by Rev. Mark Connolly

Many years ago the famous French philosopher, Albert Camus, said there is no life worth while unless it is lived in relationship to another. With that line as a background, I would like to share a few thoughts with you on one subject that has to be meaningful to your life if you life is to have any contentment, serenity and happiness. It is the subject of friendship.

If you study the life of Jesus Christ he made it very clear about the importance of friendships in his life. When he told his apostles greater love than this no one has than he who lays down his life for a friend, he was reminding them that a person who has a solid friendship on earth, has a touch of heaven on earth. Every one of us, like Christ, has been betrayed during the course of our life and it hurts, especially if you have a degree of closeness with the one who has hurt you. Christ experienced this same situation in his own life. Here he was kind and generous and compassionate to his apostle Judas and when Judas led a crowd of men into the garden of olives after betraying him, Christ looked at Judas and simply said, "friend, for what purpose have you come?" Christ, like any one of us, felt the hurt of being betrayed. And yet, if you analyze the life of each one of us, all of us know that our lives have been enriched by that one person that gave us a sense of purpose, taught us there was a better world than the one we are now living in, made us feel that tomorrow would be a better day and helped us through whatever problem we were carrying in our own personalities at that time. Many of us throughout life have a lot of associates, have a lot of companions, have a lot of people who come in and out of our lives, but very, very few have that solid friendship that is a touch of heaven on earth. And why? Because the demands of friendship are so great that very few people want to pay them for that exclusive relationship with you. Henry Adams in his beautiful work on friendship once said, to have one friend in life is much, two are rare, and three are hardly possible.

If you study many of the clinical cases of young people or older people with depressions, you will find that they have one common denominator, most of them do not have a close intimate friend. Someone said a friend is one with whom all your secrets are safe. Young people and older people often have a sense of distrust for those with whom they associate in life and as a result they never go that extra mile to cultivate a friendship that can soothe them, comfort them and in many ways support them. We do not enter a friendship because of what we can get. We enter a friendship because of what we can give. Friendships of necessity have to be filled with personal generosity. A generosity of self and a generosity of spirit. If you study the life of Christ, he made it very clear to his apostles that he wanted a solid friendship with them on earth. And that solid friendship would one day be totally experienced in the kingdom of heaven. There is a constant discussion going in marriage whether one wife or one husband can for life have a total and exclusive solid relationship with the other.

You can argue as much as you like on the subject of friendship of what the necessary ingredients mut be. But in all cultures there are certain qualities that have to be present if a solid friendship is ever to exist between husband and wife or with those outside the marriage. First of all, there must be the quality of generosity. A true friend has no expectations of ever being repaid for something he has done for you. The real test of generosity is seen in this way. When a crisis has occurred and you are in need of a favor from a friend, long after that favor has been given and the crisis has past, you the recipient have no feeling of obligation or indebtedness. That is really what Christ has in mind when he said, greater love than this no one has than he who lays down his life for a friend.

Another quality that has to be developed in the cultivation of a friendship is the quality of magnanimity or greatness of soul. If you analyze the life of Christ, again, during his relationship with his apostles, he had to show this quality in the form of extraordinary patience. When he was in need of their help and it did not come, there was no rancor or bitterness. This quality of magnanimity enables us to take the extra step no matter how we have been hurt in fostering and solidifying that solid friendship.

The third quality that has to be kept in mind concerning the cultivation of a solid friendship is that it has to be genuine. Shakespeare reminded us of this when he said, to thy own self be true. Young or old, cannot develop techniques of affectation just to belong to a particular group or to associate with a particular person. If you develop these artifacts or techniques just to belong and you never let the other person see your genuine qualities that contain both strengths and weaknesses, if that quality of being genuine is lacking there never will be a solid friendship inside or outside of marriage.

Friendships even though they were never intended to be this way can be what Saint Robert Bellarmine called the eighth sacrament. We all grew up in our Baltimore Catechism days knowing and being taught there were seven sacraments. He said the church should add another one and it should be called the sacrament of friendship.

Friendships were never intended to be an antidote for depression or an antidote for loneliness, but friendships can help a person who has an extraordinary degree of loneliness, an extraordinary degree of depression. There is no person that old that is unable to cultivate a friendship. Everyone has that capacity to develop a friendship with another. There is no question that people who take Prozac and St. John's wart definitely should continue to take it under a doctor's direction. But there is no doubt in both the western culture and the eastern culture that friendship is a tremendous factor in helping one retain their sanity. Perhaps the greatest lines ever written on the subject of friendship where written by Cardinal Newman and it goes something like this:

O most kind and loving friend, if you have met someone in your life who has comforted you, has made you feel better about yourself, if he has told you that there is a higher life than this daily one and has encouraged you or soothed you, remember such a one in time to come and thou you hear him not and pray for him that at all times and in all things he may know God's will and be ready to fulfill it.

If you while on this earth have experienced a solid friendship with your spouse or with another, then you have experienced something that is bordering on a sacrament. It is inspirational and it is uplifting and that friendship is a touch and a taste of the friendship we will have with Christ in eternity.

A Prayer For Our Friends

O blessed Lord,
who hast commanded us
to love one another,
grant us grace
that having received thine undeserved bounty,
we may love everyone in thee and for thee.
We implore thy clemency for all;
but especially for the friends whom
thy love has given to us.
Love thou them, -
O thou foundation of love,
and make them to love thee
with all their heart,
that they may will,
and speak,
and do those things only
which are pleasing to thee.

- St. Anselm (1033-1109)

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