Holy friendship - Catholic Courier
Two friends take advantage of a shady spot in the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix. Even before the time of Christ, Aristotle wrote beautifully on the subject of friendship. Many are familiar with a phrase of his composing, a friend is "a single soul in two bodies." (CNS photo by Nancy Wiechec) Two friends take advantage of a shady spot in the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix. Even before the time of Christ, Aristotle wrote beautifully on the subject of friendship. Many are familiar with a phrase of his composing, a friend is "a single soul in two bodies." (CNS photo by Nancy Wiechec)

Holy friendship

In this issue:
Holy friendship: ‘A remnant of paradise’
Friendship under fire: The faith factor
Friendship in Scripture
Food for Thought

In a nutshell

A truly virtuous and holy friendship is one that wills the good of the other above all and encourages the practice of virtue and ultimately friendship with God.

Today’s “friending” culture has obscured true, profound friendship.

In Scripture, there are stories of genuine friendship that deserve our attention. 

Holy friendship: ‘A remnant of paradise’

By Paul Senz/Catholic News Service

From the first moments of creation, God declared that “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Gn 2:18). Human beings long for companionship, for someone to relate to, someone to desire the best for. This is not only a yearning for romantic love; humans are made for friendship, and, ultimately, friendship with God.

Even before the time of Christ, Aristotle wrote beautifully on the subject of friendship. Many are familiar with a phrase of his composing, a friend is “a single soul in two bodies.” Theological inaccuracies notwithstanding, it is an intriguing observation. 

He identified three types of friendships: friendships of utility, where the friendship is based around the benefit that can be derived from it; friendships of pleasure, where simple enjoyment comes from the friendship; and friendships of virtue, wherein the friends share a pursuit of virtue and will the good of the other, helping them along on the path toward virtue.

This last is the closest to what Christians would consider an ideal friendship and is certainly the strongest tie. 

In the history of the church, there are many examples of prominent saints who were dear friends, and they can serve as a guide and example on how to live a virtuous and holy friendship.

One example is St. Perpetua and St. Felicity. Perpetua was a Roman noblewoman, and Felicity was her slave. More than this, they were friends, and helped each other through the unimaginably difficult time of their persecution and eventual martyrdom in 203. 

St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier were two of the founding members of the Society of Jesus and even lived together during their university studies.

One of the most profound examples is the friendship between St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, who lived in the fourth century in what is now Turkey. In one of Gregory’s surviving sermons, we find high praise of his friend Basil:

“Our single object and ambition was virtue,” Gregory wrote, “and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong” (Oratio 43). 

Surely this is a simple guide for holy friendships.

There is much to learn about holy friendships in Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Sirach states, “Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure” (6:14). 

A faithful friend is not merely one who regularly “hangs out” with us; we get the true scope of profoundest friendship from the lips of Our Lord: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13). This advice, given to the apostles just hours before Jesus would be executed, is the gold standard.

We have been made friends of God through Jesus Christ, even after severing the friendship countless times throughout history. “I no longer call you slaves,” Jesus said, “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father” (Jn 15:15).

Even earlier in salvation history, the Ten Commandments give us a sense of how we are to live in relation to other people. 

The Ten Commandments are divided into two sections: one, consisting of the First through Third commandments, concerns our relationship with God; the other, covering the Fourth through Tenth commandments, concerns our relationship with other people.

Jesus says the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart and soul, and to love our neighbor as ourself. This is the Ten Commandments in miniature and says a lot about what we might think of as “holy friendship.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes into deeper detail, stating that our whole being should be oriented toward friendship with God: 

“By his revelation, ‘the invisible God, from the fullness of his love, addresses men as his friends, and moves among them, in order to invite and receive them into his own company.’ The adequate response to this invitation is faith” (No. 142).

Humans were created and established in right union with God: “The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator” (No 374). 

In a 2006 essay, Alice von Hildebrand called friendship the “remnant of paradise,” something we should continually strive to return to. 

As the catechism reads: “Revelation makes known to us the state of original holiness and justice of man and woman before sin: From their friendship with God flowed the happiness of their existence in paradise” (No. 384).

A truly virtuous and holy friendship is one in which the good of the other is willed above all and which encourages the practice of virtue and ultimately friendship with God. “Whether it develops between persons of the same or opposite sex, friendship represents a great good for all. It leads to spiritual communion” (No. 2347).

(Senz is a freelance writer living in Oregon with his family.)

Friendship under fire: The faith factor

By Maureen Pratt/Catholic News Service

“Without friendship and support, we don’t survive,” said popular Relevant Radio talk show host Joe Sikorra. “Studies and research show that, without support, men die about six years earlier.”

But, today’s “friending” culture has obscured true, profound friendship. 

“A deep friendship is one where you really feel known, heard and understood,” said Sikorra, a licensed therapist and former police officer. 

“Social media is about making comparisons, and those relationships tend to be more superficial. We post only what is the best in our lives, that life is going great,” said Sikorra.

“But, when we see everyone posting the best, we feel inferior and isolated. Many people on my show are suffering because they are not completely known,” he added. 

The response to loneliness and isolation is not more social media or gathering myriad friends. 

Sikorra said, “Faith sets the framework for a deeply authentic friendship. It naturally draws you beyond what is superficial. At the root of our faith, which is deeply healthy, we come before God with all of our flaws and find his acceptance and love. When we have other friends who have that experience, there is a commonality, there is love from God.”

Quality matters more than quantity.

“I met my wife when I was 18. We went to the same high school and married five years later,” said Sikorra. “She used to laugh at me because I had one friend. One friend.” 

He said, “I have more than one friend now. But you don’t need a lot of them; otherwise we spread ourselves out, the friendships become increasingly superficial. Jesus chose 12 disciples, not 1,200.”

Even with the common bond of Christ, conflicts will arise, and the response is not to “unfriend.”

Sikorra said, “It’s good to find friends who are compatible, but we’re not mirror images of one another. The goal isn’t agreement; the goal is understanding.”

How we approach differences and conflict reflects our faith, too. 

“To ignore conflict, it tends to fester,” said Sikorra. “The brain doesn’t let it go. We get it out, have our conversation and say, ‘Hey, this is how I’m different.’ Real friends offer that kind of unconditional love that our faith speaks of.” 

Yet, as with friendships where faith is not shared, sometimes friends move apart.

“If someone is not encouraging you to grow,” said Sikorra, “or when you can no longer try to understand the other person, or you are moving in so opposite a direction, then the friendship has run its course.”

Always, put faith first. 

“We don’t let go of our North Star — God’s call to live out our holiness.”

Friendships of faith are crucial during a crisis, short or prolonged, as Sikorra and his family know. His and his wife’s sons, John and Ben, were diagnosed with juvenile Batten disease, a rare, inherited disorder of the nervous system that causes blindness, seizures and loss of cognitive and motor function, ending in death in early adulthood. Son John Sikorra died two and a half years ago, at age 24, and Ben is now 23.

“When you live with something so devastating,” said Sikorra, “you are isolated. (You start asking) what do you share in common when your friends’ kids are in college and your own kids are struggling with blindness and cognitive deficits and an inability to function independently? There’s a natural strain on friendships.”

“Yet, we have been blessed beyond measure with deep, loving friends, most of whom are from our Catholic community,” Sikorra said. “Faith calls us see each other as brothers and sisters.”

Sikorra shares about his family’s journey in his first book, “Defying Gravity: How Choosing Joy Lifted My Family From Death to Life,” coming April 20.

“All families struggle in some way,” he said, “all people encounter loss. There is something that is identifiable. But the book talks about how we found joy in the midst of hardship. Faith, friendship and support are key.” 

(Pratt’s website is www.maureenpratt.com.)

Friendship in Scripture

By Daniel S. Mulhall/Catholic News Service

While the Bible describes some aspects of life such as love in great detail (1 Cor 13:4-8), one must search a little harder to see what Scripture says about friendship. 

Proverbs 17:17 explains that friends are always loyal and always there to help in time of need. A friend is also someone who can offer criticism and counsel when it is needed, helping one to become a better person. “Do not give up your own friend,” states Proverbs 27.

In John 15:13, Jesus states that a friend is someone who is willing to sacrifice everything for his or her friends: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

The Bible presents few examples of friendship. While the prophets Elijah and Elisha are often regarded as friends (2 Kgs 2), their relationship was more that of a teacher and a student rather than friends. 

Another example of great love is that between Naomi and Ruth (Ru 1:16-17). While beautiful, this is more a relationship between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law. (Would that all such relationships were so loving!)

There are, however, stories of genuine friendship that deserve our attention. The first is the friendship that existed between David and Jonathan, and the second is the friendship that existed between Jesus and a number of his followers.

Jonathan was the oldest son of the king of the Israelites, Saul, and thus would become king when Saul died. But then he met David, a young man who had saved the Israelite army by killing the Philistine giant, Goliath (1 Sm 17). Jonathan was in awe of David because of what he had accomplished and became a dear friend. 

As 1 Samuel 18:1 describes it, “Jonathan’s life became bound up with David’s life; he loved him as his very self.” Jonathan gave David the royal cloak and armor as a sign of their friendship (1 Sm 18:4). As Saul grew jealous of David’s popularity, Jonathan protected David. 

When Jonathan was killed in battle, David tore his clothes and wept in grief for his friend. David said, “I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother! Most dear have you been to me” (2 Sm 1:26).

Jesus had a close friendship with Mary, Martha and Lazarus — although the word “friend” isn’t used in the Gospels to describe the relationship. He visited their home and ate with them (Lk 10:38-42, Jn 12:2) on two occasions, which is something friends do. 

John 11:5 describes just how close Jesus was to this family: “Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” When Jesus learned that Lazarus was ill, he braved being stoned to visit him (Jn 11:8). When Jesus heard that Lazarus has died, he “became perturbed and deeply troubled” (Jn 11:33) and wept (Jn 11:35), because that’s also what friends do.

Isn’t it good to know that we share in Jesus’ deep love and friendship, for he calls us his friends as well (Jn 15:15)?

(Daniel S. Mulhall is a catechist in Louisville, Kentucky.)

Food for Thought

In the book “Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship,” Mary DeTurris Poust defines spiritual friendship as “two people bound together by a love of God.”

Unlike other types of friendship, “spiritual friends magnify our virtuous qualities,” Poust explained in the book. 

“More causal friends might bring out the worst in us through competitiveness, idle gossip, jealousy. Spiritual friends, however, bring out the best — in inspiring us to live in humility, honesty, charity,” she wrote. 

“Spiritual friends inspire us to move beyond pettiness to a place where our hearts and minds are focused on doing what is right,” she added. 

In the book, Poust looks at the examples of friendship such as those between St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, and between St. Francis of Assisi and St Clare. 

And she examines more modern-day models of friendship like Trappist monk Thomas Merton and scholar of Zen Buddhism, D.T. Suzuki. 

“Spiritual friendship(s) (are) connected to our God-given mission, our calling to live out our faith in the everyday world. … They are not about possession but about transformation,” Poust wrote.
 

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