Up Front and Personal

Friendship: The Heart of Life

by Father Eugene Hemrick

“Mom, how is it going?”

“Gene, I lost another friend. I guess this goes with the territory of getting older.”

As difficult as losing close friends is, it reminds us of the immeasurable value of friendship. My grandfather would say if you come to the end of life with one good friend, you’re blessed.

Like so many of us, I pine for those days of sharing my thoughts and feelings with wonderful friends who are now deceased.

The Book of Genesis contains a beautiful example of give-and-take and openness found in friendship when Abraham tries to coax God to be merciful with Sodom and Gomorrah.

The philosopher Cicero defines friendship as the “mutual harmony in affairs human and divine coupled with benevolence and charity.” The dialogue between Abraham and God exemplifies friends who know each other intimately and are earnest in preserving harmony.

The word “benevolence” comes from “bene” and “velle”: to wish the best. Such is the root of benevolence in the friendship of Abraham and God of which Cicero speaks.

In Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov a woman seeks counsel from the revered monk Father Zosima.  “The thought of the life beyond the grave distracts me to anguish, to terror. And I don’t know to whom to appeal and have not dared to all my life. … How can I get back my faith?” she asks him.

Father Zosima replies, “By the experience of active love. Strive to love your neighbor actively and indefatigably. In as far as you advance in love, you will grow surer of the reality of God and of the immortality of your soul. If you attain to perfect self-forgetfulness in the love of your neighbor, then you believe without doubt, and no doubt can possibly enter your soul. This has been tried. This is certain.”

Not a day passes in which beneficence and living harmoniously are attacked. Fear tactics, hostilities, suspiciousness and untruthfulness are today’s archenemies of friendship.

In Spanish, “amigo” means friend and “enemigo” means enemy. One of the biggest challenges we face is how to increase the amigo needed to overthrow enemigo.

Father Hemrick writes for the Catholic News Service column “The Human Side.”

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