I know, I know… its been FOREVER since I have written anything.
Well – in my defense I have been writing. I just haven’t been finishing much. Hmm, I guess that is a pretty important step though…
SO! Where to begin? So much has happened!
For starters, I spent the morning laying barefoot in an old, creaky hammock with a gentle cool breeze contrasting the warm sunlight shimmering through the tree leaves and across my (terribly sunburned) face – with Intro to the Devout Life in one hand and an apple in the other. Nearby there are old pick-up trucks, rustic farmhouses, and well used American flags flyin’ everywhere in sight! And, of course, I have a beloved 8 year old girl hanging onto me everywhere I go.
Basically – I’M HOME!!!
Yipee! And what a fantastic week it has been already!
Firstly, I flew into Chicago just in time for an Institute wedding!! I was incredibly excited to be there, plus it was the first Traditional wedding I have ever attended. Beautiful! I am quite grateful for the opportunity! Of course, it was quite a celebration afterwards as well – even though I was drinking coffee by the gallon to try and keep my seriously jet-lagged brain awake long enough to carry a decent conversation. I wasn’t a complete catatonic killjoy though. Somehow I managed to be dragged to the dance floor a few times and tried a Long Island Ice Tea. Neither of those were very good for alleviating my tiredness, but it was fun.
Not only did I fly in just in time for a wedding… I also just so happened to fly in for the Feast of St. Philip Neri!! Which, also happens to be (whisper) my birthday. Shhh… I usually try to keep it on the “down-low”, but some friends of mine stubbornly remembered and certainly made it quite celebratory! One of my friends even sent me a birthday card along with one of her letters to a different friend of mine in Chicago, since she knew I was going to be staying there!! Now, that is pretty impressive, is it not?!
Of course, now that I am in St. Louis, my celebrations (of sorts) have only just begun!! In particular, I think I am most grateful just simply for the opportunities to visit my family and kidnap a few of my friends; to be able to repair and strengthen the mutual relationships which were stretched and strained by a 5,000 mile distance. And whatd’ya know? I was JUST reading about friendship in St. Francis de Sales’ Intro to the Devout life while gently swaying in that old hammock of mine. Perfect timing, eh? I’ve probably written about friendship a few times, but hey- I’ll just write about it again!
The chapters which I read dealt with friendship in a different way than I am used to reading about (heh, I probably shouldn’t mention that this is the 4th time I’ve read Intro… and I’m only NOW getting this); first from a cautionary point of view to watch for false friendships, then pointing out the qualities which mark a true friendship. Both of which we need to be aware of, because friendship is a beautiful and necessary, but very influential impact on our heart and soul.
“There is nothing on earth more prized that true friendship… [it] is the source of the greatest pleasures, and without friends, even the most agreeable pursuits seem tedious.” — St. Thomas Aquinas
Friendship? Or not?
Firstly though – forget about whether friendship is real or false, how do you know you even have a friendship to begin with? Particularly, the difference between a false friendship and no friendship is something I had never thought about before. Well, SFdS mentions two simple requirements in order for a friendship to actually form.
“Friendship requires mutual affections which are conscious and reciprocal.”
Isn’t that a really strange thought? I certainly had not really thought of this before; but after investigating my previous encounters, I can remember many one-sided “friendships” I have had. With myself in both places – under the false impression that we were friends and trying to get out from under someone’s constant extensions for friendship which were not mutual.
Friendship requires two people, who are both actively seeking a relationship with the other. If the other person isn’t interested or isn’t aware of you, then you don’t have friendship – you just have your love towards the other. Of course charitable love, whether or not it is reciprocated, is something we strive to show to every person, but isn’t always appropriate on a friendship level. For the most part it could end up being a foolish fixation towards the other person.
I bet most of us can probably think of times where we were on the receiving end of friendship opportunity, which (for any number of perfectly natural and innocent reasons – personality clash, context, preference, time restraints, ect.) we didn’t care to reciprocate such affections. However, it’s a lot harder to realise the opposite situation. If you ever feel like you have to work too hard for the other’s attention, or if you never receive anything except politeness from them – be wary, this may not be friendship. It may very well be (it sounds pretty harsh, but it’s rather true)… a waste of time. Don’t completely forget about that person, but just accept that (no matter how much you try) it will never be a mutual friendship because they are not reciprocating the affections.
It’s ok though – I don’t mean to sound so harsh in this way. We can’t be really, truly friends with every person we get along with. There is nothing wrong with a friendly acquaintance or a casual friendship here and there. There is also nothing wrong with trying to extend a friendship. I mean – no two people are born friends, we all gotta start somewhere! It’s just simply something to watch out for.
“Friendship demands very close correspondence between those who love one another, otherwise it can never take root or continue.”
This is pretty straightforward and logical. You can’t be friends with someone you don’t talk to. You can’t truly love anybody you don’t know. One cannot share anything without actively sharing, there is no support without actively supporting, and no encouragement without actively encouraging. Now, how much correspondence is “very close”? I don’t exactly know the answer to that, but probably a lot more than you think. It would depend on the context of your friendship and how closely you value it. The more time you put into it, the deeper and more authentic your friendship will be. It’s directly correlated. You are gonna be better friends with somebody you talk to every day (not that we all can do that) than with someone you only talk to once a year (actually… you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re friends with someone you talk to once a year). Again – you can’t make time for everybody – so striving for those few, deeply bonded friendships is going to be much more worthwhile than having 100 little attachments.
The Dangers of False Friendship
Ok – so, SFdS talked of situations where there is no friendship whatsoever… now lets say you are friends with someone. There is a mutual interest between you and the other person, they are fun to be with and talk to, and you get along! Absolutely fantastic! There is nothing more special than having a great friend! Now… is this real friendship or false friendship? One will lift you to sanctity, but the other will drag your soul down like quicksand.
SFdS has some strong words of caution here:
“Whatever is founded on mere sensuality, vanity, or frivolity is unworthy to be called friendship. If two share false and vain things; their friendship will be false and vain.”
Ok – sensuality? Vanity? Frivolity? I think sometimes it’s hard to narrow these things down in real life. Particularly I think because we are often oblivious to our own superficiality. We love to laugh and feel like we’re having a “good time”. Laughter and gaiety are so necessary for a joyful spirit, but meaningless and immature laughter are all three of these adjectives: sensual, vain, and frivolous. Never laugh just to laugh. Laughter is a natural consequence of real, joyful conversation; not unnecessary giddiness over no particular reason.
“[False friendship] is founded on idle, foolish, pernicious words and actions with no meaning to better the other or themselves.”
Continuing off of the previous quote, the easiest way to determine whether or not your friendship is superficial and vain is to listen to/observe the conversation/actions which are produced. Do you actually have a conversation? Obviously deep conversation is something that develops as friendship grows; but still, if you’re only talking about the weather, what happened on your favourite tv show last night, jokes and “chit-chat”… you’ll never have time/won’t be able to make time for wholesome conversation, encouragement, and discussion. Girls – we are notorious for using gossip as a conversation filler. If you spend most of your time talking about other people, neither of you have any intention of actually getting to know the other person. Plus – your gossiping, which ‘aint a good thing anyway.
“Any friendship is false which often encounters temptations to sin – or sin itself!”
This should really be #1 on the list. It is the absolute opposite of what should be happening and is a situation you need to avoid at all costs. If it is bad enough – then even at the loss of your friend. St. John Bosco also talks of this by saying: “If you keep with those who are bad, you will become bad yourself, and you will be in danger of losing your soul.” As a Catholic, our first priority is our sanctity and the sanctity of others. What could possibly be more false and deceptive than saying you are friends with someone and care for their soul, yet leading or allowing yourself and your friend to be lead into a fiery trap?
What Real Friendship Actually Is
Alright – enough of this depressing stuff. After reading all that, I started wondering if I could actually be a decent friend to anybody! Obviously, we aren’t saints (yet!) so we all probably have some of those false, vain attributes getting in the way of developing real, Catholic friendships; but don’t let all those dark, serious cautions cast a cloud over your head. We can always strive to do better and we can help our friends to do better too! So – lets talk about what we should be looking for in a real, Catholic friendship and how we should be conducting ourselves as a real, Catholic friend.
“In the world those who aim at a devout life require to be united one with another by a holy friendship… those who are living in the world require such for strength and comfort amid the difficulties which beset them.”
As a Catholic – God is always our centre focus, so naturally, we expect our devotion to Him penetrate into every aspect of our lives – especially our friendships. These are so necessary for the encouragement and salvation of our soul and our friend’s souls as well. Our goal is heaven – and we, as lay people of the world especially, need all the help we can get! This is a terribly rocky road we travel on, and nobody (not even the saints!) can do it alone. This is why friendship exists, so it is what the focus of our friendship should be! For Heaven!
“…that honey is best which is culled from the choicest flowers, and so friendship built upon the highest and purest intercommunion is the best… it speaks a simple, honest language; communications between souls, not just worldly, superficial frivolities…”
Going back to the importance of conversation in our friendships, I have already touched on the need for communication in general. How else are you going to learn anything about the other person? But really, the purity of what conversation is present will determine how authentic the friendship is. The purity and simplicity of your conversation shows most ardently in your sincerity, gentleness, and willingness to listen. Additionally, all the cautions of false friendship mentioned before are not here. Of course we can joke and laugh and talk about who won the baseball game last night, but real friendship isn’t composed of this; rather it has its rock and foundation in our faith. That is what you will have in common. Do you talk about and discuss your faith, offering a chance to learn and grow in devotion? Do you live your faith in your friendship?
Real friendship shows our love towards the other’s soul. We are going to fail sometimes, and our friends will too. Real friendship doesn’t falsely support the other in their faults, but neither does it let them fail. Instead, it lets us pick the other up when they fall and encourages them in the contrary virtues, lest they should fall again. Your friends are your faithful reminder of your fight for sanctity, and you are theirs. Do you inspire your friends to sanctity? Do they inspire you? Having good Catholic friends will help you be a better Catholic… “For the precious ointment of devotion trickles continually from one heart to the other.”
There is no greater tragedy than to not have become a saint. If we desire anything for our friends in true, charitable love – it is to catapult them to heaven in any and every way possible. We should desire them to escape this great tragedy so much (if not more than we desire it for ourselves), that it should naturally consume our thoughts, actions, and words towards them. That is real, Catholic friendship. Together – for sanctity, for Heaven, and ultimately for the greater glory of God.
“If you keep good companions, I can assure you that you will one day rejoice with the blessed in Heaven” – St. John Bosco