True Friendship: How Christian Companionship Helps Us Become Holiler

Article originally published May 26, 2018 by National Catholic Register

By Susan Klemond

 

For a decade, Irene and Alyssa shared friendship — as singles, then as newly married women and mothers raising children in a Midwestern Catholic community. But they became close friends only when they also shared their suffering. When Irene was going through a difficult trial more than 15 years ago, she let her guard down and confided in Alyssa. Both women realized they’d been longing for a deeper Christian friendship. (Their names have been changed. They spoke on condition of anonymity.)

 

Irene said, “It’s higher than just helping someone carry a cross to take their pain as your own. I feel like she does that for me.”

 

Alyssa agreed: “I think others see that she helps me be a better person. She helped me find the Lord in a moment of despair.”

 

Bearing one another’s burdens “shoulder to shoulder” is a mark of spiritual friendship, as 12th-century English monk St. Aelred of Rievaulx wrote in his book of the same name.

 

Drawing on the wisdom of St. Aelred and others, as well as the experiences of Christian friends, what makes a friendship spiritual or Christian? How does it differ from other types of friendship? And how does Christian friendship relate to friendship with God?

 

Christian friends care for each other, share life and prepare for heaven together. They model virtue and grow in it together, sometimes with a common mission. Unlike other friendships, Christ is a third Person in their cohort, teaching them through his example and their lived experience. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”

 

Since they were Jesuit novices in Spokane in 1974, Fathers Robert Spitzer and William Watson shared a love for God and truth, though they often reach conclusions differently. Father Spitzer’s analytical nature and Father Watson’s intuition have proven complementary.

 

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