Crowning Friendships with Truth, Virtue, and Great Books

The following speech was given during the 2023 Faculty Baccalaureate Address at John Paul the Great Academy in Lafayette, Louisiana, prior to commencement ceremonies.

Tonight we celebrate the ways in which our students manifest the charisms of John Paul the Great Academy: veritas – truth, fides – faith, and virtus – virtue. By recognizing excellence in physical, spiritual, and intellectual formation, we thank God for his gifts to us, remind each other to live virtuously, and encourage each other to grow in holiness.

Seated before me is a group of young men and women who, though some have been individually recognized tonight, collectively live out these charisms well. They pursue their studies diligently, take their prayer lives seriously, and are genuinely interested in exercising virtue in their daily lives. However, their collective virtues manifest in one striking quality: these students are friends. This phenomenon is one that often strikes unfamiliar observers, and I know that it exerts huge formative power over these students’ minds and hearts.

Hundreds of years before the birth of Our Lord, Aristotle wrote a treatise on well-formed human character called the Nicomachean Ethics. In this work, the philosopher reasons systematically through different virtues, explaining how each one ought to be understood and developed. Then, in the eighth chapter, he begins exploring what he deems a natural continuation of this topic: friendship. He dismisses friendships of utility and pleasure as accidental; that is, someone in such a friendship ultimately seeks his own well-being or pleasure. However, Aristotle then introduces ‘friendships of the good’ as the most desirable and perfect friendships. In this kind of relation, each man pursues the good, and, recognizing that trait in another, loves the good that the other incarnates. Conveniently enough, a friendship of the good is also useful and pleasurable, and thus contains within it both lesser forms of friendship.(1)

Aristotle reasoned without the benefit of divine revelation, and therefore assumed that man’s highest calling was to be in full possession of the natural virtues. However, as Catholics, we understand that our highest good is not possession of the virtues, but rather to be possessed by God in body, mind, and spirit.(2) Therefore, the best types of friendships are those in which the friends primarily seek union with the Creator, and love each other’s goodness.

The friendship that these classmates share is only one of many qualities that John Paul the Great Academy attempts to instill in her students. (She understands “the support and cultivation of friendships” to be an attribute of virtus). In a way, I would refer to this as the class of 2023’s “charism of charisms.” However, it is also a kind of crowning virtue because it assumes mutual pursuit of the ultimate Good. Therefore, if you (class of 2023) wish to continue developing your friendships with each other, you need to keep striving for what this school has shown you– you must intentionally live out the charisms of John Paul the Great Academy.

Of the three charisms, veritas, fides, and virtus, I believe that after graduation you will have to most intentionally foster love of veritas. Whether or not you recognize it, mutual pursuit of truth plays an integral role in your friendships with each other. Without it, those friendships are in grave danger of devolving into friendships of utility or pleasure– such relationships, Aristotle warns, are fickle and “easily dissolved.” Therefore, you must deliberately nurture a love of Truth, along with Goodness and Beauty, to keep your friendships from weakening or dissolving.

The pursuit of veritas includes, among other things, “an engagement with the great ideas and texts of Western Civilization.”(3) You may not see exactly how, but by reading books and discussing them you have been introduced to a gamut of human experience: the loss of Antigone, the devastation of Troy, the despair of James Gatsby, but also the the joy at Argos’ recognition of Odysseus, the redemption of Hester Prynne, the embrace of Priam and Achilles, and the power of a rocking cradle in Bethlehem. Contact with these perennial truths have begun to shape your identities: do not leave the work unfinished. Keep reading the great books, even if you feel you don’t understand. Question and explore them with confidence: these stories are strong enough to withstand innocent misinterpretation, and the wrinkles will work themselves out over time. Use the great books to build community: you have been invited to join a discussion with a much larger (and older) group of friends than you realize.

Don’t forget that ‘friendships of the good’ are also useful. If you need encouragement in your pursuit of veritas, if you find yourself contracting existential amnesia, if you become, to quote T.S. Eliot, “distracted by distraction from distraction,”(4) if you need help remembering who you are, turn to your friends for help, and let them encourage you. If, for whatever reason, your classmates are not able to do so, I can think of sixty men and women who would be thrilled to help you on your way [pointing to faculty members].

Each of you, awarded tonight or not, has a duty to continue pursuing the truth. Deepen, do not diminish, your friendships with each other. Challenge each other to live in the Veritatis Splendor. Pope Saint John Paul the Great, pray for us.

1 Aristotle. The Ethics. Book VIII
2 Catechism of the Catholic Church. Paragraph 260

3 Charisms of John Paul the Great Academy
4 Eliot, T.S. “Burnt Norton.”

Peter Fay teaches Upper School Humanities and Latin at John Paul the Great Academy, a private, Roman Catholic classical high school in Lafayette, Louisiana. It is operated independent of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette. He has served the greater life of the school community as director of the folk music club and student newspaper where he helps students to grow in discipline and virtue.

Note: Guest bloggers share their own thoughts as classical educators and learners and do not represent or Classical Academic Press. 

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