Arts and Culture

Friendship: A Grace That Can Sanctify

Fifth in a series

SEVERAL YEARS AGO I was having dinner with some close friends, among whom were a resigned priest and his wife. He and his wife knew several resigned priests and their spouses and socialized often with them. At one point during the dinner, the wife said to me: “How come, Bob, you have not resigned from the priesthood?” She was not prying, but was genuinely curious. Almost with no reflection, I immediately responded: “I have been blessed with wonderful friends.”

Later in reflecting on my response, I thought of many other answers I might have given. For a few moments, I was surprised that my answer mentioned my friends. If I had to go into more detail during the dinner, I could have spelled out why I consider friends such a blessing in life and how, especially in my life, they have supported my choice of vocation.

Close friends are a great blessing in life. The more I think about my friends, the more I become aware of how much I have received and receive from them.

In his “Person and Being” (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1993), Father W. Norris Clarke offers some insights into the importance of friendship. After discussing the intrinsic dynamism toward communication within all beings, Father Clarke writes: “Now when this intrinsic dynamism toward self-communication is realized on the level of personal being as such it turns into a self-conscious, free self-communication. In a word, it turns into love in some form. Despite all the conflicted drives within our flawed human nature, it is still connatural for a human person to be a lover, to go out towards others we love, sharing what we have and wishing them the good they need for their own flourishing for they too are good by a participation in being similar to our own.

“To be an actualized human person, then, is to be a lover, to live a life of inter-personal self-giving and receiving. Person is essentially a ‘we’ term. Person exists in its fullness only in the plural.” (p. 76)

If what Father Clarke has written is true, and I think it is, then the value of close friends is one of the great gifts in life. The gift close friends offer is unique and, I believe, necessary for personal growth.

I knew a priest-professor who claimed that everyone was his friend. When I would walk around campus with him, I was amazed at the number of people he knew. He would pass students and other teachers and call a greeting to them and perhaps inquire about their courses or their families. I was impressed with his readiness to greet people and to know something about their lives. However, as I came to know him better, I discovered that he had no close friends. He had many acquaintances, but he would never allow anyone to get close. I think he suffered because of that. He was excluding from his life the possibility of relationships that could be a great grace.

I want to stress that close friends can be a grace, or at least a channel of God’s grace. On every level of being human, we co-exist. We co-exist on the level of knowledge. Think of how dependent we are on newspapers and television news. Think of how dependent we have been on our teachers in the schools we have attended.

In the mystery of God’s providence, we also co-exist spiritually and I think this is very mysterious. When I think of the Sisters of Charity from Halifax who taught me in Our Lady of Angels grammar school in Bay Ridge, the word “dedication” comes to mind. These were incredibly dedicated women. Making enormous sacrifices for their students, they were models of dedication. They influenced me and countless others for life.

I think of the Jesuits who taught me at Xavier High School in Manhattan. I was the beneficiary of the dedicated service of men who had given their lives to serve me and others. Their dedication was not for a weekend, or a few months, but for life. I cannot even guess how much I owe them.

As Catholics, we believe that the Risen Christ lives within us if we are free from serious sin. When we encounter one another, we bring not only ourselves into the friendship, but also the Risen Lord. We do not save or redeem people. Only Christ does that. However in God’s providence, close friendships can be fulfilling and even sanctifying. I find that awesome.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his 24-part lecture series on the Catholic Novel, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. on NET-TV.

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