July 31, 2012
Who is a true friend? What constitutes a loving friendship? I am always edified by women bloggers who note from time to time that they have married their best friend. What a beautiful thing to say about one’s husband! No doubt there would be many fewer divorces if married couples used the ability to be good friends as one of the factors in choosing a spouse. Also, the good friendships between two women or two men who are not lovers carry characteristics common to those of married couples in deep friendship.
Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson begins his book The Friendship of Christ with this passage:
The emotion of friendship is amongst the most mighty and the most mysterious of human instincts. Materialistic philosophers delight in tracing even the most exalted emotions — art, religion, romance — to purely carnal sources; to the instincts of the propagation or sustenation of physical life; and yet in this single experience at any rate — when we class together, as we can, all those varied relationships between men and men, women and women, as well as between men and women, under the common title of friendship — materialistic philosophy wholly breaks down. It is not a manifestation of sex, for David can cry to Jonathan “Thy love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women”; it is not a sympathy arising from common interests, for the sage and the fool can form a friendship at least as strong as any between two sages or two fools; it is not a relationship based on the exchange of ideas, for the deepest friendships thrive better in silence than in speech. “No man is truly my friend,” says Maeterlinck, “until we have each learned to be silent in one another’s company.”
Actually, our model for earthly friendship is found in the perfect charity of the Holy Trinity. In meditation #250 of Divine Intimacy: Meditations on the Interior Life for Every Day of the Liturgical Year Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalene writes:
There is, therefore, a very pure, affectionate love of friendship among the three divine Persons, by which each one of them delights in the good and happiness of the others, and each desires the glory of the others.
The Holy Trinity is of one mind and one heart in three distinct Persons. It then follows that in true friendship and in imitation of the Holy Trinity we follow St. Paul’s admonition:
Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind one towards another, according to Jesus Christ: That with one mind, and with one mouth, you may glorify God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Rom 15:5-6)
I like to think of real friendship as two persons standing together, holding hands and facing the tabernacle with minds and hearts directed towards Christ. No amount of nitty-gritty trials and sacrifices one makes for the other breaks those joined hands. True friends consider it a privilege to serve one another, and if it comes to it, to suffer or even die for one another.
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that “Friendship is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends even the most agreeable pursuits become tedious.”
In meditation #251 Father Gabriel writes:
The highest expression of human love is friendship…Friendship, however, requires a certain equality, community of life and of goods; it demands reciprocity of affection and mutual benevolence….
Quoting St. Thomas he says,
“Love either finds or makes equal those who love each other…” Friendship demands reciprocal love…. Real friendship leads to a oneness of thought, will, affections, desires, and interests. A true friend espouses the interests and wishes of his friend; he thinks as his friend thinks, loves what he loves and wants what he wants….
Jesus said, “You are My friends, if you do the things that I command you,” and “If anyone love Me, he will keep My word” (Jn. 15:14 and 14:23). On our side, therefore, friendship with God, that is, charity, requires a continual striving to conform our thoughts, our will, and our desires to the thought and will of our divine Friend.
I believe that the best friendships on earth flow from a mutual seeking of God’s will, of affection that arises from each person’s affection for Christ. It seems that the more we engage in friendship with Christ the better friend we are to another person, and the more we desire his happiness and salvation.
We were called to this beautiful friendship with God and others when at the birth of Christ the angels appeared to the shepherds:
And suddenly it came about that with the angel there was a multitude of a heavenly army, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men of good will” (Luke 2: 13-14).
True friendship among ourselves brings peace which flows from the unity of good will we have towards one another as we all praise God and seek Him in our daily lives. If a relationship can’t meet this litmus test, it’s not a true friendship, or it is merely a very pale shade of what it could be.
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