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To my friends…on friendship

September 11, 2019


AS seminary rector in another lifetime, I had to deal with the issue of friendship among young adults: young seminarians, to be more precise. Most of what I will advise now is what I advised then, because I also learned a lot from my own seminary spiritual directors, like Abbot Santos Rabang.

Friendships just don’t spring up out of nowhere. They are nurtured by two people who must understand that when friendship becomes exploitative, it is not friendship at all. When you call yourself a friend of another only because of the benefits you reap from the relationship, you are a user, not a friend. A drinking buddy is not necessarily a friend, only someone as fond of the bottle as you are, and when the bottle shall be empty, he will no longer be there. The classmate who hangs around with you because he can plagiarize your homework is not necessarily a friend because he will seek more “entertaining” company when you have no homework to pass on to him.

Friendships involve feelings — because “feeling” is not a bad word. It is what makes life colorful. Robots have no feelings: they may be efficient and productive, but they are not human, and they certainly cannot be happy! If you want the happiness of friendship, then you must be prepared for the entire gamut of emotions that it involves, as well. Sometimes you will laugh together, but sometimes there will be tears as well. There will be triumphs shared, and often disappointments you will harbor by yourself, hurts over which one alone will shed tears. As gold is tested in fire, so must true friendship be tested by the inclemencies of mood, temper and differences in personality. But if it is a true friendship, it will emerge chastened but beautiful from all this. Remember, your fondest memories have to do not with things you possess, but with friendships that truly made a difference in your life.

The truth is that many of us are uncertain about intimacy and how to deal with it. Many of us fear it, with the result that our relationships are tepid, lukewarm and, quite honestly, mediocre. Handling intimacy is more than 50 percent of friendship, as possession is more than 50 percent of a claim to ownership in the law. That some people do not understand your relationship is not your concern. You owe no one any explanation, but you owe yourselves an understanding of where you stand toward each other: no deceit, no deception, no subterfuge, no pretenses. Do not bother about what other people think, or whether they ridicule you for your friendship. It is they who are perturbed, not you. You do not live to please them. But you should bother about being true to your friend and to yourself. One crucial requirement only: integrity which perforce includes sincerity.

Plato thought that there were some people with whom we were destined to be united. In one of his dialogues, he tells us the myth of our other halves for whom we must seek. Plato was not quite right in thinking that there are people we are destined to be friends with. But he was quite right in insisting that we are destined to have full lives only when we have friends — they need not be many.

I think in the end my message is to be responsible about friends, to thank God for the gift of friendship, to treasure true friends and be rid quickly of hangers-on and counterfeits. It is equally my message that precisely because we are responsible to God for the gifts he gives us, we should not all too quickly cast friendships aside. “Moving on” in regard to a friend who truly loves you and whom you have truly loved is not resilience — it is recklessness and stupidity. Precisely because this is an imperfect world, there are repair kits and repair shops and repair persons…and in friendships, there is always available a truly heartfelt and sincere “I am sorry.”

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