Our True Friend
There are two ways to move the will of another towards one’s own: fear and love. And Our Lord Jesus Christ came onto this earth to “draw all things to Himself” (Jn. 12:32), to incline our rebellious wills to say to our Father, “Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Fright or Love of Love?
Unless we give up our own wills and in a sense our own lives, we will surely perish (cf. Jn. 12:25). This is the first motive for surrender that our Savior provides us, and it is frequent in the Gospels. When He comes to us, there is already a love present in our hearts, the love of the world, and “if anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 Jn. 2:15). And so He drives the fear of God into our hearts, that it may cast out love of the world. Love gives way to fear, but only so that fear in turn may be cast out by love, for “he who fears is not perfected in love” (1 Jn. 4:18). The presence of divine fear is meant to be a stepping stone to divine love, a frightful but necessary intermediate stage to intimate and eternal union with God.
Our Lord came that we may have this life of divine love and have it abundantly (Jn. 10:10). But how many souls, fearing the loss of fear, refusing to relegate brimstone and judgment to the spiritual background, keeping their hearts contracted and tremulous, scruple to turn their gaze from their own misery to God’s mercy, carry their Christian life as a joyless burden, and eke out their days with a faint hope of escaping eternal retribution. Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson points out that Catholics are endowed with such extensive knowledge of God’s divinity, that they tend to neglect the closeness of Christ’s humanity: “Catholics…above all others are prone…to forget that [Christ’s] delights are to be with the sons of men more than to rule the Seraphim, that, while His Majesty held Him on the throne of His Father, His Love brought Him down on pilgrimage that He might transform His servants into His friends” (The Friendship of Christ [Longmans, Green & Co.: London, 1912], p. 6).
But what could pain more the Sacred Heart of our Divine Friend than the coldness of souls who have been lavished with His own life and admitted to the secrets of divine love? Indeed, He went to great lengths to convince us of His friendship, proofs of which are especially found throughout St. John’s Gospel.
Our Lord’s Love in John’s Gospel
Friendship is a two-way affair, and its currency is love. Where two parties are seeking the well-being one of another, there is friendship. In both his Gospel and his first Epistle, St. John is at pains to convince us that such love exists, at least on the part of Our Lord. Twice Our Lord claims to have the greatest possible love for us as a friend, in that He lays down His life for us (Jn. 3:16, 15:13). In the five chapters dedicated to the Last Supper discourse (13-17), Our Lord frames everything in terms of His love and friendship for His disciples. He washes their feet to teach them to love one another and then gives them the commandment explicitly (13:34), a commandment that He repeats again (15:12), and which St. John made the dictum for his entire life. He protests His love for His disciples (15:9), speaks of the Father’s love for them (16:27), and assures them that He will both provide a place for them in His Father’s house (14:2) and intercede for them with the Father in their every request (14:13). He says that He will never abandon them (14:18) and asks the Father that He may never be separated from them (17:24).
St. Jerome recounts for us a story which has become famous: “The Blessed Evangelist John lived at Ephesus down to an extreme old age, and, at length, when he was with difficulty carried to the church, and was not able to exhort the congregation at length, he was used simply to say at each meeting, ‘My little children, love one another.’ At last the disciples and brethren were weary with hearing these words continually, and asked him, ‘Master, wherefore ever sayest thou this only?’ Whereto he replied to them, in an expression worthy of John, ‘It is the commandment of the Lord, and if this only be done, it is enough’” (Commentary on Galatians, Bk. 3, ch. 6).
But love must be mutual for there to be friendship. And so, because Our Lord desires to create the truest friendship possible, He most touchingly asks the Apostles to love Him in return: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him (14:21)…Abide in me, and I in you (15:4) …Abide in my love (15:9).” And, just as He has proved His love by countless acts of goodness towards them, especially the laying down of His life, so also they are to prove their love for Him: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me” (14:21; cf. 15:10). In addition, attachment to Christ must include detachment from the world, which is distinguished by its inability to love Him. In fact, it hates Him as it does also those who are linked with Him in the bonds of friendship (15:18-25).
From these two paragraphs alone, who could contradict Benson’s moral: “If there is anything clear in the Gospels it is this—that Jesus Christ first and foremost desires our friendship” (p. 9)? May this article move the reader to read the Gospels again from this particular optic, as well as the first Epistle of St. John. Besides the moving discourse of the Last Supper, there are many other examples of the beautiful friendships forged by Our Lord during His earthly life (see, for example, the book by Father Ollivier, O.P., The Friendships of Jesus).
But perhaps that frightful doubt, that satanic scruple, that false humility comes back to haunt us, saying: “All of this love was for His chosen ones, the Apostles, and for His special favorites, the saints. For me to look for such love would be gross presumption! He might redeem me, yes, but don’t you think about being His close friend.”
May the mere expression of this temptation excite sufficient horror to wipe away such a perverse caricature of Jesus Christ. And if it does not, let us return to His own assurances, so lovingly pronounced: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28); or His words to St. Margaret Mary after revealing His Heart: “Behold this Heart which has so loved men as to spare Itself nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, to testify to them Its love” (Croiset, p. 59).
Having been convinced of the perfection of Our Lord’s love for us and of His desire that we love Him, let us turn to the saints to understand somewhat how we should comport ourselves towards this True Friend.
The Love of the Saints
“The consciousness of this friendship of Jesus Christ is the very secret of the Saints,” says Msgr. Benson (p. 10). What we discover when we read those places wherein they have disclosed their prayers is a staggering frankness, boldness, tenderness, confidence, and mutual comprehension, exceeding the greatest of relationships here below, mother and child, husband and wife.
St. Teresa of Avila relates that a certain religious asked prayers of her, and then tells us quite frankly what followed. The utter aptness of this episode to provide a model for friendship with Our Lord will excuse the length of the quotation:
“I went back to my place where I was in the habit of praying alone, and began to pray to our Lord, being extremely recollected, in that my simple, silly way, when I speak without knowing very often what I am saying. It is love that speaks, and my soul is so beside itself that I do not regard the distance between it and God. That love which I know His Majesty has for it makes it forget itself, and think itself to be one with him; and so, as being one with him, and not divided from him, the soul speaks foolishly. When I had prayed with many tears that the soul of this religious might serve him truly I remember I said, ‘O Lord, thou must not refuse me this grace; behold him,—he is a fit person to be our friend.’”
He is a fit person to be our friend! Such is the prayer of a saint to Our Lord Jesus Christ! But my own exclamation points are justified by the words of the saint herself, who, seemingly embarrassed at what she just related, continues as follows:
“Oh, the great goodness and compassion of God! How he regards not the words, but the desire and the will with which they are spoken! How he suffered such a one as I am to speak so boldly before his Majesty!” (ch. XXXIV.10).
Msgr. Benson states that “the essence of a perfect friendship is that each friend reveals himself utterly to the other, flings aside his reserves, and shows himself for what he truly is” (p. 17) and his words are amply verified in the sanguine Carmelite.
Those who have attended Ignatian retreats may be familiar with the prayers of St. Claude de la Colombière for visits to the Blessed Sacrament, found in the Christian Warfare prayer book (pp. 85-88). He was the spiritual director of St. Margaret Mary and was anxious to dissipate the chilling breath of Jansenism. One of his prayers is entitled “The True Friend” and it addresses Our Lord by speaking with great confidence of His love and attention to our prayers and least desires. The next prayer in the book has us enter into a conversation with Our Lord and has Him saying to us: “Speak to me, as you would to your best friend. Tell me what is in your mind, on your heart; speak without fear, with the simplicity of a child.”
The scope of this article is too limited to consider all of the practices of the soul who wishes to return the friendship of Our Lord, but let this one remain in the mind from the reading of this article: intimate conversation with Him, a total communing of the soul with Our Lord. To quote Msgr. Benson once more:
“[Our Lord] demands that all...conventions should cease; that we should be entirely open and honest with him, that we should display ourselves as we really are—that we should lay aside, in a word, all those comparatively harmless make-believes and courtesies, and be utterly real” (p. 19).
Each of us has the sad experience in this life of the fragility of friendship. It can flame up with great intensity almost by a fortunate chance and continue swimmingly for months, only to fall off suddenly and violently. Or it can build up over the years through faithful contact, only to slowly fade away into oblivion. This unreliability, inconsistency, and tenuity of human relations leaves us longing for an ideal Friend, one in which “final disappointment is impossible…the one Friend who cannot fail” (ibid., p. 20). Such is Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God. He came down on this earth that we might be one with Him. “Just Father,” He prays, “I have made known to them thy name, and will make it known, in order that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn. 17:26). Will we, then, cast out fear in order to abandon ourselves to Him with perfect love?
Benson, Robert Hugh. The Friendship of Christ. Longmans, Green and Co.: London, 1912.
Croiset, John. The Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1988.
Ollivier, M.J. The Friendships of Jesus. St. Louis, MO: Herder, 1923. Society of St. Pius X. Christian Warfare. Winnipeg, 2006.
Teresa of Avila. Autobiography. Rockford, IL: TAN Books , 1997.