Arts and Culture

The Pope on Friendship

Fifth in a series

Who can tell why some memories that go back many years suddenly return? Seemingly buried in the past, something triggers them and catapults them into our consciousness.

As I started to read the section on friendship in Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation “Christus Vivit,” (“Christ Lives,” addressed to young people and to the entire people of God), a memory came back to me from 1953. I was in my first year at the major seminary, my third year in college. A professor of philosophy, Father James Coffey, gave me and another seminarian, who was a friend of mine, a special assignment. He asked us to present a special class on the idea of friendship in the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle.

I chose to present Plato’s philosophy, my friend chose Aristotle’s. Our presentation went exceptionally well. My friend went out of his way to compliment me on my presentation. I didn’t think I had done anything exceptional, but 20 years later, when I had become a professor of philosophy, Jim Coffey, in a private conversation with me, referred to what an exceptional presentation I had made. I cannot recall the last time I thought about that class in 1953. For some reason Pope Francis’ insights into friendship caused the memory of that class to surface.

About friendship, Pope Francis writes the following:

“Friendship is no fleeting or temporary relationship, but one that is stable, firm and faithful, and one that matures with the passage of time. A relationship of affection that brings us together and a generous love that seeks the good of our friend. Friends may be quite different from one another, but they always have things in common that draw them closer in mutual trust and love.

“Friendship is so important that Jesus calls himself a friend: I do not call you servants any longer, but I call you friends (Jn 15:15). By the gift of his grace, we are elevated in such a way that we truly become his friends. With the same love that God pours out on us, we can love him in turn and share his love with others, in the hope that they will take their place in the community of friendship that he established. And even as he enjoys the complete bliss of the life of the resurrection, we, for our part, can work generously to help him build his kingdom in this world by bringing his message, his light and above all his love to others. (Jn 15: 16)The disciples heard Jesus calling them to be his friends. It was an invitation that did not pressure, but gently appealed to their freedom.” (pp.72-73)

Jesus and his message must have been experienced as enormously attractive because, after they encountered Jesus, his disciples left everything and followed him.

Whenever I try to reflect on the blessings and graces that I have received in my life, which in a sense may be a foolish activity because all is grace, I think about my friends. All through my life — but especially since I have been an ordained priest — I have been blessed with wonderful friends, people who love me and upon whom I can rely. So many people have given me their love that I feel humbled. My friends are wonderful gifts in my life.

Pope Francis is wise to present Jesus as a friend upon whom we can rely, a friend who will never abandon us. Jesus will never break the love relationship with us. We cannot commit a sin that is so terrible that Jesus will stop loving us. Jesus’ love for us is all gift. We don’t have to earn it, merit it, or win it. It is given freely by Jesus.

For some reason I have been thinking recently about Judas. Whenever terrible sins are imagined, I think many of us spontaneously think of Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. We know this was a terrible sin. Judas betrayed the Son of God. I am wondering if when we enter heaven we might be surprised to see St. Judas. Perhaps in the last seconds of his life, while he was hanging on the tree, Judas whispered, “I’m sorry.”

Pope Francis’ assertion is that ideally friendship matures with the passage of time. From an original attraction, friends can deepen their relationship almost infinitely.

There is an unlimited depth to each person, and friends can enter into the depth of each other. If Jesus is our friend, then we can enter into the depth of God. That should not frighten us. Rather, it is a cause for rejoicing, because to enter into the depth of Jesus is to enter into the depth of love. We will not lose ourselves by growing in relationship with Jesus, but rather find ourselves as renewed and liberated.

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

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