This year’s Conference is geared to build Christian camaraderie among the men who attend in order that they become more faithful fathers, husbands, brothers, sons and disciples. This is accomplished through presentations and seminars, opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation and for Eucharistic Adoration, and a closing celebration of the Eucharist with clergy from throughout Connecticut. All are invited! Visit: https://ctcatholicmen.org/detailed-overview.
How does Christian friendship relate to friendship with God?
For a decade, Irene and Alyssa shared friendship — as singles, then as newly married women and mothers raising children in a Midwestern Catholic community. But they became close friends only when they also shared their suffering. When Irene was going through a difficult trial more than 15 years ago, she let her guard down and confided in Alyssa. Both women realized they’d been longing for a deeper Christian friendship. (Their names have been changed. They spoke on condition of anonymity.)
Irene said, “It’s higher than just helping someone carry a cross to take their pain as your own. I feel like she does that for me.”
Alyssa agreed: “I think others see that she helps me be a better person. She helped me find the Lord in a moment of despair.”
Bearing one another’s burdens “shoulder to shoulder” is a mark of spiritual friendship, as 12th-century English monk St. Aelred of Rievaulx wrote in his book of the same name.
Drawing on the wisdom of St. Aelred and others, as well as the experiences of Christian friends, what makes a friendship spiritual or Christian? How does it differ from other types of friendship? And how does Christian friendship relate to friendship with God?
Christian friends care for each other, share life and prepare for heaven together. They model virtue and grow in it together, sometimes with a common mission. Unlike other friendships, Christ is a third Person in their cohort, teaching them through his example and their lived experience. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”
Since they were Jesuit novices in Spokane in 1974, Fathers Robert Spitzer and William Watson shared a love for God and truth, though they often reach conclusions differently. Father Spitzer’s analytical nature and Father Watson’s intuition have proven complementary.
The friends’ vision and love for the truth has strengthened their friendship, said Father Watson, 63, founder and president of Sacred Story Institute in Seattle. “It’s a desire to creatively and in different ways help people access that so they can believe in the Good News.”
Their differences also amuse them. “I might not have missed the 43rd premise in an argument, but I can miss the perfectly obvious,” said Father Spitzer, 65, president of the Magis Center in Garden Grove, California, and host of the EWTN series Father Spitzer’s Universe.
“We definitely appreciate one another’s strengths, and we feel very free to not critique so much as to point to the possible errors of omission in one another’s thinking or, in my case, feeling.”
Christian friends may have complementary gifts, but according to St. Aelred, they must possess loyalty, right intention, discretion and patience, said Redemptorist Father Dennis Billy, a professor at the Mishawaka, Indiana-based Graduate Theological Foundation and staff member at Notre Dame Retreat House in Canandaigua, New York.
Benevolence, actively seeking the other’s well-being and reciprocity also mark Christian friendship, he said.
Friends help each other grow in virtue, and because of virtue, they’re able to share a common purpose in life, said John Cuddeback, a professor at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, who writes about friendship at his blog “Bacon From Acorns.”
God reaches out to us through our human friends to prepare us for divine friendship, Cuddeback explained. “Christ offers us his love through our friends and hoping that friendship leads us back to friendship with him.”
Prayer, spiritual direction and study about friendship can help Catholics seeking Christian friendships, Cuddeback said.
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales advised forming friendships only with those with whom one can share virtuous things. “If your mutual and reciprocal exchanges concern charity, devotion and Christian perfection, O God, how precious this friendship will be!” he wrote. “It will be excellent because it comes from God, excellent because it leads to God, excellent because its bond will endure eternally in God.”
Scripture tells of special friendships Christ had with Sts. John, Martha and Mary Magdalene. Other examples of close Christian friendships include: Sts. Peter and Mark; Sts. Paul and Timothy; and Sts. Gregory Nazianzen and Basil. Of his friendship with St. Basil, St. Gregory wrote: “It seemed that in us there was only a single soul dwelling in two bodies.”
Though they lived in different centuries, Blessed John Henry Newman and Father Henri Nouwen were both theologians and spiritual writers whose close Christian friends deeply affected their lives and helped them grow spiritually.
Cardinal Newman and Father Ambrose St. John were lifelong friends who entered the Catholic Church together in 1845. The friends shared life and were even buried together, a sign some say that their earthly friendship would lead to communion in heaven.
In a sermon entitled, “Love of Relations and Friends,” Cardinal Newman wrote, “The Ancients thought so much of friendship, that they made it a virtue. In a Christian view, it is not quite this; but it is often accidentally a special test of our virtue. … But what is it that can bind two friends together in intimate converse for a course of years but the participation in something that is Unchangeable and essentially Good, and what is this but religion?”
In the 20th century, Father Nouwen had many close friends to whom he wrote thousands of letters.
In his book Love in a Fearful Land: A Guatemalan Story, Father Nouwen wrote, “Friendship has always belonged to the core of my spiritual journey. God has given me many friends, and each of them has played a significant role in my thinking, feeling, thinking and acting.”
These and similar stories are common in good friendships, according to Cuddeback, because “we grow in our ability to live a truly human, and even a truly divine, life together by rolling up our sleeves and holding one anther accountable and striving together.”
Not only do Christian friends know one another, they also look outward — and upward toward God — together, he said.
Fathers Spitzer and Watson share a desire to evangelize. Before establishing their own ministries, they collaborated at two universities, sharing the faith and virtue.
“We not only came alive by giving those students those things, our friendship came alive,” Father Spitzer said. “We were on mission together. Our hearts individually and collectively came alive and made the friendship alive.”
As married women, Alyssa and Irene also share a common mission — caring for their husbands and raising their children in the faith.
Christian friendships ought to “begin in Christ, continue in Christ and be perfected in Christ,” St. Aelred wrote.
Christ-centered friendships resemble a triangle: Each friend has a relationship with Christ, and the bond in Christ’s spirit overflows into their bond with one another, according to Father Billy.
Christian friendship is very much needed, Father Billy said.
“We need to develop in our Church ways to help people look at their relationships and have discretion about whether this is a friendship to invest in.”
Holy, sacred friendship is necessary for those living in the world who want to live in true virtue, St. Francis de Sales wrote. “By this means they encourage, assist and lead one another to perform good deeds.”
Now living in different states, Father Spitzer and Father Watson meet less frequently, but they noted that St. Ignatius, who founded the Society of Jesus, and St. Francis Xavier also were close friends who mostly communicated by letter while St. Francis traveled as a missionary. “We have the kind of friendship that, within a minute of being together, picks up where it left off,” Father Watson said.
Father Spitzer and Father Watson haven’t had new opportunities to tour Montana in a red Pontiac Trans Am, as they did in 2001, but they remain longtime Christian friends on a mission.
Said Father Watson of his Christ-centered friendship with Father Spitzer: “We both know the One who makes everything work.”
Susan Klemond writes from
St. Paul, Minnesota.
National Catholic Register
A gifted speaker. Enjoy every minute…..
The reading this morning from Acts 5: 17-26 has an angel of the Lord releasing Peter and the Apostles from prison so they can be preaching in the Temple area to the suprise of the Sanhedrin in the morning!
The magazine Word Among Us, which I read everyday and recommend to you, had an excellent short piece from this reading this morning about learning where God’s wants you to be. It follows below:
Go and take your place in the temple area. (Acts 5:20)
It’s a dramatic scene. The full council of Jewish elders has assembled for the trial of Jesus’ apostles. But a report comes that the apostles have disappeared from the jail and are once more preaching in the Temple precincts. Just as the angel had told them to, they took their “place,” both geographically and spiritually.
You have a place where God wants you to be as well. Every day, you face countless decisions. Some are immediate, like what to have for lunch or which route to take to the gas station. Some are more long-term, like choosing a career path or deciding where to live. And others occupy a middle ground, like deciding whether to speak to a family member about your faith or choosing to speak up about a contentious social issue. It’s these medium and long-term decisions that God wants to help you make. He has a place for you in this world, and he wants to help you discover it.
So how can we find our place? The first and best way has to do with habits—the habit of inviting the Lord into our decision making and the habit of listening for the Spirit’s gentle promptings.
Neither of these habits comes easily. We are accustomed to making our own decisions or reacting immediately to a situation rather than listening for God’s guidance. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. In truth, there is no magic formula that fits all circumstances. The only thing we can do is keep trying to get into the habit. Over time, God’s voice will become clearer, and we’ll find our place more easily.
According to Brother Lawrence, the seventeenth-century monk behind the book The Practice of the Presence of God, “In the beginning a persistent effort is needed, . . . but after a little care, his love brings us to it.” At every crossroad, you can take up this “persistent effort.” In a challenging situation, pray, “Your will be done,” and spend just a moment or two to sense the Lord’s leading. When a big decision comes up, seek God’s guidance in prayer. Give it time. Be patient with yourself. Trust that God uses every effort of yours to mold you and place you exactly where he wants you.
“Lord, open my ears to hear you and my heart to sense you. Show me my place in your kingdom.”
Word Among Us