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Friendship by Fr. Joshua Voitus

In 07 Observation on 2016/12/15 at 12:00 AM

Misuse of the word “friend” in our modern society is unfortunate: friendship has been diluted to include mere acquaintances, even people on the internet whom we might not even really know. A lack of proper understanding of friendship diminishes our ability to form true spiritual friendships with people here on earth. But even more tragic is that this misunderstanding of friendship also has the potential to damage our relationship with God.

At their core, authentic friendships – like any relationship based on love – involve two or more people who seek the good of the other. True friends, then, aside from sharing common interests and enjoying each other’s company (of course, which is important, as you cannot truly build a friendship without spending time with the other), build each other up in word and in action. This building up reaches its peak and perfection in each friend assisting the other, not only in earthly tasks and trials, but in reaching the ultimate good of heaven.

Think, then, how important true friends are in our journey home to God! They will not only encourage us in our following of Christ, but they will also admonish us when we fail to live as we ought.

As St. Ambrose tells us in“On the Duties of the Clergy,” “(R)ebukes are good, and often better than a silent friendship … for the ‘wounds of a friend are better than the kisses of flatterers.’ (Proverbs 27:6) Rebuke, then, your erring friend … for friendship ought to be steadfast and to rest firm in true affection.”

A true friend will, therefore, love us enough to share in our joy and encourage us in virtue, and also have concern enough for us to correct us when we stray from the true path. For our part, if we are to be good friends, we must have the courage to do the same. Friendship, then, involves not only joy and happiness, but, at times, a sense of sacrifice when we might have to put aside our own desires to rebuke a friend or – far more painfully – humbly receive a rebuke from a true friend.

We must, therefore, recognize that friendship, in its authentic sense, is more than merely liking somebody’s company or having mutual interests. It implies a certain mutual exchange of love and concern for the good of the other, even to the point of a certain sacrifice of time or comfort. This exchange not only aids and supports us in our quest to grow in virtue and struggle against sin, but it can become a model in this life for our relationship with God Himself.

Our misunderstanding of the nature of authentic human friendship may potentially lead us to a misunderstanding of what God calls us to when He says He desires to be our friend.

Yes, God invites us to friendship with Himself: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends.” (John 15:15).

I can think of no higher calling than to be a friend of God Himself. Yet, if we misunderstand the nature of true friendship, then we run the risk of misunderstanding the nature of the relationship to which God is calling us.

A true friendship is, among other qualities, a mutual exchange of love and concern for the other. God, for His part, has demonstrated this love and concern in countless ways. He has done so in the act of our creation, in His revealing of Himself and His Will through the law and through Christ (who is the very word of God and is God Himself), and, ultimately in the sacrifice of the Cross, for “greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Even God, like a true friend, rebukes us when we go astray so that we may return to Him in love.

This free gift of God is wonderful, but if we are to be true friends of God, it is not enough for us to passively “like” what He has done for us as we would a “friend” on Facebook. Rather, we are called to an active response to His love – a response of love which impels us to follow God, even sacrificing ourselves and our desires to serve Him, just as we would a true friend.

Christ Himself says much the same thing when He tells the Apostles, “you are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:14) To be friends of God, we must treat Him as we would a true friend. We must spend time with Him in prayer (especially prayer before the Blessed Sacrament). We must study scripture and the teachings of the Church to learn His will (much like we would seek to find out the desire of our friend), and follow His will, even to the point of giving up anything which might separate us from Him. Then may we call ourselves true friends of God: people who know Him, love Him and serve Him, and who give thanks for all that He has done for us in friendship and in love.

Thus we can see how all true friendship is based on the love of God. All true friends will seek to guide each other, ultimately, to the supreme good which is God. They will do so even if it means discomfort or sacrifice. They will place the other person before themselves. By doing so, they provide a mirror and an example for the friendship to which God calls each one of us. Let us pray that we may be blessed by God with true friends in this life, and that we share in the joy of perfect friendship with Him now and in the life to come.

Father Joshua Voitus is the parochial vicar of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Charlotte. Read the Nov.9 online at www. catholicnewsherald.com.

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