CARUTHERS: No Greater Love: Friendship is inspired by God for communion, love

September 8, 2020

Friendship is one of those words and ideas that is often overused or misused in our everyday conversation, and yet, it is referred to over and over again in Scripture. The philosophers tell us that it is a key to understanding the human person’s quest for happiness. So, what is friendship?

Jesus Himself speaks of friendship on numerous occasions. He refers to all people of goodwill as friends. He specifically tells His disciples that “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (Jn 15:14) So, we are Christ’s friends if we do what He commands, that is, if we love God and our neighbor as our selves. (cf Lk 10:27). Again, the connection between friendship and love is made — and made even more clearly when our Lord tells us, “No greater love has a man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friend.” (Jn 15:13).

When we consider the incarnational reality of our Lord’s proclamation of the Kingdom, God did not merely inspire another prophet to speak of His friendship; He sent His Son to be our friend and live as our friend. It was over meals, walks and fishing trips that Jesus cultivated friendships with those who would become His disciples. Christ ultimately laid down His life for us as His friends, and He calls on us to do the same in the countless little ways put before us each and every day for God, for our neighbor and for ourselves.

True friendship, then, is a reciprocity, a gift-and-receipt, of genuine love — choosing the good of the other person for their own sake, simply because it is good — “it’s just what friends do.” It is lasting and draws us ever onward and upward in the quest for the good, the true and the beautiful — for virtue. And not only that, but it gives us that other element that is so quintessentially human — someone with whom to share the experience, a true communion of persons. In this way, our deepest friendships help us fulfill our nature as human persons, created to pour ourselves out in communion and love.

Notice that the goal is seeking and doing what is good for the other person, not necessarily what is desired or what feels right. Together, as friends grow in virtue, the good thing will also become the desirable thing. Philosophy and experience tell us, however, that there are other, less perfect expressions of friendship based not on virtue but on usefulness and pleasure.

These are not bad in themselves; some friendly relationships are simply based on being on the same sports team, assigned as lab partners or they are just fun to be around. They don’t move beyond that. All of these types of friendships are necessary in human life. They add joy, shape and depth to our life. We must be on guard, though, that those friendships based more on practicality or pleasure do not fall into a utilitarian use of the other person for one’s own gain or pleasure.

As we engage youth in the discernment of virtuous friendships, here are some practical ideas:

  • Model such friendships in your own life. “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.” (St. Paul VI)
  • Read Proverbs; it is an extended treatise on the importance of friendship in the pursuit of wisdom.
  • Encourage your young people to reflect periodically on their friendships.

Consider with them the following thoughts:

  • Friendships require effort. Like a garden, they are cultivated. True reciprocity takes practice and intentionality. Often, our friendships are spread wide but lack depth.
  • Friendships require trust, honesty and integrity. Friends will always tell you what you need to hear, not what you want them to say.
  • Friendships require virtue. The choice of friends both reflects one’s character and shapes it. A friend never asks another friend to engage in wrongdoing, but always encourages him toward the good.
  • Guard against threats to friendship: suspicion, neglect, selfishness. Focus on your own behavior first, then that of your friend.

Friendships are challenging. A true friend will challenge you to become better because he appreciates the potential inside you.

“As iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens his friend” (Prov 27:17) and you both grow deeper in virtue and closer to each other and to Christ.

Friendships are fruitful. In the gift of reciprocity, the outpouring of self leads to a cup that runneth over. (Ps 23:5) True friends seek to share that friendship with others, not to remove themselves from others or to covet their relationship. †

Timothy M. Caruthers is the director of CCD and youth ministry at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Walsingham.