Our concept of “friend” has changed in recent years. With the advent of social networking, we tend to use the term much more loosely. We can count hundreds of people among our “friends.” We “friend” people we may never have had even one interaction with, and if it goes wrong, we can “defriend” them with a click of a button. Ironically, in these days of transient relationships, true friends have become even more valuable. As the book of Sirach tells us, “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure.” (Sirach 6:14)
I recently had the great pleasure of reading Walking Together: Discovering the Catholic Tradition of Spiritual Friendship,
a new book by Mary DeTurris Poust. Spiritual friendship is the deepest type of friendship. As Poust states, “these are the friends with whom you can be completely yourself, the friends who may disagree with you from time to time but never consider walking away. They are the friends who bring you dinner when you are sick, pray for you when you you’re struggling, and remind you that you are never alone.” Jesus himself had spiritual friends. He had many followers and several friends, but there were those whom he held especially close. These included Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, Mary Magdalene, and among the Apostles, Peter and John. When he sent his followers out, he always sent them in pairs. “Just like those first disciples, we are clearly not meant to walk this spiritual journey alone. Spiritual friends are not exotic or rare, but necessary.”
What sets spiritual friendships apart from other close friendships is that God is at the center. The friendship exists for the benefit of both parties. Both seek to serve the other and help them on their journey to heaven. St. Francis de Sales held up the Trinity as the role model for unconditional love and perfect friendship. While we humans can never achieve that level of perfection, spiritual friendship aims for that level of self-giving and focus on God. It is as close to unconditional love as we can come in this world. “Spiritual friends do not judge one another on worldly terms, but on God’s terms. They do not fret over the little things that annoy or frustrate, but focus instead on the big picture. They offer each other guidance and support, maybe even a firm challenge if one or the other is going off in an unhealthy direction. But always the actions are based in love, not in anger or jealousy or manipulation.”
Spiritual friendships are based on trust. Unlike some other friendships in which people may be willing to share part of themselves, spiritual friendships embrace the whole person. They are based on listening, talking, and prayer. Both parties must feel safe to reveal their innermost selves. They may not stay in constant communication with each other, but even time and distance do not sever the bond. “Spiritual friends are always connected, always in a kind of mental and spiritual communication, even when they are not talking or writing. . . This kind of deep bond is not something that develops overnight, but grows slowly as trust builds. That kind of communication between friends can develop only with open communication that truly allows friends to enter into each other’s hearts.”
It is important to note that spiritual friendships can exist between any two people. They can exist between a husband and wife, siblings, parent and child, a man and a woman, two women or two men. They do not need to be of the same background or faith. What matters is that God is at the center of the friendship. Spiritual friendships are very important and beneficial. Those who have them are extremely blessed.