The “greatest story ever told” is at its core about love and friendship. It is about the friendship God offers to us, and it is about our response. During His ministry, Jesus, who called His followers “friends,” was quite clear that central to our faith is love of God which He connected intimately and inseparably with love of neighbor. He even characterized such love as the greatest commandment, not because we are forced to love, (which is impossible by definition), but because He wants us to enjoy the love with which He loves. The love of neighbor, friendship, is something that can even be extended to strangers, albeit differently than that which we develop with a companion over time, requiring intimacy and shared experience. True friendship is about the willingness to lay down our lives for one another not because it is required, but because we love, which is what Jesus did. All loves, whether romantic and leading to marriage, that which is shared with family, or that which is shared with acquaintances, must include friendship. Agapè love, (which includes loving those who are hardest to love without limitation), is the perfection of friendship. Even though we can only receive such a love from God – because He alone is perfect – friendship is something which we enjoy throughout our lives since we are relational beings, just as God is. Our earthly friends are indeed a blessing; but these relationships, beautiful as they are, pale in comparison to what we share with our One True Friend who never fails us: Jesus Christ the Lord.
Throughout Scripture there are many examples of the beauty of friendship. The purest of these friendships finds the wellspring for their love and loyalty in God. One of the most beautiful examples of this in all of Scripture is that of David and Jonathan. They loved each other “as if their lives depended on it,” and of Jonathan it is said, “he loved him [David] as he loved himself.” (1 Samuel 18 -20) Another example, consisting of a family relationship rooted in friendship, was the one between Mary and Elizabeth. They were a generation apart in age, but the greeting between them and the obvious joy they expressed at their meeting (Luke 1:39-56) is a sign of the deep love which finds it source in their relationship with God. Their shared prayer expressed in Mary’s Magnificat could only come from hearts attuned to and centered upon God. And certainly as Elizabeth and her unborn son greeted Mary, they were welcoming the Son of God who Mary bore “in her womb with love beyond all telling:”* their joy at being visited by the Son of God and His mother was so great that Elizabeth sang and John leapt!
Of course, most often those who we consider to be our friends are people to whom we are not related by blood, but who we have grown to love and, in gratitude, we value as precious gifts. No matter whom it is or how we have become friends, in all relationships we must choose to give ourselves to one another in love and service if we are to share the love of truest friendship such as the love God has for us. True friends are honest and transparent with one another, challenging the other when need be, standing by the other in time of trouble, and generally sharing in the love described so eloquently by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13. In our own era we have the example of Fred Rogers, lovingly known as Mr. Rogers. He taught young and old through the lessons he imparted on his show, as well as through his personal example, that to be a neighbor, a true friend, is not always easy, but it is the way of Christ. The friendship taught by Fred Rogers, informed and fueled by his Christian faith, was that friendship breaks down barriers, builds up the Kingdom, and brings great healing and joy among God’s people. And, when we live this friendship, we grow in our knowledge, love, and relationship with the truest friend we will ever have: Jesus the Lord. Jesus will never betray or abandon us no matter what we do or fail to do. He will always extend His mercy, forgiving us when we ask it of Him.
We can learn from the great friendships found throughout Scripture. A suggestion is to spend some time in prayer and reflection over friendships such as that of Abraham and Lot, Moses and Aaron, Naomi and Ruth, David and Jonathan, Elijah and Elisha, Jesus and John, and the relationships of Paul with Barnabas, Priscilla, Luke, Timothy, Philemon and Onesimus.** Reading the Gospels is also important since Jesus defined friendship in word and deed throughout the course of His life and ministry, demonstrating that all neighbors are friend in some way. Jesus is the greatest friend we can ever have, sent into the world as more than just a sign of God’s friendship, but as Love Himself living in our midst. Jesus offered eternal friendship and love to us by giving everything He had so that it would become everything we have. A more valuable friendship and a more precious gift is nowhere else to be found. As it says in the Book of Sirach, “A faithful friend is beyond price.” (Sirach 67:14-17) This is especially true of our relationship with Jesus: it is indeed more precious than gold.
May we continue to grow in true friendship with the Lord by accepting His love and then extending our friendship to His other friends, that is, all of our neighbors! May we turn to the holy ones both in the Scriptures and the saints who followed, learning how to be a true friend in love, trust, loyalty, transparency, and mercy! May we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves! And may we grow in friendship with our Friend of Friends, Jesus the Lord! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* This line is from the Preface prayer (at Mass) used for late Advent. However, this is the old translation and it is worded slightly differently in the most recent translation.
** Scripture references in the order of my examples: Abraham and Lot, uncle and nephew: Genesis 13-14; 19. (I must add that the incredible discussion between Abraham and God in Genesis 18:16-33 is one of the best examples of friendship with God.) Moses and Aaron, brothers: begins in Exodus 4 and goes throughout the rest of the Exodus and parts of Deuteronomy. Naomi and Ruth, mother-in-law and daughter-in-law: the entire Book of Ruth. David and Jonathan, friends like brothers:1 Samuel 18-20. Elijah and Elisha, friends and ‘co-workers’: 1 Kings 19: 15-2 Kings 2:15. Jesus and John, friends: examples throughout the Gospel of John. The best examples are the Last Supper and when Jesus was dying on the cross. (In his gospel John is referred to as the 'one whom Jesus loved.' This designation was given by a later writer who edited this gospel. Jesus certainly loved all the apostles, but there was a special friendship here.) Paul, with friends and co-workers: with Barnabas, Acts 9:27 and following; with Priscilla, Acts 18, and some references in Paul’s letters; with Timothy, Acts 16 and the two letters Paul wrote to him; with Philemon and Onesimus, the Letter to Philemon.
1. Image, The Galilean Jesus, by Fr. William Hart McNichols: It can be found for purchase in many different mediums at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/the-galilean-jesus-266-william-hart-mcnichols.html
2. Inset of 14th century icon, The Visitation; the Baby Leaps: If you look closely at Elizabeth you can see the baby, John, leaping in her womb.
3. My photo, tourists in San Marco Square, Venice: I was fortunate to be in Venice before the terrible flooding.
4. My photo, mosaic in Baptistry at San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy: the ceiling in the Baptistry.
5. My photo, Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland: Father and son are certainly friends as well as relatives. In a city where houses are connected, so too are the people truly connected as neighbor.
NOTE: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart