Friday, 13 March 2009

True Friendship

St Francis de Sales says the following about friendship:

O Philothea, love everyone with a great love of charity, but have no friendship save with those who can communicate with you in virtuous things; and the more exquisite the virtues are, which are the matter of your intercommunication, the more perfect will your friendship be. If the matter of your intercommunication be knowledge, your friendship is assuredly very praiseworthy; still more so if it be the practice of virtues, prudence, discretion, fortitude and justice. But if your mutual and reciprocal communication be founded on charity, on devotion, on Christian perfection, O God! how precious will your friendship be! It will be excellent because it comes from God, excellent because it tends to God, excellent because its bond is God, excellent because it will endure eternally in God. Oh! how good it is to love on earth as we shall love in heaven, and to learn to cherish one another in this world as we shall do eternally in the next...

Do not form friendships of any other kind. I mean friendships of your own choice; for you must not forsake or disregard the friendships which nature and former obligations constrain you to cultivate with relations, with connections, with benefactors, with neighbours and others; I speak of those which you choose yourself.

St Francis is very practical here, because he acknowledges that we should not refuse our friendship to those we may already know through our situations in the world - perhaps those who do not share our views on God, maybe friends or acquaintances who have fallen away from the faith - but nevertheless we need for our own spiritual welfare friends with whom we can share those things close to our heart, friends who we know will support us in our struggle to be more virtuous, more holy. This is the opposite of someone who does't want us to grow because it will disrupt their own contentment. To quote Bob Dylan (whose nonsensical lyrics often hide deep truths):

One who...
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole
That he's in!

This is not to blame others - contentment in the spiritual life is something I know I have to guard against. I've certainly found it a great help having friends inside and outside seminary who I can talk to about the life of faith, and it makes me realise among other things that many of us struggle with the same difficulties, and receive consolation from the same things - we're not flying solo!

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