Friendship between Jesus and Women
The New Testament gives us examples of friendship beginning with Jesus. St. Luke's Gospel reveals the strong friendship Jesus enjoyed with women, and especially with Mary and Martha. He probably visited them to relax on a regular basis. We know that Mary Magdalene was the first apostle to whom the angel announced the Lord's resurrection, and the youngest apostle John was known to be the Lord's "Beloved."
Friendships that Helped Build Christian Culture
The period of Nicene Fathers (4th-5th c), is particularly noteworthy for the friendships that blossomed among women-deacons as well as those who collaborated with men of distinction to build up the Church. They shared the same struggles, the same ups and downs, the same aspirations and goals.
St. Jerome translated the texts of the Bible from the Greek into Latin. Given St. Paula's knowledge of Greek and Hebrew, this wealthy widow provided for his needs and helped him with the translation of the Vulgate Bible. They founded two monasteries in Rome, one for men and the other for women. Considering St. Jerome's cranky temperament, her collaboration with him was all the more remarkable.
St. John Chrysostom served as the fiery bishop of Constantinople, and his widowed friend was St. Olympias, deaconess. When Chrysostom was illegally deposed, she rallied to his defense, a brave act that eventually led to her exile. During this time, Chrysostom consoled her in several letters written between 404 and 407. In the Christian East, St. Olympias is venerated as the imposing one, seat of strength, grandeur and human perfection itself.
Examples of Spiritual Friendship through Later Centuries
In the thirteenth century, the second Dominican General, Blessed Jordan of Saxony, O.P. wrote several letters to the Dominican Tertiary, Sr. Diana D'Andolo, O.P. between 1226 and 1236. They integrate Jordan's spiritual direction with a mutual friendship that ended with his death in 1237. The Dominican Gerald Vann, O.P has written about this friendship in To Heaven with Diana.
In the thirteenth century as well, St Francis of Assisi (d 1226) and St. Clare of Assisi (d 1253) became spiritual friends when he helped her found the first Franciscan religious order for women, the Poor Clares.
The graced beginnings of the Society of Jesus remain an incomplete record without noting those women who helped Ignatius financially and otherwise. Some of those who collaborated with him are: Isabel Roser, Leonor Mascarenhas, Lucrezia de Bradine, Juana de Aragón, Leonor Osorio, and Princess Juana of Spain. Many more women played important roles in the growth of the sixteenth-century Society.
Prompted by the same graced experience, the Carmelite mystics Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross reformed the Carmelite Order of both men and women in the sixteenth century.
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In the seventeenth, the Bishop-Saint Francis de Sales encouraged and helped the widow Jane de Chantal found the semi-cloistered Visitation Order of sisters.
The Nun, the Infidel, and the Superman
One of the most accomplished women in consecrated life was the Benedictine nun, Dame Laurentia McLachlan, O.S.B., abbess of Stanbrook Abbey between 1931 and 1953. Through her rich, expansive but unassuming letters, this cultivated cloistered nun maintained remarkable friendships with men and women of every walk of life. The agnostic Sydney Cockerell ("the Infidel") and the playwright George Bernard Shaw ("the Superman") corresponded with her for many years and visited her at Stanbrook. The belles lettres of Lady Abbess elicited from Shaw this comment to her: "Though you are an enclosed nun, you do not have an enclosed mind." Dame Felicitas Corrigan, O.S.B, also of Stanbrook Abbey, has recorded the remarkable friendships of Dame Laurentia McLachlan, O.S.B. with Sydney Cockerell and George Bernard Shaw in The Nun, the Infidel, and the Superman.
Despite some exceptions, love among the saints has continued as a vibrant and fruitful legacy throughout the history of the Church. Such love would be unique if it weren't so prevalent-from Jesus of Nazareth and Mary Magdalene to John Paul II and Dr. Tymieniecka.
In many cases, a passionate friendship kept its difficult balance through a sublimated sexuality, that is, a mature transformation of sexual energy into creative energy for the sake of a higher purpose. In the case of most bonified mystics, they finally sacrificed the love of one particular person in favor of embracing the world for a wedding ring.