For Friendship

Nothing confirms my conversion more loudly than this: I have never had such friends. It’s conceivable that I was a jerk all my life and only emerged from jerkiness during my first two years as a Catholic, which emergence led people to say, “Gee, I thought he was a jerk, but he isn’t that bad. . . . ” 

That would be a variation on CS Lewis’s “lunatic, liar, or lord.” Take your pick: (1) Webster was a jerk for 56 years; (2) Webster has gone soft in the head now that he’s a Catholic; or (3) there is something about the Catholic faith shared that opens one to deep and abiding friendship. You can say what you want, you have nothing to lose but your faith; as for me, I’m betting the house on (3). Call it Bull’s Wager.

For this Monday morning thought, you can thank EPG, his question and the comments that it evoked, and the readings this morning in the Liturgy of the Hours. The first reading prescribed for the Fourth Monday in Ordinary Time is from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians (2:13–3:13) and carries a red-letter subhead, “Paul’s friendship for the Thessalonians.” The entire passage sings of friendship, and it reads like a love letter after a long separation: “When we were orphaned by separation from you for a time—in sight, not in mind—we were seized with the greatest longing to see you.”

Paul recognizes that these friends in Thessaly are more than friends. They are the proof of his faith: “Who, after all, if not you, will be our hope or joy, or the crown we exult in, before our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? You are our boast and our delight.”

They are in fact a witness of the presence of God: “What thanks can we give to God for all the joy we feel in his presence because of you . . . ”

The love of true friendship is a byproduct of that presence, of God’s love for us and ours for Him: “May the Lord increase you and make you overflow with love for one another and for all, even as our love does for you.”

The second reading, from a commentary by Saint Hillary, takes up the theme of friendship and makes a wild but beautiful connection. “It is pleasant and good for brothers to dwell in unity,” he writes, then with the prophet (which one?) compares this Christian friendship with “the ointment on the head which ran down over the beard of Aaron, down upon the collar of his garment”!!

The closing prayer for the day (and the week) wraps the theme in a nice, tight package: “Lord our God, help us to love you with all our hearts and to love all men as you love them.”

The meta-message I took from the discussion about the role of the laity triggered by EPG’s question was summed up beautifully by Warren Jewell. He cited “this delightful club of friends under the YIMC banner.” If this were the first group of friends like this that I have encountered in the Catholic Church, you might go back to Bull’s Wager and select option (2). However, I recognize this “club of friends,” a rather Pickwickian bunch actually, because I have become part of other such clubs in my first two years as a Catholic. Ferde roped me into two of them: the Saturday morning men’s group in our parish and our Friday evening School of Community, “under the banner of” Communion and Liberation (CL).

Let me say this about both of these groups: There have been times when I thought they were not really what I was looking for. But I recognized eventually with each that what was making that judgment was not my heart but my mind in isolation: “The presentations in this group are sometimes not so interesting.” “The discussions of Don Giussani’s writings are sometimes not so focused.” And so on.

What has kept me engaged in each of these groups is my heart, which tells me, These are friends, true friends without ulterior motives, true friends because they share with me a love of Christ. That keeps me coming back.

The picture at the top of this post is from a recent birthday party thrown for Katie by some of our CL friends in Boston. It is a picture of true friendship. It validates my conversion and everything else about my life.

  • Matthew

    Webster, I think that friendship is one of the most wonderful thing about our church. I was very involved in Teens Encounter Christ (TEC) when I was in high school and I still keep in touch with those friends even though I haven't seen most of them in 15 years. The same can be said for all the friends I made in the seminary, our youth group at church, people I met at the two World Youth Days I attended (Denver and Manila) and numerous other activities over the years. Not to mention the lifelong friendships that developed from the years I attended Catholic Middle School.What is wonderful though is that I can walk into any Catholic Church in the country and be greated warmly and accepted immediately. Real friendships often take time to develop but within the church it is somewhat easier because the initial uneasiness that sometimes accompanies meeting new people is lessened and so we are empowered to pursue those intimate friendships more quickly. The internet can never replace human contact but it has allowed me to make friends that I would not have known otherwise and I hope that will be true of this "motley crew" who frequent this forum as well. God bless friend.Matt

  • EPG

    And think of this, God himself invites us to be his friends (see John 15:15). We probably don’t realize how startling a passage this is, because we’re all too used to it. But think of how strange it must have seemed to the Roman world in the first several decades of the Church. Think about how strange (even blasphemous) it might seem to some who hold to a more austere vision of monotheism in our own time.Friendship is an amazing thing. Especially in our society, friendship can go dormant as a result of time and distance, as we move around the country, seeking new jobs, new climate, new . . . And yet, I was reminded of the resilience of friendship just last week, when an old friend from high school, whom I had not seen in fifteen years, and not heard from in nearly as long, ran into me in an airport (far from both our homes). We had over an hour to talk before our flights, and the years dropped away — truly an amazing gift.As I write this, I think that (just perhaps) a faith that has cooled, or even gone dormant, might be rekindled in a similar way.For those who are not overdosed on C.S. Lewis by now, a look at his chapter on friendship in “The Four Loves” may be worth a look.

  • Maria

    No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another. "If the world hates you, realize that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world, and I have chosen you out of the world, the world hates you. Remember the word I spoke to you, 'No slave is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me"."John 14Sweet reminder, Webster."I have called you friends"… I have always loved that. Friendship in the Lord is good; however, I am reminded, as I participate in blogdom and elsewhere, that to be a true friend of the Lord is to invite persecution. When we proclaim the good news we can be sure of it. Thoughts?

  • Webster Bull

    Dear friends,I am touched particularly by Matt's comment:"The internet can never replace human contact but it has allowed me to make friends that I would not have known otherwise and I hope that will be true of this 'motley crew' who frequent this forum as well…."This forum is a crew of friends, of that I'm convinced. I bet everyone has heard of couples who had never met but fell in love by corresponding. It happened many times during WWII, and I know of two such couples of my parents' generation. Internet dating is, of course, the most recent manifestation of this phenomenon. I'm not suggesting anything intimate here, only pointing out that these virtual communications can be a real form of friendship, especially when we have Christ in common.