Brother John of Taize, Friends in Christ, Orbis Books, 2012, £14.99 (#166)

This book emanates from the Community of Taize which is perhaps the most credible ongoing effort to build universal Christian and inclusive community ever attempted. Every year thousands, the majority young people, make pilgrimage there. They come away renewed and inspired by its non-sectarian spirit of friendship and communion.

Brother John has extensive experience helping mostly young people in reading the Bible in today’s world. He offers us his reflections on being friends as the bedrock of christian community. Personally, I do not think that Christ was all that family-friendly. He broke up not a few of them and his relationship with his own seems to have been fraught. His use of family words is scarce. He refers to the poor as his brothers and sisters. And as risen Christ, he instructs Mary to go tell his friends that he is going to “my Father and to your Father”.  In the Father we are brother and sister of Christ. In Christ we are friends.

Our author wants to shed light on the christian message through the lens of universal friendship. Jesus calls us to be friends on the basis that everything the Father has told him, he in his turn has relayed to us. And everything he has related to us has been that our joy might be complete. The author will say that what makes the christian faith distinct is the shared existence of the community in Christ. The various chapters in the book will attempt to break open that basic idea.    

In the first part of five, Brother John makes the point that Christ came to announce a way of living. Christianity was not meant to be a religion or a code of conduct. It is about life, living together, of experiencing “Christ living in me” (Paul). In the second part Brother John talks of the Church being Catholic, implying that it is inclusive all-embracive in its outreach. He cites the Letter to Diognetus 6:1, “What the soul is in the body that Christians are in the world.”

In the central part Brother John speaks of friendship as foundational of all experience of Christ and the world. It is capable of patterning itself on the Trinity, a three-person community which finds expression in one friend loving another loving Christ. That love is creative and expansive, leaving no room for sectarianism, sexism, classism or any ‘ism’ which excludes the other because of difference. The book goes on to explore the themes of community and the theology of being friends in Christ.

In a time of crisis for the institutional church, a book like this can remind us of the core values of being called by Christ for living in abundance for the life of the world. Sadly it also reminds us Catholics of the long road we have yet to travel.

Frank Regan
April 2013