This past week, I took a couple days off and went turkey hunting with a couple priest friends of mine. It was one of those experiences where nothing seemed to be working quite right. The first day we got there, it poured rain for the entire day. We’re sitting there at night under this little canopy, and it’s pouring rain on all of us. The next morning it rained all morning, so we couldn’t go out. It got really cold for a little while. The next morning we were able to go out, so I got out to my spot early in the morning. At about 5:30am, I was sitting in the woods by a tree. It was dark, and I was cold and soaked because I had walked through all the fields. The morning dew was covering my legs. As I was sitting there, the sun began to lighten up the woods and everything started to take life. You began to hear the animals around you. I could hear turkey off in the distance. I reached into my pocket to grab my turkey call, but when I reached into my pocket, I realized my pocket was empty. I must have dropped it somewhere in the woods. I spent the next hour going back and forth on my trail trying to find out where the turkey call was. After an hour of looking for it, I gave up because I couldn’t find it. I ended up walking all the way back to where we were and went to my sleeping bag to go back to sleep. When I opened up my sleeping bag, I found my turkey call. It was there the whole time.
I was sitting there thinking about why I do this. Why do I torture myself and go out into the woods like this, besides the beauty of nature. I was sitting there around the bonfire with these priest friends of mine. We were laughing, telling each other stories, sharing our lives. I thought to myself, this is why I do this. It’s to be with these great friends. I would do anything to spend time with them. It was so good just to be with them around the bonfire, to be with them under the rain, just to spend time together as guys.
Friendship is so important. It’s important not only for priests but for people as well. We hear in the gospel, Jesus says, “I no longer call you slaves because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” Great friends share everything with each other. They will do anything for each other, and they feel like they can let their guard down completely.
Friendship has been studied and written about by many of the great authors throughout the years. Even before Christ there was Cicero. He was one of the greatest authors who wrote treaties on friendship. Then we have St. Augustine, St. Ambrose and St. Thomas Aquinas. One of the saints that I want to share with you today gives some beautiful reflections on friendship. St. Aelred is his name. He says that when we make friends we take a step towards God. When we make good friends, we take a step towards God. He says, there are three types of friendships. One is carnal, another is worldly, and the third is spiritual. I want to talk about those just briefly.
Carnal friendships are friendships of the flesh. By that he would mean friendships that take us away from God, that get us into trouble. If you think about your life, you probably had friends like that in the past. I know I have, especially in my high school and college years. Friends that got you off the path and got you into trouble. Those, obviously, would not be ideal friends. Think about your friendships right now. If you have any that are like that, it’s probably wise to spend time with some other friends.
The second he talks about are worldly. These are friends that we give and take with. They are friends that we might go over to borrow some tools, or the wives might go over to borrow some ingredients or something like that. They are friends that we have this transactional relationship with. It could be friends that you work with, or people that you sell to or buy from. Those are worldly friendships. They are good, but they aren’t the ultimate.
The final is the spiritual. The spiritual friendships he calls “perfect friendship.” The perfect friendships are the ones that lead us to God. He says that in friendship (if we have really good, perfect friendships) we will discover God. Think about that for yourselves. Do you have any friends that are that for you, that you, together, are closer to God? Cicero described friendship. He said, “Friendship so cushions adversity and chastens prosperity that among mortals almost nothing can be enjoyed without a friend.” He says, “Among mortals, nothing can be enjoyed without a friend.” If you have something really good or have a wonderful experience, if you have a hobby or anything like that, to share that with a friend, to have somebody that you have something in common with, is something just absolutely wonderful.
St. Aelred says, “How happy, how carefree, how joyful you are if you have a friend with whom you may talk as freely as with yourself.” How wonderful for you to have a friend where you can just talk, you can say whatever is on your mind, and you know that it will be trusted and safeguarded. “One whom you never fear to confess any fault or blush at revealing any progress, to whom you may entrust all the secrets of your heart, confide all your plans. What is so delightful than to entrust heart to heart, spirit to spirit and to make one out of two.” He’s saying actually that in friendship you become united with each other. He says that “those who reject friendships harm themselves rejecting their humanity.” We need friendships to be human. He says, “Those who banish friendships from their life seem to pluck the sun from the universe and may be called not human, but beasts.” He says we’re not human but like animals without friends.
He says there are four steps of nurturing these kinds of friendships. The first is choosing. The first is choosing friends, again, not of the flesh, not of the world, but of the spirit. Choose friends that will ultimately lead you closer to heaven. The second he says is testing, so make sure that person is reliable and trustworthy. The third is finally accepting that friend, saying this is a friend. I can accept this person. And then, fourth, is perfecting the friendship, actually taking the time and the energy to perfect the friendship.
This is so important for us because as disciples, especially the early disciples, they were called to be friends. That’s what they did. They were friends for each other. The martyrs were friends willing to lay down their lives for each other. He says, “Most beloved, open your heart now and pour what you please into the ears of your friends. Gratefully let us welcome the place, the time and the leisure.” Welcome the place, and the time, and the leisure. How many times do we say to our friends, “Oh, we’ll have to get together some time,” and it never happens. He’s saying welcome that time, welcome that place, welcome that leisure. It’s important for us to make time out of our busy lives and to have leisure with our friends, to find a place to get together and to enjoy each other.
We hear in Proverbs from Solomon, “A friend loves always.” St. Jerome says, “A friendship that can end was never truly a friendship.” True friendships last not only a lifetime but as we’ll hear, into eternity. Friendships last not only a lifetime but into eternity. He goes on to say, “Nothing in life is hungered for more holiness, nothing is sought for more utility, nothing is found for more difficulty, nothing is experienced with more pleasure, nothing is possessed with more fruitfulness. Friendship bears fruit in our present life and in the next.” This is why it’s important to invest in friendships. It’s going to bear fruit not only in this life, but it will bear fruit in eternal life. It’s going to help us to be holy in this life, and it’s also going to bear fruit in eternal life. We’re going to maintain that friendship. So when one of you dies first, there is still going to be that friendship and that bond and that intercession. Ultimately, when we all die and go to heaven, we’ll have that bond of friendship with each other.
I think friendship is so important with kids. If kids don’t have friends early on, they make one up, right? Kids have imaginary friends. Studies say that one out of three kids will have an imaginary friend for a couple years. That’s how important friends are to us.
He says, “From all of this, then, fixed and true, goal of friendship is clear. Nothing should be denied to a friend. Nothing should be refused to a friend, not even precious life of the body itself, for divine authority ordains that it should be laid down for a friend.” We’re willing to lay our lives down for the love of a friend. Ultimately as we hear that “friendship in this life will not come to an end.” He says, then, “A friend is long sought, hardly found and with difficulty kept.” So long sought, hardly found and with difficulty kept. First of all, long sought. A really, really good friend is somebody that we have to search for. If we don’t have a really good friend, search for that person. They are hardly found, so it’s harder than finding a turkey in the woods. A friend is hardly found. And third, with difficulty kept. That means we have to exert an immense amount of effort to keep a good friend. We have to make time for them. We have to make sure we do everything that we can for friendship because it is so important. He says, “Be certain that a friend is medicine for life and a blessing for immortality.” Having a friend in this life is like medicine. It’s going to help us in this life and ultimately bless us in immortality.
Just to end, as we think about this perfect friendship that he talks about, this perfect friendship that will grace us and bless us in this life, this friendship that will go on into everlasting life. I just want you to think about that. Do you have that perfect friendship? And if you do, do you invest and make time to grow in that friendship together, to grow in a spiritual life together? Do you have a friend who is medicine for life and a blessing for immortality? I say if you do, make every effort that you can to spend time with them. Drop what you’re doing. Make it happen. Get together with that friend because they are so important. A friend is long sought, hardly found and with difficulty kept.
What if we don’t have that friend? Unlike children, we’re not supposed to make up an imaginary friend. As an adult, we’re supposed to go and find that friend. How do you seek a good friend? How do you find a holy friend? How do you find someone who is going to lead you into everlasting life? There’s no better place than right here in this church. I invite you to talk to people as you go outside the church. I invite you to take every opportunity. We offer a lot of opportunities to teach you about something or offer you service work or to volunteer with different things. Take every opportunity that you can here to seek that friendship. Ultimately, if we do seek that friendship, if we do find that friendship, if we do work for these friendships, they will lead us into heaven. He says when two friends come together, two truly spiritual friends, they can pray together, they can talk about God together, and they can share their cross together. Christ appears in the midst of them.
Jesus says to us, “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends, because I have told you everything that the Father has shared with me.” May we not have worldly friends. May we not have friends of utility or friends that are carnal or of the flesh, but ultimately, may we have these perfect spiritual friends. If we do, may we hold on to them all the way to heaven.