Because the Quality of Friendship is Just Different

We learn by contrasts, brass beside gold. Two years along, I am still learning what it is to be a Catholic, but one thing is clear: I have never known such friendships. Within the past week, I have been confronted with a “friendship” from years past, one based on power, fear, and lies. This week, I also have had numerous encounters with Catholic friends. What a difference!

How to understand this difference? “The first thing to worry about is whether something is to be loved or not. If it is a lie, I cannot love it.” The line is from a Catholic writer I admire, and reading it today brought this question of friendship into focus. Some people, some friendships are based on lies. I can try to love such people, and maybe if I were Mother Teresa or Maximilian Kolbe, I would. But I’m not and I can’t, so I turn to where the gold is.

Or as my wise-beyond-her-years daughter told me this morning, “Dad, just because you have to forgive someone doesn’t mean you have to stay in the line of fire.” There are “friendships” that should be left behind, and there are friendships we make on the road to Emmaus.

I think this is the difference. Like two fishermen who encounter Christ, we are bonded together with our Catholic friends because we have a common destiny, a common desire, a common love. It’s not about you or me. It’s about you and me, gathered together His name.

I have found gold in my parish friendships.

There’s gold in my friendship with C., whose e-mails are always a joy to read. C. has had health troubles, but she always has a smile for me, and a line in almost every e-mail to make me think and be grateful.

There’s gold in my friendship with P., whose troubles are mostly professional. I enjoy calling P. on his cell phone on his way home from work to catch up, to let him know I’m thinking of him, to share a laugh or a moment or a thought.

There’s plenty of gold in my friendship with F.—but, heck, readers of this blog know that I mean Ferde. He is not necessarily the last person I would be attracted to if I were not a Catholic, if we did not have Christ in common, but I might be the last person for him. Ferde once said to me, and he said it to tweak me, “That’s the difference between you and me, man: You’re upper crust and I’m lower crust.” I didn’t deny the comparison—I come from comfort, Ferde had to fight for everything he has. Instead, I only said, “Yeah, Ferde, but together we make a great sandwich.”

Every day, I find gold in unexpected places. Just this afternoon I was at the coffee shop across the street from my office, and I ran into R. I see R.’s wife at the coffee shop in the mornings sometimes, but—unlike self-employed me, for whom it’s always casual Friday—R. is a hardcore working professional who has to dress up for the job and commute to the city. I don’t envy him, although today I have to admit that he looked very sharp in a bow-tie. He must have been home early from work, taking his kids out for a treat. Though I don’t know a lot about him, in the sense of name rank and serial number, I imagine that R. is the sort of slightly shy but brilliant person who can seem standoffish. We run into each other regularly on Sundays, but it never seems that I pull two words out of him.

Today—well, it wasn’t Sunday, it wasn’t Church, it was late Thursday on a glorious spring day in New England—I stood and listened mostly as R. and I talked in the coffee shop for about ten minutes. Big deal, right? Two middle-aged white guys shooting the breeze? True, except that I understood that our friendship—because that’s what it is—isn’t based on power, sex, or money, or anything else that life has to offer. It’s based on our both being Catholic Christians and being very happy that way. We know hardly anything about one another, except that we both seem to love the Church, head and body. And so, in ten minutes of friendly conversation, I didn’t feel an ounce of suspicion or fear or doubt. It was, as they say, all good.

I’m sorry. This subject is hard to write about without sounding air-headed, lobotomized, superficial. But I know what I’m saying, and maybe you do too.

  • Sean McGaughey

    You knocked it out of the park Webster. As I have become more and more involved in this online Catholic community, I have noticed there is a qualitative difference between the way the secular blogger and podcasting world, and online Catholics use the word, "community". Even though both online experiences can result in growing relationships, even real-life 'friendships', the online relationships with Catholics seem more rooted, more grounded. And in fact they are. In a very real sense, we are brothers and sisters in Christ, wherever in the world we may be.I also believe there is a distinction between real-life and online friendships.That's where conferences, and meetups are great for solidifying online friendships. Which is all a great lead up to, "Are you going to the Catholic New Media Celebration in Boston on August 7? We will be coming down from Canada.

  • Allison

    @Webster: I would also say that my friendships with fellow Christians look like this too, Christians who are not Catholic. I just had a wonderful conversation on the phone with a Methodist friend who lives in North Carolina and then one in my kitchen with a neighbor who is a devout Episcopalian and needed to borrow two eggs.With these friends and others, and with those in my parish community, I never feel I am competing for status, or competing about our kids. There is a sense of "we're in this together, let's cheer each other on and support one another when we stumble."What a blessing!

  • James

    This is a very timely post for me as an incident last week has left me deeply considering the vagaries of friendship in general and several in particular. I agree that some friendships are best left behind and I've been there but in the instance of this falling out and the subsequent change of perspective I think the best course of action is one of live and let live. And, of course, prayer. I'm friendly with a good number of people from a wide array of belief systems and walks of life and feel blessed in that regard but with those of my friends who are Catholic there is a comfort level even in the most casual of these acquaintances. After all, we share a Faith and and are brothers in Christ and there is no awkward undercurrent or tension that can sometimes affect a conversation with a non-catholic or worse yet a friend who is a former Catholic (unless the subject is politics). I find it easier to to talk to an atheist or non-believer on some topics than a former Catholic. Anyway, my musings on friends and friendships over the past week have yielded me very few new insights on a subject I've always found difficult. Talk about airheaded – the best conclusion I've drawn after a weeks' turmoil is – to thine own self be true.

  • Shannon

    Webster, friends don't let friends talk on the phone while driving. You're a distraction! If not a near occasion of accident.

  • Ferde

    Very helpful post, Webster. I refer to the wise remark of your daughter M. :-) Thanks for putting it up there.

  • corinne

    Hi Webster,,,nice writing, as always. A Protestant minister entered the rectory of a church I attend, and asked to come into the Catholic Church! He and his wife were confirmed at the Easter Vigil! Every time I see them at Mass, they are smiling…just like you :)

  • Michael (NZ)

    Really enjoyed this post, Webster! Funny synchronicities sometimes: I was just discussing the issue of friendships with my wife this morning. We had a bit of a sleep-in, as our Auckland (NZ) Saturday morning was wet and windy, with cold and grey skies and I remarked on the one-sidedness of some of my "friendships" and whether to just let them go."Community / fellowship/friendship" should work both ways. Important in this respect is the fact that one should have similar interests. Even more important, I find, is it to share similar spiritual beliefs or the “quest for spirituality”. The older I get, and you and I are of the same age, the more I find that my ever increasing involvement in the Catholic faith will lead me away from the more mundane, the secular. The result is then also that I become less and less involved with friends whose life revolves around purely work, sport or partying. My direct family “sort of” tolerates my Christ centeredness and my earnest quest to establish a real relationship with Jesus Christ, whereas erstwhile friends become uncomfortable with this and contacts become less and less frequent. So, yes, rather than pursue something that is not wholly enriching, let it go. This is not that easy. My one friendship goes back over 40 years – but over the last few years…well…I don’t know how to explain it but it is just not there anymore and I have to accept that people change and we have to move on in our own directions. Mine is (expressed in poor Latin, I suppose): “Scriptura et Ecclesiam”.In the posts from you, Frank and Allison I find more of a resonance, kindred spirits, if I may be so bold to say. So, thanks again for this lovely “chat”.Regards and blessings.