The gift of authentic friendship is one to be treasured
It is not uncommon today to have a “friends list” numbering in the thousands, as though it’s unthinkable or snobbish to put some kind of quality control on who we let into our inner circle.
Many of us are quick to collect friends. But friendship is not the same as extending good will to our neighbour. As Christians, good will to neighbours is a non-negotiable. Friendship, however, is exclusive and has every right to be.
Calling congeniality “friendship” is heartbreaking and we are all poorer for it. It is akin to calling every flower a rose. Christ had 12 disciples. There were certainly contenders who didn’t make the cut.
“Let those who are friendly to you be many, but one in a thousand your confidant. When you gain friends, gain them through testing and do not be quick to trust them” (Sirach 6).
St. Catherine of Siena wrote that friendship was an opportunity “to bring each other to birth in the gentle presence of God.” Her love for her friends was matched only by her boldness of speech in addressing their weaknesses. While praying for her friends, St. Catherine asked God to “let them be illuminated with [his] light and let all imperfection be taken from them.”
Friendship cannot grow quickly in most natural cases (God makes exceptions, of course!) In an essay on friendship, 19th-century poet Ralph Waldo Emerson writes, “We snatch at the slowest fruit in the whole garden of God, which many summers and many winters must ripen. We seek our friend not sacredly, but with an adulterate passion which would appropriate him to ourselves.”
Many do not have the patience to ripen friendships. Perhaps more importantly, many have not been taught how to become a good friend. Truly, becoming a good friend is a long apprenticeship. Being a good friend takes a generosity that must be grown and tended diligently, first in the small things and later in the larger moments.
Authentic friendship can only be found in the overflow – the overflow of a life lived in the spirit. The Scriptures say: “From His fullness, we have all received” (John 1:16). We can only hope to be a good friend, neighbour, sister, brother if we receive from his fullness.
If we are good, it is only because he has poured his goodness into our hearts, into our relationships. It is all overflow. We should not expect anything but the overflow from our friends, nor should we dare to offer them anything but the overflow of a heart in communion with God. Anything else is not in keeping with the dignity of the baptized.
Those involved in friendships that do not seek to “let the fruit ripen over many summers,” or to “birth the other soul in the gentle presence of God,” must ask themselves whom it is they are ultimately serving.
In eternity, we will see the expansion of our hearts; we will have the capacity for deeper communion, that is, friendship.
Here below, we cannot physically have many close friends because we have limited emotional capital. Friendship is a pricy investment. When time and compassion have no end, neither will friendship.