Never Too Old For Friendship
by Rev. Mark Connolly
There is no one so old that they cannot cultivate a friendship. If you claim that you cannot, then you are also claiming that you are incapable of growing up in the sight of God and especially in the sight of man. Good friendships can be cultivated by all and should be. One of the most discouraging sights you can see throughout life is the fact that so many people do not know what a solid friendship is like and what it should mean in their lives. This is especially true among the young. When you see how many young people take their lives, that suicide is the number three killer in our country of young people between the ages of 18 and 22, it is a reminder that the young are in need of friendships that are lasting and sustaining. The older people have the same need. All you have to do to see how many older people are suffering from loneliness and boredom is to take trip not just to any mental institution or hospital, but just some day take a trip into the Port Authority Bus Terminal. There you will see, in the places where people are sitting down, people who are just there to watch the travelers come and leave the terminal - people who have not developed any friends, sitting together, just watching and waiting. These are the people who figure it is a better way to face the day than stay in their small apartments or rooms.
We must remember that we are never too old to cultivate a friendship. Your friendships are cultivated because people see in our attitude, your disposition, your temperament, your personality something that is warm, something that indicates that there is a friend in you.
But how do we keep our friends? How do we cultivate others? One quality that must be kept in our mind is that each person is in need of the sensitivity that only you can give. Without your being sensitive to him, the friendship will never develop. And how is this sensitivity developed?
First of all in your conversation. True friends should never be reduced to having only their relationship as a topic. Interest in other things should increase and not wane as a result of their association, and if the main topic is just going to be each other, then the friendship will become insipid and enfeebled. The element of sacrifice should be uppermost in the thoughts of each one. Sacrifice, and not satisfaction, is the expression of love. And the willingness to sacrifice the satisfaction of expressing affection is one of the hardest and highest forms the sacrifice can take. This must be clearly understood in any relationship outside of your marriage. Friends should be prepared to forego the gratification of either giving or demanding evidence.
A second way that sensitivity can be developed is through the art of understanding. What is more important than having the same likes and dislikes is having absolutely no secrets about them. You have to trust your friends with all your flaws. If I cannot exact this trust from you, then you are trying to be friendly with a person whom he can rarely know. This art of understanding means that as long as two people are growing up in friendship, that you and I must look for the goodness and the virtues that are in each other. A friendship is a partnership where two people try to understand each other not just for their own individual happiness, but for the safe guarding of their friendship. The desire to trust must be understood. Friendship does not mean that whenever you have a disagreement that you have to have a heart to heart conference. A friendship like anything else can suffer by way of exposure.
A third quality for the preservation of friendship, you must be authentic and genuine. All of us have foibles and shortcomings. We are so aware of them and so embarrassed by them that we resort to pretense, that we try to conceal that which others see. Some people are always putting a mask on their personalities. You will never get to reach them or know them. Being authentic means that without any self-deception, without any disguise, that person gets to know you, you as you are truly known to yourself. Without a desire to be authentic or genuine, there is no friendship possible. You are asking someone to become fond of an actor or actress.
Next to being genuine, a person has to be generous in his friendship. You never develop a friendship for what you can get. Such motivation kills friendships. You cultivate a friendship because you know that what you have as a person can enrich, inspire and help another. Giving of yourself is the most demanding phase of friendships, but will be the most rewarding. A true test of friendship centers around generosity. We know that the one who is our friend will be an ally when an alliance is necessary, will be the one who will nurse us in our sickness, defend our honor and name when the situation demands it. But the real test of being generous is that when a crisis has occurred, that long after the crisis is over, there is no feeling of indebtedness or feeling of obligation on the part of the one who has received your generosity. When you are developing the capacity to be generous you offer yourself as an oblation or sacrifice. There is no hope of being repaid anymore than Christ expected to be repaid. There is no thought that what you do will bring attention to you. It is a completely selfless personality who has this generosity. Christ summed it up when he said, "greater love than this no one has than he who lays down his life for his friend."
The last, but certainly not the least, a quality that should be developed is that which we call magnanimity. Here is where the life of Christ offers so many examples. When his apostles misunderstood, he still took the time to explain his point of view. When they misquoted him, he showed unusual patience. When he was on his way to Calvary, this greatness of soul or magnanimity was always there. When he was deserted by them, he did not reprove them. When he was in need of their help and it did not come, there was not vindictiveness or bitterness. He was always willing to take the extra step in maintaining his friendship. He was always willing to take the extra step especially when things and people and other circumstances had combined to hurt him. And this taking the extra step, this greatness of soul, this quality that we call magnanimity is that which is needed in the misunderstanding and adversities that take place either in marriage or in a friendship. When you look back in your own lives and recognize the people who at one time you called friends and then realize that friendship does not exist, you have to ask yourself, "Would this have been changed if both of us had this greatness of soul that we call magnanimity?" I think it would have. How many times have you seen a wife living in a marriage that is on the rocks, going through the motions, knowing that it is not all what it should be, yet showing on a daily basis, her greatness of soul? Oftentimes such a woman is not staying in the marriage because she likes the humiliation and the pain associated with it. What she is showing is the last breath of hope, that the marriage will turn around. We call this greatness of soul or magnanimity. It is needed not only in every marriage, but in every friendship.
The whole life of Christ was spent in cultivating solid friendships...that with his close friend, John the Apostle, that with the sister of Lazarus, called Magdalen; his own words to his apostles, such as "I did not come to earth to call you servants, but to call you my friends"; even Judas who betrayed him was given the last word of encouragement from Christ to change his way. When Judas confronted Christ in the Garden of Olives, Christ knowing what Judas had done, wanting so much to forgive him, just looked up at him and said, "friend, what reason has brought you to do this?"
The fringe benefits from solid friendships are many. Every friendship enriches your personality and the personality of another. It gives you insight into the life of another who is under the direction of the Holy Spirit. It helps you keep loneliness under control. It enables you to express yourself with the feeling that your secrets are safe as well as your sins. It is a valuable tool for those who are afflicted by boredom or tension. The person who does not have a friend is going to be prevented from growing up in the sight of God as rapidly as one does grow who has a friend. The person who lets smallness prevent a friendship from growing is one who has let their own sense of possessiveness out of control.
The greatest words on the subject of friendship were written by Cardinal Newman. In his famous sermon called "The Parting of Friends," he said, "and oh my brethren, o kind and affectionate hearts, o loving friends, should you know anyone whose lot it has been, by writing or by word of mouth in some degree to help you to act; if what he has said has told you what you knew about yourself or what you did not know; has read to you your wants and feelings and comforted you by this very reading, has made you feel that there was a higher life than this daily one and a brighter world than you see, or encouraged you, or sobered you, or opened a way to the inquiring, or soothed the perplexed, if what he has said or done, has ever made you take an interest in him, and feel well inclined to him, remember a one in times to come, though you hear him not and pray for him that in all times he may know God's will and at all times he may be ready to fulfill it."
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