By Fr. Glenn Jones
While reading a text from one of the saints this weekend, a certain phrase rather leapt from the page: “…you are a most desirable friend”—the saint (Paulinus of Nola) thanking the recipient for a great favor done for a kinsman.
Would that we all comport ourselves in relationships so as to deserve such tribute! But … as we all have no doubt experienced—and might be ashamed to admit of ourselves—we often fall far short of such admiration … likely being viewed by—or, to our discredit, viewing—others as vehicles to selfish gain.
One of the most poignant compliments in all scriptures is given explicitly to very few: that of being called a friend of God: “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”; and he was called the friend of God…” (James 2:23) And yet … Christ’s faithful are also awarded this title, for Jesus Himself assures: “…I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”…followed by the unmatched (unmatchable!) honor … and attendant obligation: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit…” (John 15:15)
Yes, Jesus Himself was—and IS—“a most desirable friend”; indeed, He is far and away THE most desirable friend … for “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Being recipients of such great and selfless love, should we not, then, seek to become HIS “most desirable friends”?
How do we do that? How does one become a faithful friend? St. Thomas Aquinas writes that love can be defined as the seeking of the good of the other—sometimes, as we know, even (and at times especially) against what we can rightly judge as a self-destructive will or tendency of the other. We love Christ by seeking the good of those whom HE loves—ourselves, and the world.
To such seeking of the good for the other often belongs to fraternal correction—the often (very) uncomfortable pointing out of a damaging, and even ruinous, path that the friend may be following. This, in fact, is one of the purposes of confession—the sacramental confession that the Catholic Church offers its faithful. But, more widely common in the world, it is simply the mutual admissions of confidants.
Who is truer friend—one who strews flowers of flattery and validation along another’s path to destruction or pain, or the one who points out the dangers looming ahead … shattering false yet cherished illusions if need be? As we read in Proverbs: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” (Proverbs 27:5-6)
As an aside, Catholic confession is often a mystery to non-Catholics (and, sadly, even to Catholics who don’t take frequent advantage of it). But confession is certainly NOT an exercise of some perverted desire to listen to faults of others, but is rather offered for the very purpose of such fraternal correction of those faults, warning of consequences and giving (hopefully) good and Godly advice toward cultivating virtue and following that perfect Way of Jesus. And while confession can certainly be wearying (trust me!), it is also one of the most edifying duties of the priest, and quite cathartic for the penitent—part of the “friendship” of Christ through His minister toward His disciples. Because, all that God—and therefore Jesus—has ordained is solely for the true and greater Good of all.
This is why priests and ministers must be courageous and forthright (though gentle) in teaching the ways of God, for one who seeks Man’s approval rather than speaking truth loves himself rather than either the hearer OR God … feeding himself rather than God’s flock. Priests and Christian ministers are called to be God’s sheepdogs … barking in warning, protecting and guiding the flock, and even nipping their heels a bit when necessary … but always with their welfare in his heart. Always a faithful minister hears: “So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel…” (Ezekiel 33:7) The good sheepdog is ever faithful and ever loves his Master, and seeks to please the Master in all that he does, until called to rest beside the beloved Master in eternal slumber.
So how do we be “Jesus’s most desirable friends”? He tells us: “You are my friends if you do what I command you…This I command you, to love one another.” (John 15:14-17), as well as keeping before our mind’s eye St. John’s admonition: “…this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” (1 John 5:3)
As for other friendships, we resort also to St. Paul: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23) These are the mechanisms of friendship not only with God, but with all.
Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.