Faith is caught not taught. That pithy adage describes my own conversion to Christ as a teen. I was raised in a Christian home, but I did not as yet own my faith. Though I knew about Christ, I did not know him.
The witness of a few close friends won me over, although at first what attracted me had more to do with what they did, more than what they said.
My heart yearned for what they had—authentic love for one another born of respect, not competition or social status. They walked together with an easy regard for the uniqueness of the other, characterized by a building up, not a tearing down. Their joy radiated from boon companionships. A community ethic rooted in teamwork brought compassionate service to others.
There was a warm fire about them. And I needed to know its source.
Jesus said, "I have called you friends" (John 15:15).
Friends! The God of the Universe wants to be friends with us. God took on a permanent partnership with his creatures, not only by taking on flesh in the Incarnation, but by longing to share our company so that one day we might share his.
God, the mighty friend—refuge and rock, consoler and confidant, healer and lover—caught my attention, and I have never been the same. Once "caught," I couldn't wait to be "taught" about the faith of the friends of God.
I imagine the first Apostles responded to the message of Jesus in much the same way.
Jesus was a welcomed guest in the life of his friends. He often stayed at their homes. He ate with them, walked with them, prayed with them and for them. He ministered to their families. Jesus set a high bar for friendship, in word and deed; its blessings are inclusive and expansive, because the nature of a blessing is never stagnant. It is meant to spill over and be shared.
Friendship with Christ is dynamic. It is sweet communion with God and others; it challenges every believer to be more than just receivers of his gifts, but givers too. And Jesus empowers friends to serve others with a share of his very own love and grace.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another (John 13:35).
The friendly love of Jesus is not stingy. It is generous and lavish without being pretentious. It has the power to heal and renew. It is magnanimous and steadfast. It is pleasing, true, and beautiful, not cheap or superficial. It is strong, honest, and chaste. And that's what makes it so very attractive.
Oh, what a friend we have in Jesus. And what friends we can be in Jesus! The Apostles, martyrs, and saints bear this out.
I've read enough saints' biographies to know that healthy long-term friendships, and loving human connections maintained over the long term, produce powerful transformations in others. It is no wonder that the faith of one saint influences and evangelizes future saints. Their lives give birth to imitation or prodigy.
St. Francis of Assisi had famous followers in St. Clare, St. Anthony, and St. Bonaventure. St Clare's friendship edified St. Agnes of Prague. St. Ambrose mentored St. Augustine. St. Albert the Great was teacher to St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Francis de Sales was friend to St. Jane Frances de Chantal.
Today the church liturgy recalls the memorials of Sts. Timothy and Titus, true friends of St. Paul and key players in the evangelization of the nascent Church. Paul, like Jesus, created community wherever he went. The magnetism generated by his burning love for God drew others to the Gospel by his words and extraordinary life.
Encouraged by and through their holy friendships, Paul eventually ordained Timothy to lead the early church at Ephesus, and Titus in Crete. Paul writes affectionately about both men in his pastoral epistles. Paul, their spiritual father and longtime friend, characterizes them as his dear "children." (See 2 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4.)
Timothy became one of Paul's most significant collaborators. For years, these two friends were inseparable and their ministry benefitted from their alliance. Timothy was a trusted confidant and six of Paul's letters mention him as a co-sender.
Titus was a Gentile, a convert from the church Paul established in Corinth. Paul praised Titus for his fervent heart and missionary spirit as a "partner and co-worker" (2 Cor. 8:6, 16-23). Paul later sent Titus to Crete to preach the gospel and demonstrate how it ought to be lived.