I Have Called You Friends: Pondering the Call to Friendship with One Another and With God

This past Tuesday I was privileged to lead the whole student body of Holy Spirit Academy through a tour and reflection on the stained-glass windows of the saints at Holy Cross. Holy Spirit is a small but serious, recently established Catholic high school located in Monticello. (www.HolySpiritAcademy.org). The teachers organizing the trip asked me to speak on friendship and the Saints. It did not take much convincing to say yes. Friendship has been a theme very much on my mind in recent months. It turns out, as evidenced by today’s Gospel, that it was a theme on the mind of Christ as well. Friendship is not, after all, a concept at the periphery of the Catholic vision, but at the very heart of the meaning of the Church and our call as Catholic Christians.

Christ’s Farewell Discourse at the Last Supper (John 14-17—very much worth reading in what is left of the Easter season) with His closest band of disciples makes clear the intention of having called them to walk with Him through three years of public ministry and forty further days after the Resurrection: to invite them into friendship with Himself, with His Father and with one another. Our Gospel passage today includes that staggering and thrilling passage:

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you…
— John 15:13-16

In effect, it is Christ’s act of solidarity to the point of death that reveals the true meaning of friendship: namely, willing the good of another without counting the cost. His personal choice of His disciples and His desire to be in friendship with us invites us to learn from Him the beautiful, but difficult path that leads us into communion with God and one another.

I would like to look back a couple of weeks to the now distant memory of the mid-April blizzard that will go down in history, and especially in the memories of the couple that was married at Holy Cross that weekend. Along with those who made heroic efforts to attend our afternoon of reflection on the theme of friendship in Christ. (Co-sponsored by the Northeast Catholic Collective, the Roccasecca Project and the American Tipi Loschi), we were graced by the presence of a couple of friends from Italy and a couple of professors from the University of St. Thomas. The heart of the day was not only to think about friendship, but to enjoy it.

There are a few themes I would like to expound upon briefly in light of the afternoon of fellowship and the conferences that were given:

1) None of us were called in isolation, alone. It is not good for man to be alone! This was true of the closest disciples of our Lord who were drawn to Christ, invited into friendship with Him and one another and subsequently sent out two-by-two. The saints knew this truth and lived it. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest minds ever to have existed said this: “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” How much do we value our friendships? How much do we invest in them? Friendship is cheapened in our modern world in many ways, but we are called to fight to keep our friendships in good repair and ever deepening. How much are our friendships based upon the most important things, especially our common call to friendship with God?

2) Marriage is one of the very special forms of friendship at the heart of the Church and we see that husbands and wives are likewise sent out two-by-two into the world to bear witness to Christ by their love. Our prayers in this season are continually with our engaged couples preparing for marriage and those recently married as well as for all couples that they may be renewed in the original grace of their wedding vows. St. Joseph and the Blessed Virgin Mary provide a beautiful glimpse into the shape of marriage as a unique friendship blessed by God and open to bearing extraordinary fruit.

3) Friendship is not just a reality here below, however. When we recite the Apostles’ Creed we profess our belief in the Communion of Saints. This spiritual vision of the mystical body of the Church united through space in time is of profound importance. The classical articulation of the Church Triumphant, the Church Suffering and the Church Militant is a beautiful reminder of our union with those who have gone before us. As we plod along throughout the course of this life, we keep our gaze fixed on heaven and in intercession for those in purgatory, still awaiting the full entrance into glory. This doctrine of the Communion of Saints is a reminder that friendship makes the Church what she is. The whole point of human life on this earth is to die in friendship with God: inviting people to perceive this is our noblest task as families and as a parish.

4) Prayer has a power to unite the world and encircles the globe, transcending time and space to unite us in hope. The basis of prayer for one another is friendship and a common expectation of being cared for by our common Heavenly Father. Bl. Pier Giorgio was a remarkably energetic young man whose path to holiness was among a circle of friends, affectionately called the Tipi Loschi (loosely translated from the Italian as the ‘shady characters’). He knew that friends prayed for one another, especially when they were at a distance.

Unfortunately earthly friendships produce sorrow in our hearts because of the departure of those we love, but I would like for us to pledge a pact which knows no earthly boundaries nor temporal limits: union in prayer.
— a letter of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati to Isidoro Bonini, January 15 1925

I would like to offer a welcome to Morgan Smith who has recently joined our parish staff in a part-time capacity to assist with Family Catechesis and Adult Formation. This summer we are working with our current team of catechists and parents to strengthen our focus as a parish on forming parents and children together in the knowledge of the Faith and preparation for the Sacraments. Morgan comes with a wealth of experience and an eagerness to serve. As this current Faith Formation year draws to a close, it is a fitting time to express gratitude to those who are so dedicated to our young people. Thank you!

As we enter into the month of May, a month dedicated to express our Marian devotion, let us allow Our Lady’s care for our parish to teach us the path to truer and more authentic friendship that will revitalize our parish. I continue to believe that one of the unexpected ‘gifts’ of our parish merger is the opportunity to strengthen old friendships and cultivate new ones. The Lord calls us friends! Let us rejoice in that great truth and allow His invitation to us to strengthen us in our desire to love one another.

May we remain always in pursuit of friendship with God and one another,

Fr. Howe