I want to talk about friendship. “I drew close to my faithful friend and guide–and without him what would have led me up the mountainside?”
Virgil, the Roman poet, is Dante’s guide through Hell and Purgatory. Dante was guided through his own sin moving through the Inferno. Isn’t the journey of the Divine Comedy our own journey too?
Friendship, connection, community: these are the things we persons were born for. The culture today tries to promote individuality, which implies isolation, doing everything on your own. Suffer alone, do all things alone, not needing anyone else.
But what spurs us on is other people, a community, healthy connections with others. Friendships are not superficial connections. Friends don’t use one another to get something from one another and move on. Friends build one another up. Weep together, mourn together, celebrate together, complain together, move forward together. A friend isn’t there at all times. Friends have their own things to do as well. But when called upon, they can be there to help. Sometimes friends come and go, but then come back again in your life.
Virgil is in Dante’s life for a time. He guides him through the most difficult journey of his existence. He is there for him, rebuking him, encouraging him, spurring him on. Helping him see his own dark heart. But helping to lift him out of his mire.
In Canto three, Dante runs into Manfred who asks for Dante’s prayers. There is a tradition in Judaism and Christianity of praying for the dead. The Communion of Saints, those who have died are alive either in Paradise or Purgatory.
In this case, prayer is an edification of those who have died. But also those who have died can still pray for those on earth as well. Asking for prayers from the saints is like asking a friend for prayer.
Friendship is important. It is what builds community. In hell there is no community, only isolation. Friends pull us out of ourselves. Pull us out of our delusions and illusions we have built in our minds. Friends help guide us on the right path.
(Several insights gleaned from conversations with Dr. Matt Moser, notes from Tony Esolen and Rod Dreher. And from Jon Foreman music.)