I am a devoted reader of the comic strips in the daily newspaper, turning to them before any other section. I enjoy the puns, gags, and all of that, but it is without any intent at humor when I declare that “I have to do my spiritual reading” as I open to the comics page. Many a strip has been thought provoking or has had spiritual value, whether or not the cartoonist intended it. My all-time favorite has been Peanuts. Recently a Peanuts strip came to mind in which Snoopy was greeting Woodstock with a huge hug while addressing him as his “friend of friends.”* It was clear that to Snoopy there was no one who he loved as much as the little bird who was his unlikely best friend, and that by the designation "friend of friends" what he really meant is ‘you are dearest to me, as a friend above all others.’ Charles Schultz may not have intended that particular strip to be spiritual, (though often he did), but thinking about it reminded me that Jesus had referred to His followers as His friends; He said, “I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” (John 15:15) Jesus told His disciples, (which includes us), that He desired to share the most intimate relationship He has, which is the one with His Father. And so He left His Holy Spirit, which is the love that unites the Father and the Son, so that we can enter into the very intimacy of God. Only a friend would invite a beloved one into such a relationship.
It is astounding that the Lord of the Universe would call us ‘friend,’ and even more so that He would lay down His life for us in the greatest act of friendship. While we all have friends and may consider one person to be our best friend, we only have one who we can call our true ‘friend of friends' above all others: Jesus. However, this is true not so much because we have approached Him, but because He has called us first, inviting us into His friendship: “It is not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain.” Jesus went even further by saying that if we accept the invitation to friendship with Him, anything we ask of the Father in His name will be given us. He then commanded: “Love one another.”** (John 15:11-17) No one can enter into such an intimacy, (that is, to enter into the love between the Father and the Son), without such a call. However, although God calls everyone into this intimacy, only some respond.
In His discourse Jesus revealed that friendship is a specific act of love connected to the love of God which He left the Church in the Person of the Holy Spirit. He said He calls us friends, but notice that He began and ended the passage by saying “Love one another.” (John 15:12,17) If anything is repeated it means that it is especially important; therefore, He may have emphasized it to indicate the effects of love. In other words, love is more than a feeling and it is even more than a commitment. It is both a gift from God and a gift of being in God. To love a stranger, (who is a neighbor we do not already know, but is regarded as a friend), as well as to love those we already know, is act of intimacy with God. This love is given through the gift of the Holy Spirit, thus it is from God. And Jesus repeats in various contexts in all four gospels that we are to “love our neighbor,” (including our enemies), and to “love one another,” building up to the most specific description: “Love one another as I have loved you.” In loving as He loves, we are also entering into the life of God; thus, it is a gift of being in God as He invites us into relationship with Him as a friend of friends, while inviting us to find Him in our other loves as well. The only way we can do this is to actually enter into the life of the Spirit who we were given as a Church at Pentecost and Who we are continually given at each of our 'personal Pentecosts,’ that is, with every Sacrament!
The feasts of Pentecost and of Trinity Sunday provide invitations to reflect upon the call we are given to enter into the life of the Triune God. We are called as friends to come into the very love which unites the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit into One. We are invited to seek the intimacy with God not only in the Sacraments and in prayer, but in our relationships with other people. We are called to reflect upon how we regard the Holy Spirit who binds us to the Father and the Son, and we are called to reflect upon how we regard other people. It is far easier to accept the invitation to find God in our private prayer and the Sacraments, than it is to put it into practice with others on a daily basis. This is why we need to ask God during our prayer to give us eyes and ears to see and hear as He does, and to give us a heart to love the way He does. Then, as we grow in friendship with God, we will grow in love for others.
May we accept the invitation into God’s friendship, regarding Jesus as our Friend of Friends! May we seek Him in those who we already regard as friends as well as in those friends we have yet to meet! And may we enter into the Love which unites the Father and the Son! Let us meet in the ‘heart’ of the Holy Trinity! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*This is the comic panel I am referring to, though the original was part of an entire strip: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/682999099712229836/
** The word ‘commanded’ does not refer to something demanding, as it seems to indicate, especially since one who loves does not command a loved one to do anything; to command in that sense is contradictory to loving. Here, Jesus was simply emphasizing the importance of love.
1. Painting, Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre August Renoir, 1881. Here is a link for more: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_-_Le_D%C3%A9jeuner_des_canotiers.jpg
2. Icon, The Holy Trinity by St. Andrei Rublev.
3. My photo, taken in Scotland. Perhaps a gathering of friends, the sheep of His flock.
4. Icon, The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. You can find it at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-blessed-virgin-mary-mother-of-the-church-william-hart-mcnichols.html
5. My photo, taken in Puerto Rico. I was thinking of Jesus as the Living Water of Love.
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Heart Speaks to Heart