- The pursuit of loneliness
- Causes and symptoms
- What is friendship?
- Friendship in Revelation
- Apostolic friendship
- 1. How many true friends do I have?
- 2. How many friends would lay down their lives for me, and I for them?
- 3. How many people are there to whom I can go to open up my heart and soul with total trust?
- 4. If I were to die today, how many people would care–would miss me for more than a few days? How many would come to my funeral?
- 5. How many lives were changed in a positive way by my friendship?
- 6. How many person were reconciled, converted, or grew in the life of the Church on account of my friendship?
- 7. Finally, are my friendships a fundamental part of my prayer life? Do I talk about my friends–pleading for their needs and trying to better my understanding of them, with The Friend?
- The example of the saints
- Being a friend
What is friendship?Before considering a cure, we should give at least some quick consideration to the essence of friendship, how the ancients saw it, and how it became elevated by Christianity to a still greater good that is a necessary and natural means of evangelization. Friendship, of course, is a natural good in itself, inasmuch as man is a social creature. "It is not good for man to be alone." That Biblical observation applies not only to marriage but also to man's relationships with his fellow men. Any human person, formed in the image of Holy Trinity, exists in relation to others and indeed is defined by his relationships. For the vast majority of men, aside from his marriage and his family, the most important relationships will be friendships with other men. (There can also be forms of friendship between men and women outside marriage, but for the man committed to a life of apostolic celibacy or for a man already committed to one woman, these friendships normally have to maintain a certain distance and reserve.)
We might say that friendship is a social relation that is distinguished by mutual affection. Love does not necessarily demand reciprocity, but friendship requires it. It takes two to form a friendship. The bond thus formed without question represents one of the most noble aspects of human life; it both presupposes and fosters other human virtue, such as selfless giving, understanding, compassion, and the spirit of collaboration. True friendship carries with it an "exchange of gifts." John Paul II has also used this expression to describe "dialogue"–which, he reminds us, is one of the principal means of creating a friendship. There can be no friendship without communication–normally a simple conversation of some sort, verbal or written.
Two of the greatest writers of classical antiquity placed the highest value on human friendship. Aristotle tells us in the Nicomachean Ethics: "Without friends, no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods... it would seem actually impossible to be a great friend of many people; love ideally is an excess of friendship and that can be felt towards only one person; therefore great friendship too can be felt towards few people." Yet Aristotle could not imagine how the added power of divine grace would enable men such as the saints, to love each other with the infinite power of the heart of Christ.
Cicero, in his treatise On Friendship, tells us "Friendship can only exist between good men. For there is nothing more loveable than virtue," and also, "I can only advise you to prefer friendship to all other things within human attainment."
The Christian philosophers and theologians also speak to us of the importance of friendship. St. Augustine tells us in a startlingly direct way, "No one can be known for who he is except through the friends he has." St. Augustine's mentor, St. Ambrose, says that "a friendship that can end was never a real friendship." St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, writing in his treatise On Charity tells us: "Perfect friendship is not directed toward many.... but inasmuch as friendship toward one becomes more perfect as regards that one, the more perfect the love we have toward one, the better we are able to love others." He also adds, in his commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, "It is proper of a friend to do good to his friends, principally to those most in need."
Being a friendThere is an old expression: To make a friend, be a friend." It is important to make a distinction between "acquaintances," of whom we may have hundreds or thousands, and "friends." Friendship is a sacred word, full of meaning, and one I do not use lightly. Friendship, ideally, is forever. Friendship requires spending time with another. There are no short cuts. Whether it is at meals, or a shared interest in sport or a hobby, or even during a pilgrimage, we need to share who we are and what we have to give, in order to receive the same gift from our friend.
Certainly friendship may grow through correspondence, but in one way or another, we have to be "present" to our friends. We cannot really say that true friendship exists until we have opened up the deepest human questions: who man is, where he comes from, where he is headed, the meaning of life, the value of suffering. True friends talk about what is most important to them: faith, family, work. And this exploration of serious topics helps friendships to become apostolic. Such friendships lead men to grow and be transformed in Christ, with the inevitable result of creating a Christian environment (whether small or large) around them. Friendship also means loving our friends with all their faults; we forgive them when necessary, and although out of charity, from time to time, we correct them.
Strong male friendship must be revived if Catholic men and their progeny are to get on with the holy and ambitious task in this young millennium: to build the civilization of love and truth in the 21st century. To be sure we need many holy, courageous, and zealous bishops and priests, who will preach the word of Christ and administer his sacraments, deeply influenced by the message of the Second Vatican Council and its authentic interpretation. I am confident we will get them. However, the Gospel will be most effectively spread throughout society not from the sanctuary of the local parishes but through friendship.