Sanity And Sanctity In Friendship
by Rev. Mark Connolly
Originally published in February 1999
A great number of definitions have been given throughout the passage of time concerning friendship. Cicero defined friendship as an agreement in things sacred and profane, accompanied by good will and love. St. Alfred when talking about friendship once said that there really can be no true friendship between Christians unless Christ comes in to make a third.
Friendship is often misunderstood and mistaken for something else. All of us throughout the course of life have many associates and companions, but truly very few friends. We are called to meet many people, but so often both parties decide that a friendship is not possible. Our Lord summed it up when he said, "many are called, but few are chosen." The demands of friendship are so many that few people can really pay them. Friendship is a costly but rewarding personality venture and experience.
Friendships are very similar to the sacraments. In fact in one sense you can call friendship a sacrament. It is an outward sign instituted by Christ and does give grace to those who have cultivated the friendship. A person never cultivates a friendship just because it will be to his advantage. They are not entered into it just for the sake of what we can get. Nor is it entered to just ward off the loneliness and the boredom that so many people have. Friendship is only for those who believe that they do have something worth revealing to a friend, that there is an intrinsic value in them which others ought to find attractive. The trouble with most human friendships is that one, or usually both, of the partners really are not convinced that they have anything to offer.
Henry Adams, when writing about friendship, once said, "to have one friend in life is much, two are rare and three are hardly possible." In order to make sure that we don't confuse friends with acquaintances, or friends with associates, friendship has to be considered as something of deep personal value to you and to the one who is the object of your friendship. To make sure that our understanding of friendship is as deep as it should be, consider friendship as a challenge to your personality development; as an experience that will enable you to grow; and as a factor that will increase your sanity and sanctity.
The first point to keep in mind is a challenge to your personality. When you decide that this person is to be your friend and that person decides the same about you, a process has developed that will profoundly change both personalities. It is the process of sensitivity. You have, from that moment onwards, cast your lot and life into a new venture. The person who offers his friendship to you is saying, "Let us trust one another, there is nothing to be afraid of in my personality." That is the basis of your friendship. You, who accept that offer of friendship, must accept and forget your own personal fears and hangups and have the same feeling of sensitivity toward the person who is to be your friend. Each one, aware and sensitive to the faults of another, accepts what is given with complete trust. In the developing of every friendship there is always fear on the part of each one. Will I be hurt? Will I be let down? Will I be disappointed or disillusioned? This risk is always there. It has to be taken. The risk that is in the challenge of a friendship is perhaps the most demanding risk of all. Friendship, or the developing of friendships, is the greatest risk your personality can take. The reward that you experience from the risk you take is, and can be, the greatest reward two human beings can experience. This is the challenge that has to be met if we wish to cultivate solid friendships.
The second point concerning friendship is that it is an experience that will enable you to grow. It is for better or worse a maturing experience. The experience of a friendship is next to marriage the closest union that two people can have. Every friendship that you have with another man or woman is going to enrich your own relationship with your husband or wife. You receive the ideas, the thoughts, the values, the principles of another. If these thoughts enrich you, then they enrich those who are near and dear to you. Each person puts his life, his temperament, for better or worse, on a sacrificial block. The two parties who are developing this friendship can say, "I will offer you my personality, my disposition, my temperament. I will put myself at your service. I will not hide, nor shirk. My faith in you is so great that I am putting myself in your complete trust." If you have read the background for the opera Nabucco, you might recall the scene where the faithful servant is leaving his master. Here they were as close s two humans could be. The slave, on being sent into exile says, "I leave you, but I shall never be absent." The master turns to him and says, "We shall be separated, but we shall never be apart." And then the chorus takes up the beautiful Hebrew slave song as the people are sent into exile. Any person who is fortunate enough to have a solid friendship knows that the thoughts that exist between personalities will enrich the minds of each one, will enhance his outlook, will stimulate each other's thinking. So instead of hurting a marriage, it enriches the partner in marriage. A true friendship is an asset to a true marriage. It is not meant to interfere with a happy marriage. It is not intended to be a substitute for an unhappy marriage. If there is fear present, then it really is not a genuine friendship.
The third point to be considered is that a solid friendship will increase your sanity and help you grow in sanctity. When you offer yourself to one whose friendship you are trying to cultivate, what you say is something like this: I promise that the good in me will become better because of our relationship. As the terror and fear disappears, the promise of a friendship can grow and grow. Developing a friendship is like going on long voyage that has never been charted before. It teaches you to have confidence in another. It enables you to have a sense of trust in another. In this relationship, there is a sense of hope, a sense of expectation, a sense of adventure, a sense of joy. Each one is saying to the other, "I promise from this day forward to be myself, to have you find me with all my limitations." When people know that they can be at ease with another, they have a definite degree of peace. When they know that someone does care and is concerned, they can realize the powerful words of Christ, "love one another as I have loved you."
Friendship must be understood in these terms, first, it is a challenge to your personality; second, it is an experience that will enable you to grow; and third, that a solid friendship is a help to sanity and sanctity.
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