Spirituality for Today – June 2010 – Volume 14, Issue 11

The Power of Friendship In Our Lives

By Msgr. Frank C. Wissel, D.Min.

No human relationship is all that it ought to be until it has been elevated to the level of friendship. You and I may be neighbors, in the sense that we live in close proximity, but that can be problematical unless we are also friends.

A photo of several friends

A man and a woman may start as young lovers and become husband and wife. But that can become deadly dull, or even unbearably painful, unless somewhere along the way they also become friends.

The nearest and dearest of human relationships is the bond of birth and blood between parents and their children. But the natural relationship will fall short of fulfillment unless it grows into a spiritual relationship where father, mother, son and daughter learn to see each other as friends.

No human relationship is all that it ought to be without this blend of respect and affection, loyalty and trust that tie people together in friendship.

There is a gospel reading which reminds us that the relationship between Jesus and His disciples achieved that kind of fulfillment. In an upper room in Jerusalem, the night before his death, He said to them, "There is no greater love than this; to lay down one's life for one's friends."

Then He added, "I no longer speak of you as slaves; instead, I call you friends." That was Our Lord's interpretation of the cross —no wordy theology, no tedious theory of atonement, just a simple statement about laying down one's life for one's friends.

It was a terribly difficult time for the young prophet from Galilee. By human standards, His ministry had been a failure for the most part. His message had fallen on deaf ears. His followers were few and His enemies were powerful.

People in high places were determined to silence His meddlesome preaching and heretical teaching. He would not retreat, and they would not relent. The outcome was inevitable —He was going to die.

He faced those trying circumstances with a strength and courage that was super-human, but He did one thing that was very human: He turned to His friends. Trouble has a way of reducing life to its basics. When all is well, we may want and wish for many things. When serious trouble enters the scene, our desires become few and simple. Most of all we want the reassuring presence of a few close friends.

Commonly, we think of Jesus as a tower of strength on whom we can depend in time of need, and there is truth in that thought. Our need for Christ is, to some of us, indisputably evident. But that final week in Jerusalem, as the cross came closer and larger, Jesus Himself needed help. He reached out to His friends.

We know that they failed Him, which is sad, but long since forgiven. Our challenge now is to see to it that we do not fail those who turn to us in time of need.

At first glance, the quote "there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends" may seem a limited view of the cross. He is offering Himself for our sins and not for us only, but for those of the whole world.

Yes, on the night before He died, Jesus vowed that He was laying down His life for His friends. That brings Him very close to you and me in a very human sense.

Whenever we are discouraged about the human race as a whole, when saving the world just doesn't seem worth the effort, where do we turn to have our faith renewed?

We turn to our friends, that small segment of humanity who believe in us, just as we believe in them. It would be utterly impossible for us to believe in the human race if we had no friends.

Ordinarily, we think of friendliness as something that is gentle and kind. But today we are thinking of it in terms of power —its power to sustain us in the face of trouble, its power to undergird for times of sacrifice, and finally, its power to conquer the human heart.

We live in a world that bristles with military armaments. In that kind of world, we need to remind ourselves that the only power that can conquer the human heart is friendship.

It is the weapon with which Christ has taken possession of our lives. And it is the weapon with which He sends us forth to conquer the world —the power of friendship.