"Although [God's Wisdom] is one, she can do all things,
and she renews everything while herself perduring;
Passing into holy souls from age to age,
she produces friends of God and prophets." - Wisdom 7:27
There are few things we humans experience in this life that are worth extolling more and offer deeper joy, and which can offer much sorrow as well at times, than friendship. It seems no matter what one’s background or beliefs we can all for the most part on a natural level agree that friendship offers meaning to life.
We have all seen many movies throughout the years that focus on the power, joy and importance of friendship. One movie in particular comes to mind, the 1980s film Stand by Me. In the film four twelve year olds discover there is a dead body out in the wilderness miles from their home. The boys decide, as friends, to go on a mission of sorts to recover the body. The movie is narrated by one of the characters in the future. Looking back this character sees how instrumental and powerful these friendships were in becoming who he is as an adult. The bond of friendship the boys form during their mission to the body would be with them for the rest of their lives – in the end it was not about finding a body, but about finding each other, for friendship’s sake.
As we see the benefits and how essential good friends are in one’s life, there is another reality of friendship that is driving all of our desires for friendship, namely friendship with God. Or better put: the reality that God desires to be our friend. There is not now, has been or will be a person created who is not destined for friendship with God. We are all invited to this supernatural relationship with God, Love Itself. God, St. Thomas Aquinas reminds us, extends friendship because the charity God gives to us is His very life. Supernatural charity desires our good in all circumstances and desires union with us.1 The Lord Jesus, God in the flesh, declares to his disciples (including us) after the Last Supper that “I no longer call you servants….I call you friends.” (John, 15:15) Our friendship with God consists of being loved unlike any other human friend can love us. His charity towards us in friendship gives us a comfort, compassion, and knowledge about our lives, especially our struggles and sufferings, which no human can provide.
If it’s true that the God of the universe desires to be and calls us our friend, then this not only requires a response of friendship back from us, but in so doing His grace perfects all of our other human friendships as well. Friendship then becomes also a source of grace and a source of experiencing the living God in one’s life. If we stop for a moment and think about it, we can begin to see how God has made Himself present to us in our earthly friendships. In fact, throughout the Christian tradition we can see numerous examples of the spiritual blessings of friendship. St Augustine in his Confessions, quoting the Roman poet Horace, speaks of a deep friendship he had had saying a friend “is half my soul.” Many saints and mystics have said that a friendship blessed by God’s grace is one mind and soul inhabiting two bodies. Those who have had the grace of a strong friendship know how true this is.
To keep ourselves open to receiving the friendship of God in His love and charity there are several things we can do. We ourselves need to stay open to receiving his grace in the sacraments of His holy Church, and also in cultivating a relationship with this Friend in taking time for prayer and contemplative mediation. In turn through His grace we will then be more and more configured to the image of Christ His Son causing us to grow in virtue and making us better friends with all those in our lives, especially the poor and the outcast. Such good friends we will become that we will be able to even lay down our lives for our friends, for as the Lord says, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for a friend.” (John 15:13)
So we see that our God comes to us from on high gracing us with His love infusing the very life of the Trinity within us. Then we love our friends with this same grace and life of the Trinity as one soul, for friendship in the end is a soul thing. This in a world where the concept of friendship is watered down with the ease of Facebook and social media ‘friends’; in a world of the hook-up culture where the idea of friendship is cheapened and used with the reality of ‘friends with benefits.’ May we pray to overcome our own weaknesses and grow in our friendship with the Almighty – for the benefits are truly out of this world.
Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. II-II, Q.23, a.1.