the two nevertheless differ, since erotic love draws a couple toward bodily union, while friendship moves friends toward a union of minds and hearts, which employs bodily contact only incidentally to manifest affection. A sign that a relationship is really friendship, rather than something else, is that the parties to it focus, not on the experience of being together, but on a union realized mainly by conversation and by engaging together in activities both morally good and immediately rewarding—eating meals, playing, traveling, worshipping, and so forth.

Thus, a couple involved in a romantic relationship must be together in order to touch each other; friends share common interests beyond themselves and enjoy seeing each other both to pursue those interests and to communicate more perfectly than is possible by letters and telephone calls. Even slight bodily contact between romantic lovers often leads to genital arousal; the contact of friends does not. Romance is of two persons only, and is exclusive and jealous; friendship can expand to three or more, and is compatible with and unthreatened by a friend’s other intimate relationships, including an erotic one. Romance is fascinating and absorbing; friendship does not distract from other interests and concerns. Romance happens to people who “fall” in love; friendship grows between people who cultivate it. If these distinguishing characteristics are kept in mind, one can avoid confusing friendships and romantic relationships involving erotic love.

k) In practice, one should distinguish erotic love from friendship. In the absence of the marks of erotic inclination, mutual attraction and affection, even sudden and strong, should be recognized as the basis of possible friendship, and these feelings should be welcomed, not only in oneself but in others, such as one’s children.

However, it is not unusual for inappropriate erotic feelings to arise, especially in a child or young person, toward a new acquaintance or a friend, whether of the same or the opposite sex. One should recognize such feelings when they arise, acknowledge them to oneself, and not act on them (or allow children to act on them). Generally it is not necessary to judge that the relationship itself is an occasion of sin and to give it up. But one should carry it on only within the limits—for example, of time, place, situation, and frequency of meetings—consistent with self-control and the gradual elimination of the inappropriate feelings.

Acknowledging erotic feelings to the other party in such a case is a bad idea. Not infrequently it leads to the discovery that the feelings are mutual or to arousing an erotic response, and that discovery or response intensifies the feelings. So, inappropriate erotic feelings almost never should be acknowledged to the one who has aroused them. They should be kept to oneself or confided to another—which for children could be a parent or elder sibling, for happily married persons their spouse, or for others a spiritual director or friend.

Couples who experience appropriate, mutual erotic inclination, whether they are married couples or unmarried but free to marry, should realize that erotic love, while good and splendid, is insufficient as a basis for a lifelong relationship. Hence, while nurturing romance, they should recognize the distinct value and conditions of friendship, and do what they can to cultivate it too.

However, couples who are not friends and who experience inappropriate erotic inclination should recognize that their attraction offers no basis for friendship and should not try to cultivate the relationship as a friendship—“Although we cannot rightly be lovers, we will continue to see each other as ‘friends’ ”—since in making such an attempt they remain unnecessarily in an occasion of sin.

l) Friends should encourage each other’s growth toward holiness. All Christians, of course, not only should avoid leading others into sin but should encourage their growth toward holiness. Friends, however, have special opportunities, and so special responsibilities, in this matter.

Unlike erotic lovers, who tend, especially in the early days, to see each other through rose-colored glasses, friends perceive each other in their true colors, defects and all, and understand each other’s inward motivations. So, they are in an unusually good position to mirror each other honestly and to uncover what self-deception hides. At the same time, knowing that they are loved for themselves and as the persons they are, friends are in an unusually good position to gain insight from their friends, to accept their advice, to respond well to their admonitions. Moreover, the stability and mutual tolerance characteristic of friendship make it possible for friends to learn by trial and error how best to help and support each other, and so their efforts to do so can grow in effectiveness. Then too, the mutual affection of friends motivates them to please each other by changing in appropriate ways. Therefore, each has a special power, and so a special responsibility, to promote the other’s moral development. Without being asked, friends should give each other good advice, which naturally will include any necessary admonition, delivered in a form as painless as possible.

Friends should encourage each other’s spiritual growth in other ways, which are equally if not more important. Conscientious people take their own good qualities for granted but are acutely aware of their sins, defects, and weaknesses. Seeing all this as it is, friends, in motherly fashion, can focus on what is good and its potential for growth, confirm its reality, endorse it, rejoice in it, honor and praise it, and so nurture its unfolding. For this reason, friends can help each other almost irreplaceably in discerning elements of vocation and inventing and revising projects to fulfill vocational commitments. Moreover, when one friend falls into sin, and is shamed and dishonored, the other can and should support recovery by acknowledging the truth without pretense, yet loyally remaining a firm friend, showing that no such wound is beyond healing, and so serving as an image and medium of God’s forgiving and healing grace.

Finally, friends should support each other both by praying together and by praying individually for each other and for the grace to be good friends.

m) One should never entirely terminate any friendship. Often, the interest which friends take in each other eventually lessens; and many friendships are disrupted by circumstances, such as one friend’s moving to a distant place or making some major commitment whose responsibilities make it difficult or impossible actively to carry on the friendship. Such developments nevertheless are compatible with maintaining the friendship as a communion of good will, affectionate memory, and prayer for each other. Termination of friendship is something else: a deliberate attempt to destroy a relationship, or what one regards as the remains of a relationship, which has been damaged by the other party. Motivated by anger or hatred aroused by conflict or betrayal, such an attempt not only violates the seventh mode of responsibility (see CMP, 8.G), but the requirement of Christian love to forbear, forgive, and make peace.

44. CIC, c. 278, §3, makes this point with respect to clerics.

45. C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1960), 115–23, points out and analyzes an allied danger: strengthened in self-confidence by mutual affirmation, otherwise humble individuals belonging to a circle of friends often become overconfident about their shared values and views, with the bad result that they develop a supercilious attitude toward people outside the circle.

46. Indeed, the right to found and act in voluntary associations is a natural right: see Leo XIII, Rerum novarum, ASS 23 (1890–91) 664–68, PE, 115.49–57. The Church also expressly recognizes that the faithful have that right—see CIC, c. 215 and c. 298; cf. AA 19—with respect to the sorts of associations appropriate to promote the various specific interests (spiritual, charitable, apostolic, and so on) of members of the Church as such.

47. John XXIII, Pacem in terris, AAS 55 (1963) 262–63, PE, 270.23–24, not only teaches the right to found and act in voluntary associations, but insists on the urgency of doing so, and adds (24): “Such groups and societies must be considered absolutely essential for the safeguarding of man’s personal freedom and dignity, while leaving intact a sense of responsibility [note omitted].”

48. John Paul II, Laborem exercens, 20, AAS 73 (1981) 631, PE, 280.98, lays down the norm in the specific case of unions and politics. Unions must be concerned for the wider common good: “However, the role of unions is not to ‘play politics’ in the sense that the expression is commonly understood today. Unions do not have the character of political parties struggling for power; they should not be subjected to the decision of political parties or have too close links with them.” By saying “too close links,” John Paul plainly grants the legitimacy of some forms of involvement by a union in politics, namely, those essential for it to pursue its proper purpose, which is the common good of its members as such. What the norm excludes is any politicization of unions which diverts them from their proper end.

49. For an introduction with references to classical works, see New Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “friendship,” but the author is mistaken in supposing that ideal friendship means the disappearance of “I” and “thou.” That is an ideal for neo-Platonists but not for Christians, whose model of friendship is the Trinity. A generally sound treatment of the psychology of friendship: Ignace Lepp, The Ways of Friendship, trans. Bernard Murchland (New York: Macmillan, 1966).

50. Lewis, The Four Loves, 92–102, obviously taking as his model friendships among groups of kindred spirits in a more or less academic community, regards the circle of friends as the typical form of friendship.

51. On friendship in antiquity, the Bible, and the early Church: Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, s.v. “philos, phile, philia.”

52. Lewis, The Four Loves, 131–60, very well articulates the concept of erotic love, though he too sharply distinguishes it from its nucleus of sexual instinct. While it is true that full-blown romance is not essential for sexual desire and enjoyable intercourse (including marital intercourse of couples who do not marry “for love”), even those who have intercourse with prostitutes prefer it to masturbation for the sake of the psychological satisfaction of being united with another person: an illusion of romance.