By Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD
Friendship is a fundamental and essential aspect of any human relationship. I can’t imagine a life without friends. They help to make our lives happy and meaningful. While it is easy for me to get along with people, I do not develop friendships quickly. It takes time for me to trust and allow a stranger to become part of my life.
Many people use social media as a channel to build and develop relationships. Some people use Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Skype, Instagram and LinkedIn to keep in touch with their friends. I am sometimes saddened when I see friends engage in arguments on social media. One cannot deny that a large quantity of friends online does not guarantee that a person has true friendships.
Some people consider social networks as a testing ground for true friendship. Many individuals who build online friendships echo the view of CommsBreakdown blogger Steve Ash, who believes that “far from making us less sociable, the online world is actually creating an ability to connect and engage with the rest of the world that’s never existed in any previous century. It’s more than possible for a person to have a network of friends that’s truly global, breaking down geographical, cultural and social barriers to build friendships across the planet.”
On the other hand, online friendship cannot replace the genuine intimacy of real friendship. I have a small circle of faithful friends. Each has a unique and valuable quality that people desire in friends. The qualities of faithful friends described in Sirach 6:14-16 depict the individuals who comprise my circle of friends. As the Scriptures say, “Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth.”
Faithful friends are like sturdy shelter. They are like strong pillars that we hold onto when we feel helpless and alone. They welcome and comfort us during times when we face life storms. Faithful friends provide spiritual sanctuary when we experience misery and sorrow. They are reflections of Christ’ love, his gentle and consoling presence in our lives. I recognize Christ’s protection through faithful friends who stand at my side in difficult times.
Faithful friends are treasures. They are priceless. Together, we enrich our friendships by discovering and sharing our gifts and talents with each other. Faithful friends are not perfect. Like us, they have their imperfections. We accept them for who they are, the way God wants them to be. These friendships are paths that lead us toward closeness with Christ. Christ provides the missing pieces that we and our faithful friends cannot give to each other in friendship.
Jesus is our greatest friend. He is the model and guide of how to be a faithful friend to others of different languages, cultures and beliefs.
Faithful friends are a life-saving remedy. If you are like me, your life sometimes gets off track. I have made wrong decisions and terrible mistakes. Faithful friends do not abandon us. They help to restore the goodness and kindness they see in us. They do not tire of reminding us of humility, forgiveness and reconciliation. Faithful friends have the courage and honesty to tell us of our failures. They are lovingly frank when we are unfair, arrogant or full of pride.
Having a circle of faithful friends is a way to a deep and intimate encounter with the living Christ. When I became a religious missionary, I learned the meaning and essence of friendship more profoundly. It is the friendship in Jesus. In John 15:13-16, Jesus told his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. 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.”
Friendship in Christ is eternal and filled with love. Jesus is the faithful friend who seeks and finds us untiringly, most especially in times of adversity, affliction and misfortune. Friendship in Christ is built on a strong foundation that protects and sustains us; it is the priceless treasure that no amount of anything else can balance; and it is a life-giving relationship that enables us to seek, find, and share our friendships with others.
Jesus is the source and motivation for building a dynamic, healthy and lasting relationship with friends. Pope Francis reminds us, friendship is one of life’s gifts and a grace from God.
While it is sad to geographically be away from my dearest friends due to my missionary life, I am grateful for the many new friendships with the people I have met in different countries with diverse cultures, beliefs, traditions and values. Through the various social network platforms, my faithful friends and I live out the promise that Jesus told his disciples, his friends, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).