Friends are a Second Family • A Weekly Reflection with Ozanam

by | Sep 3, 2018 | Formation, Reflections

I have the very pleasant custom to identify myself with my friends, to consider them as a second family and to surround myself with it to cover the gaps that the misfortune has caused around me. As the generation that preceded and covered us, so to speak, is falling and leaves us face to face with the enemy, we, new men, are forced to narrow our ranks; if we are strongly supported in each other, we will attack head-on, with more value, the obstacles and dangers of life. This is so strongly felt in these difficult times that the common bonds of marriage and fatherhood are no longer enough for generous souls and, outside the family sanctuary, where they gather to joy and pray, they continue to seek the strength to fight associations of another genre.

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Frederic Ozanam, Letter to Henri Pessonneaux, March 13, 1840.

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Reflection:

  1. Frederic’s mother had died just four months before writing this letter. His father had already died in 1837. Both losses were hard blows for Frederic, a person who in many moments pointed out, in his correspondence, the great importance he gave to family relations. He had his two brothers: the eldest, Alphonse —the priest—, and the younger, Charles (aged 16 when Frederic wrote this text), who was studying at the Royal College of Lyons, while Alphonse began his missionary work in the Chartreux of Lyon, and Frederic taught classes in the Business Law course in Lyons.
  2. This period of Frederic’s life is full of doubts about what to do with his life. He even comes to consider joining the Dominicans, with his friend Lacordaire. Professionally, he had accepted, to be closer to his old mother, a position as professor in Lyon, although he had other options and that Laws was not his vocation. With the death of his mother he had to rethink the direction of his life, which, at the end of 1840, we will see already directed toward the marriage with Amélie Soulacroix and with a position of substitute professor in the university of the Sorbona of Paris.
  3. In this text, Frederic expresses another of the goodness of his heart: friends, whom he appreciates and associates “as a second family.” There is no rhetoric in this text: knowing his great appreciation of family relationships, we can understand to what extent he also esteemed friendly relations, equating them with those of blood. Friends are the circle where Frederic takes refuge from “the obstacles and dangers of life,” where plans are planned to seek “the strength to fight” the difficulties in the world.
  4. Today we live in an increasingly depersonalized world. Family and friendship relations, in many cases and places, do not go through their best moments. We can intuit that we fall easily into a utilitarian view of these relationships, used for our own benefit, rather than being relations of mutual support and comfort to the difficulties of a depersonalized society. Let us learn, from Frederic, to build relationships based on affection, where we can “joy and pray” … in short, where we share life, with its difficulties and joys, in a disinterested and unselfish way.

Questions for dialogue:

  1. What are my family relationships like? Are they in good health? Do I love my parents, my brothers, my children … in a disinterested way?
  2. What value do friendships have for me?
  3. How do I live these relationships in my Vincentian environment? Do they resemble Frederic’s?
  4. What could we do to improve our family and friendship relationships?
  5. What should we do within the Vincentian Family to live more fraternal, more collaborative, less selfish relationships?

Javier F. Chento
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