Dear Pope Francis,
Everyone seems to be talking about love and relationships, since Valentine’s day was on Friday. Recently, I was also chatting with a friend about guys and relationships. The friend I was talking to asked: “do you ever get frustrated being surrounded by all these nice guys who are going to be priests?” My friend raised a good point; many of the people I hang out with on a regular basis are guys in priestly formation. I had never really thought about how I felt about it.
The short answer to her question is ‘no’, but my reason is two-fold. On the one hand, I think the priestly vocation is important. I’m so happy for my friends who are discerning and following God’s path for them. On the other hand, just because these guys are preparing for the priesthood, does not mean that I can’t be friends with them.
For a long time, when I mentioned hanging out with a guy, people jumped to the conclusion that I was interested in him. I was, I was interested in him as a friend. All too often society focuses exclusively on relationships that have a romantic dimension, as though it’s unnatural to talk about a relationship between friends, especially when it comes to friendships between men and women.
However, everyone is called to be in relationship. While John Paul II’s Theology of the Body affirms that this includes romantic relationships, it is important that we don’t lose sight of the relationship between friends. Human beings have an inherently social nature, which calls us to be in community. I may not have a romantic relationship with my guy friends, but we are still in community. We can make jokes, complain, and have deep conversations about life. Perhaps most importantly, I know they have my back when I need someone, and I have their’s. But this support system cannot be based on whether or not I am romantically involved with a person, because if that ends, then I am left with no meaningful relationships. It would also mean that I would only have guys in my life, and then who would I go shopping with?
Understanding relationships and being in community also goes against another common notion: the idea that the person you date needs to be part of everything in your life. I don’t think that mindset makes for a healthy relationship at all. A significant other has a privileged position in your life, but when your whole life revolves around one person that puts a lot of pressure on the relationship. Whereas, as part of the community, I have a fantastic group of friends, male and female, to celebrate and commiserate with, but if some of those friends are stressed out or busy, I have other friends that I can talk to. Of course there are people who I am closer to, and they have a more privileged position in my life, but ultimately, they are not involved in every single aspect.
My diverse group of friends means that my life is very rarely dull. I love all of the different ideas and insights that they offer. To suddenly reduce that community to only a few (or one) based on their gender or vocation, would impact my life. I’m pretty sure that when my friend asked me her question, she was thinking more about the celibate clergy, but that’s a letter for another day.