It seems to me that the beginnings of a new year often seem to be the greatest struggle. Or at least they have been for me in the last few years. Winter brings its harsh, bitter winds and sharp ice, and we manage our way through desperate times. I wish I could say I was inspired to write this blog from more positive roots, however, with the sudden death of Ryan Fischer (see Mlive for more information), it seems that winter still has its grasp here in West Michigan. I won’t say much about Ryan because a lot has already been said, but in the three years I knew him through St. Pius X youth ministry, that young man brought more joy to my life in youth ministry than any other teen ever has. He was truly an exceptional young man who exemplified what it means to be Christ here on earth. He now belongs to the ages and I miss his rays of light very dearly.
One of the best things about Ryan was his talent in friendship. In praying about his life and our interactions, it led me to explore more into the idea of friendship. Ironically enough, the book I am currently reading “Men, Women and the Mystery of Love” by Edward Sri, brings up Aristotle’s three categories of friendship. These are: utility friendship, friendship of pleasure, and virtuous friendship. I will explore these three with an emphasis on the third, which is the most important to recognize and sustain in one’s life.
The friendship of utility is one that is more common than not in our modern day world. I have a need to find a leader for a group, Suzi is talented at being a leader and strives to be one, so we connect and make something happen. I may care about Suzi as a human, and we may “check in” with each other every so often or during our discussions about the group, but aside from that you would never see me hang out with her. Suzi and I have what is defined as friendship based on economics: she has something I want, and I in turn give her something that benefits her. Through this utility friendship, we are both pleased about what we receive, but the investment stops there. If at one point in time, the group fades away and the need is no longer present, the group would dismantle and most likely so would our pleasantries. Surely there would be no hard feelings, and when we saw each other there might be a “Hey, how are you?” but again, the investment stops there. How many friendships do you have like that? Even in Catholic ministry it can be easy to see a need, see a way to make “a deal”, and make it beneficial for the two parties. Even with the best of intentions, our actions can reflect a two-dimensional type of relationship. This is certainly not what Jesus called us to do.
“A new commandment I give you: love one another as I have loved you.” John 13:34
The friendship of pleasure sounds pretty much as it is. Two young men meet at football practice one year, and develop a friendship based on their love of football. These two men, though caring about one another through the time spent on the field and bench, experience times of fun, adventure, and joy. These two probably don’t see much of each other aside from football practice, games, or award ceremonies, but they have developed a unique bond between the two of them. Perhaps they even help and encourage each other to become better athletes. But here again is where the buck stops. The investment they have in one another does not elevate them to become the best they could possibly be in a holistic sense. Passion may motivate them, but passion also disappears with the seasons of a person’s life. In two to three years, the bond they create will wane due to new interests that take the forefront of their mind. And, these two do not come together outside of football related events to encourage each other to a higher cause. Again, we miss the opportunity of deeper friendship.
Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the LORD, saying, ‘The LORD is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.'” 1 Samuel 20:42
Lastly, the virtuous friendship is expressed as being above honor and justice. This is a friendship which has no deals nor needs for much pleasure, and this friendship does not consist of self-love. Therefore, it is harder to come by and even more difficult to maintain. Two people could begin their friendship through mutual pleasures, however, at one point, probably early on;, they recognize a truly rare and special quality in the other. They begin to realize their connection is called to a higher cause. They are motivated to deeply care about the other’s thoughts, feelings, concerns, and above all, soul. Aristotle calls it a “…complete sort of friendship between people who are good and alike in virtue…” These friends will go to any length to ensure the root of their friendship continues to thrive, and will endure pain, suffering, grief, and slander just to keep it intact.
“Greater love has no one than this: that one lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
How many of us can truly say we have virtuous friendships? I think I can count on two in my life. Perhaps more will develop; if so, I will be abundantly blessed. It is important to consider, during this time of desert, prayer, reconciliation, and reflection, who we count among our kin in friendship. Who of you would be moved to lay down your life for your friend? Who would truly love the other person in their entirety, regardless of what was in it for you? This is true love, and in this, true friendship. This is also the heart of Christ’s biggest message which I quoted earlier. To love another as He has loved us, is what we should be preaching during this Lent.
Lord, make us strong in your roots, preaching and proclaiming your Gospel of love. Focus our hearts this Lent and help us to manage our friendships in the way which we are called to.