Arts and Culture

Friendship and Holiness

by Father Robert Lauder

Twelfth and Last in a Series

IN CLASS THIS spring, though I had not planned to say anything about friendship when I prepared my lecture, I spontaneously said that I thought friendship was one of life’s great blessings. Later in the day, reflecting on what I had said in class, I recalled that there was a time in my life when I thought that friendships were more than a little dangerous. They could be obstacles to our relationship with God, or so I thought. Now I think that friendships can be one of the most important ways through which God communicates with us. I fact, I think that examining the ways that we interact with our friends might give us some idea of how we interact with God.

In his book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life (HarperOne, An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2010, 432 pages, $26.99), Father James Martin, S.J., writes the following:
“Friendship is a blessing in any life. For believers it is also one of the ways God communicates God’s own friendship. But for friendship to flourish, neither the friendship nor the friend can be seen as an object to be possessed. One of the best gifts to give a friend is freedom…..
“How many times have you wondered why your friends weren’t ‘better’ friends? How many times did being a ‘better’ friend mean meeting your needs? How often have you wondered why your friends or family members don’t support you more? How often have you worried whether you were being a good friend? These are natural feelings. Most of us also know the heartache of seeing friends move away, or change, or grow less available to us.”  (p. 243)

One way to ruin a friendship is by being too possessive. We can be tempted to want our friends to fulfill all our needs. And when they don’t, we blame them. No finite being, no creature is going to be able to fulfill all our needs and to expect them to is to impose an impossible burden on them. Marriage counselors tell me that often when a couple comes for counseling either the wife or husband starts the session by proclaiming that the other partner does not completely fulfill him or her. If someone said that to me, I would be tempted to say, “So you did not marry God? You married a flawed, finite human being, something like yourself!”

While spending several sessions with my discussion group on Father Martin’s book, I became aware again how blessed I am to have wonderful friends. The group members and I have been meeting for more than 20 years. Recently some members began to talk about the section in the book on poverty of spirit. As I mentioned in a recent column, every discussion group with which I have ever been involved eventually brings up the topic of our relative affluence and the extreme poverty of many people in the Third World. This time, the discussion called my attention to something that I previously knew but now saw in a new way. The people in the group are exceptionally generous people.

A young lawyer, who looked particularly weary at this meeting, without bragging, told how he does a considerable amount of work for people who can not afford a lawyer. This work can be demanding and even exhausting but he does not accept any money. A young therapist in the group takes patients who cannot afford her fee because she thinks she can help them. She willingly makes the monetary sacrifice in order to heal those who come to her for help.

Everyone in the group is in a service profession. Every person loves what they are doing and is grateful that they are able to do what they love even though they could make more money doing something else. Each of them has chosen a job, a vocation really, that is directed toward helping others. No one in the group is going to solve the problem of world poverty but I believe each makes a difference in the lives of others through the gift of self.

Lyricist Oscar Hammerstein was correct in telling us that if you become a teacher, by your students you will be taught. I have discovered that if you moderate a discussion group that deals with important topics, you may be inspired by the members of the group.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.