What Is Friendship?

To have friends in this world is really a great blessing. To have true and genuine friends – not friends who would lead you to danger or friends who would lead you to sin, or even friends who would lead you to temptations – is a gift from God.

What is friendship? First, it is good to distinguish between the commonly considered “utility” friendship which is a deficient form of friendship based on one”s usefulness to another and intrinsic or “end-friendship” which treats the other not as a means to an end but as an end in oneself. Of course the ultimate end and destiny of every man is God.

A good friend values the other for their own sake and not for the utility they can derive from the friendship. Hence, the point of friendship is not to make us “feel good”, but that friends help each other towards moral and spiritual perfection. A friend who requires his friend to do evil or to seek the lesser good on the supposed basis of friendship ceases, in that respect, to be a genuine friend and becomes an accomplice to or, in severer cases, an occasion of evil.

Ultility friendship has for its foundation external or shallow qualities, and for its purpose the enjoyment of the sight and charms of its object. St. Francis de Sales distinguishes three types of this kind of friendship: carnal friendship, in which one seeks voluptuous pleasure; sentimental friendship, based mainly on the appeal outward qualities make to the emotions, “such as the pleasure to behold a beautiful person, to hear a sweet voice, to touch, and the like;” foolish friendship which has no other foundation than those empty accomplishments styled by shallow minds, virtues and perfections, such as fashionable dressing and a pleasing appearance.

These types of friendships usually appear in adolescence out of our instinctive need to love and be loved. They have many dangers. First, they constitute a great obstacle to spiritual perfection. In proportion as the attachments grow, the spirit of recollection is lost, peace of soul vanishes and our desire for spiritual exercises and love of work fades. This leads to dissatisfaction and discouragement which causes the will to weaken and languish. At this point the dangers threatening purity arise.

Jesus mentions three qualities to true friendship. The first is total self-sacrifice: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13) The second is a union of wills: “You are My friends if you do what I command you.”(John 15:14) “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven”( Matthew 7:21). The third quality consists of sharing everything in common: “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15: 15). Jesus knew and cultivated these qualities of friendship.

True, or supernatural friendship is the intimate interchange of two souls who love each other in God and for God with a view of aiding each other to attain the perfection of that divine life which they possess. Supernatural friendship is marked by a calm reserve and unwavering, mutual trust.

This leads to an intimate interchange since each friend longs to share in the spiritual qualities of the other, thus establishing an exchange of thoughts and a communication of holy desires for perfection. Such friends do not fear to point out their respective defects and to offer mutual help for their correction. This mutual confidence excludes all suspicion and uneasiness and does not allow the friendship to become all-absorbing and exclusive.

True friendship has many advantages. First, such a friend is a protection for virtue. We need an equal or intimate confidant to whom we can open our hearts and speak with perfect freedom. Without such a friend we are liable to be betrayed into indiscreet disclosures to persons unworthy of our trust, and such confidences can be fraught with many dangers for those who make and receive them.

A friend is also a sympathetic counselor to whom we can bring our doubts and difficulties in order that he may help us reach a solution. Further, a true friend is a comforter who will listen to our sorrows and find in his heart words of comfort and encouragement.

Vatican II tells us that we are all called to holiness. We are all called to perfect charity. Jesus calls us His friends and He is our Friend. He is not one who loves His friends on a superficial level, as we tend to do, but rather His friendship is real and authentic! His friendship not only brings us happiness in this life but in the eternal life to come. Therefore, let us strive do what our Lord commands – that we Love one another as He has loved us.

By: Paul Kokoski