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Friendship in God’s Plan

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During this virus shutdown lots of people are giving practical advice on how to keep relationships healthy. We ask Father Hugh to give us a deeper look at friendship from a Christian perspective. Understanding the role of friendship in God’s life and plan can help us in living out friendship with others.


CK:
Friendships under strain, we’ve got help on the way. Father Hugh Barbour next. Hello and welcome again to Catholic Answers Focus. I’m Cy Kellett, your host and today, we talk a little bit about friendship and disagreement with Father Hugh Barbour. In part, I’m motivated by the fact that a lot of us are stuck together with our close friends, in some cases that would be spouses. And so we thought we’d turn to Father for some conversation about friendship. First of all, hello Father Hugh Barbour.

FHB:
Hello there. It’s a friendly greeting.

CK:
That was very friendly, you’re right. Father, you are a Norbertine priest of St. Michael’s Abbey up the road from us and also the Chaplain here at Catholic Answers and… Okay, Father, so friendship. This is what I’m getting. There’s a lot of practical advice on not ruining your marriage, during the COVID-19 and, not ruining your friendships during, COVID-19. But some of this practical advice, I have to say, suffers, it seems to me, from a lack of a deeper understanding of what friendship is and what its purpose is. It’s kind of secular advice. So I thought we’d talk a little bit about… dig a little deeper into friendship.

FHB:
Sure. And we can dig very deeply because in Christian theology of the moral life, charity or love, which is the highest virtue and the form of all the other virtues that without which we cannot be saved, that is the chief thing, the first and great commandment, love God, and the second, which is like it, love your neighbor as yourself or the new commandment, love one another as I’ve loved you, right? It’s all about love. If you don’t love, then you’re not living the Christian life. So it’s extremely deep topic for us. And, when St. Thomas Aquinas, who is the church’s greatest and normative theologian, I dare to say it because the church itself says it, even Vatican II, says it, the [inaudible 00:02:04] formation says that we should study theology with the light of St. Thomas. Okay. The help of St. Thomas.

Well, when he discusses the virtue of charity or love, it’s the same word but charity has a certain more specific notion in our language of the supernatural love of God. But, love is the word that people understand better. It’s more at hand. But when we… In a section on charity or on love, divine love, supernatural love, love is the virtue, the highest of the virtues, the first question he asks, in the first article that is, is whether charity is friendship.

CK:
Oh.

FHB:
Very first question. Not like, is charity the greatest commandment? Is-

CK:
Is charity friendship.

FHB:
… charity the form of all the virtues? Is charity friendship? Because he knows how to hone things down to make sure people are seeing things the way they actually are. And so, his answer is, “Yes, it’s friendship.” Now what’s friendship? Friendship in the general sense is a love a benevolence, that is of a goodwill, founded on some good thing that is shared in common between two lovers. So, I wish this good thing for you and you wish it for me. I love you with this good in mind and you love me back with the same good in mind. And that’s the foundation of our relationship. Now there are lots of friendships that might be based on a love of soccer or-

CK:
Cuisine.

FHB:
… the cuisine, or whatever. And those are true friendships of a certain sort. They’re normal, natural human friendships. That is a mutual benevolence founded upon communicating in some good thing that you both give to each other. Okay? But it has to be mutual though it’s not… Loving someone, you can love someone who doesn’t love you back. God knows all about that.

CK:
Tell me about it.

FHB:
God knows all about that. And, we don’t want to hear about your, early childhood or your school days.

CK:
Exactly, you don’t.

FHB:
They were so mean to me on the playground, I never got over it. Well, you turned up a pretty nice person as far as I can tell.

CK:
Oh thank you Father.

FHB:
So, in any case. So it’s a love of mutual benevolence, founded upon the communication of something, which would make you happy in some measure or other. But that mutual goodwill, which is founded upon the communication of beatitude, that is our ultimate happiness, heavenly beatitude, eternal life, that is friendship in the strongest and most sublime sense. And that is charity. When you love someone in view of their perfect happiness.

CK:
Okay, so to love one, in view of their perfect happiness. I want you to have everything that can possibly be fulfilling to you.

FHB:
Fulfilling.

CK:
Nothing that is detracting.

FHB:
Well, not fulfilling to you, but fulfilling in fact. Like, I want you to love God and your neighbor as yourself, fulfill the commandments and reach eternal life. So it’s the beatitude of eternal life.

CK:
Yeah, yeah.

FHB:
And so, I will that for you, you will it for me, that’s true charity. So, when we love our neighbors as ourselves, it’s because we love ourselves, in view of eternal life. We love ourselves rightly. That is we want for ourselves the goodness, the things that lead to and the fact of eternal life, the love of God in heaven and the vision of God in heaven. And so consequently, friendship is for us a very deep topic because it’s like-

CK:
It’s the whole deal.

FHB:
… it’s the whole deal, right? That’s why, a number of medieval writers on the spiritual life, in their homilies would, in discussing, they’re sort of following in the line of the great Christian writer Origen who analyzed the nature of God by looking at the different kinds of names that are given to God. And of course, the names that are given to God, of course come from created things, but then they’re applied to Him in some special way and so he asked among all the names that are given to God, which one is the highest?

CK:
Love.

FHB:
Well, he says, “Friend.”

CK:
Okay.

FHB:
Friend, because friend is love incarnate. Friend is… and in English, it’s harder to see because in other languages, friend, we have the word friend. But in Latin languages you say amicus, amigo, that is automatically someone who-

CK:
Is loved.

FHB:
… is loved, that you love. And so he says, “Friend is the first name for God.” And that is certainly not the impression that some people got, learning their catechism, that friend is the first name that we would give to God. But Jesus said at the Last Supper, “I no longer call you my servants. I call you friends.” Why? “Because I’ve told you everything I’ve heard from my father.” That is, I’ve communicated to you in love what the father gave me, which is everything. And so you can love me back with this gift that you’ve given me. And so we are friends, solid, to put our-

CK:
[inaudible 00:07:04]. We’re blood brothers.

FHB:
Blood brothers, right? Put our… What’s that called?

CK:
Wrist.

FHB:
Wrists together. What is that? There’s another word for it. But anyway, wrists together. [inaudible 00:07:16].

CK:
I don’t know.

FHB:
Blood brothers. Anyway, so… I’m thinking of another language actually. Sorry. But any case, that is the first and most universal definition of love or charity, that St. Thomas gives, friendship. That is a love of mutual benevolence in view of our perfect happiness and so, everything else can be seen in the light of that. Whatever we do or say or think with regard to another, is done in view and charity, of their eternal salvation. Now, if we have the good fortune that that other person loves us back in the same way, always doing and saying and thinking and omitting also, everything in our regard in view of our eternal happiness and the love of God, then you have a true and deep spiritual friendship, and this exist in the world.

CK:
Right.

FHB:
Now, for example, a man and a woman, when they get married, the type of mutual love they have is based upon, a particular need of human nature. The completion, of one sex by the other, and the procreation of children, and, that kind of friendship is still kind of ambiguous because there’s something good I need from you that I can’t give back to you or you can’t give back to me that, are two different things. Though we say, there’s a kind of love which is complimentary.

CK:
Okay, yeah.

FHB:
All right. And we sometimes call that need love. That’s not bad, a child needs to be nourished, and need to be instructed, and so loves, his teachers or loves his mother and so on. But, the relationship in marriage, it needs in order to become truly happy, it needs to be elevated to that mutual love in view of eternal life. This marriage is only for this life, but, a type of marriage that becomes a friendship and not only a complimentary union for the sake of procreation, of children, education of children, which is already a very noble thing that’s a sacrament, but it’s ideally becomes an act of friendship because in the Christian sacrament of matrimony, it’s not just a union of man and woman, it’s a sacramental grace that one gives to the other and that’s in view of eternal salvation.

FHB:
So, for us then, the aspects about marriage to which are difficult, and which lead to discord, namely the complementarity, which sometimes ain’t so complimentary.

CK:
Right.

FHB:
The difference in that complementarity, which can be very poignant at times, not to talk about Venus and Mars, but in any case, there you are, there these differences, that is overcome or we say it’s sublimated in the love of God. So husbands love your wives, how? As Christ loved the church and gave himself for her and that’s, wives, be obedient to your husbands. And that’s an obedience based upon the husbands Christ like love for his wife. And so, it’s as the church is united to Christ, so the wife is united to the husband. The wife is like the image of the church, and the husband is the image of Christ.

But as a member of the church, the husband is just like the wife. He’s a bride of Christ. And she also. Because these images are used so we can understand the nature of our role. Christ is forever the head and the bridegroom, the husband, if you will, of all sorts, who receive salvation. So, that’s friendship for us as divine charity. A very important concept. The ancient notion of friendship was based upon… The definition is given by Aristotle, by Cicero, which are practically the same as what St. Thomas gives. That is a communication of mutual love based upon the sharing in certain goods. Everyone can see that. Because it’s not servitude, it’s not, being a citizen or subject. So it’s rather being an equal, with regard to something that is truly good that is shared.

And so that’s the second aspect, of true friendship, not just the sharing of good, which is mutually enjoyed and given and received and given back again. But then also that this establishes a certain equality, between the two persons. And so, that’s when our Lord says, “I call you friends.” That’s a so to say, yes, he’s our master and our Lord, but by charity he has lifted us up to his level, and made us sharers in his own divine life, and therefore we are in a certain sense made his equals by grace. Not-

CK:
Not by our nature.

FHB:
… in any other way, not by our nature. But still, it’s a tremendous gift because who can imagine what it means for the little creature such as we are sinful and limited, speaking at least for myself, to be raised to a level of a real friendship with God, not just a figurative, real.

CK:
That’s actually kind of stunning that he doesn’t want, just servants, that he wants friends. In a certain way, you can see how the Christian life could be lived, as a servant, and the person could miss the part about that he wants you to be his friend and that even some of the suffering that comes to us as Christians is to make us friends, more than just servants. Actually there to exalt us right into friendship.

FHB:
To conform us to Christ.

CK:
Yeah.

FHB:
He says, if you be my disciples, come take up your cross and follow after me. But that discipleship is also a friendship. The nice thing about friendship is that it’s compatible with other relationships we might have with the same person that are different in nature. Like, a master can be a friend with his servant, right? A husband can be a friend with his wife, but the relationship between husband and wife per say, or between a master and servant, not just, those are, analogous, or a teacher and disciple, they are not per se friendships because there is an inequality there. There’s not a mutual giving there. But, when we’re talking about divine charity, there is an automatic equality of everyone with everyone else. If we share in the gift of divine charity, because, that is the great equalizer because it’s the perfection, without which there isn’t any virtue at all, and it’s a sheer gift of God. And so although we can have different degrees or intensities of charity, charity makes us all one.

CK:
Yes.

FHB:
In the same game, the same dance, the same party, the same society.

CK:
Well willing the highest good of each other.

FHB:
Everyone else. Right, exactly. And in the measure which God intends to give it. And so, even within that order of charity, we can distinguish, that, you need to love your parents more than you love other relatives for example, or a husband, in some aspects loves his wife more than his parents, but another aspect, loves his parents more than his wife. There are all these… St. Thomas goes to the whole idea of the order of charity. That is, because these things all go together, it’s not as though we’ve ceased being, our individual selves when we give of this great gift to others, but rather, it forms and perfects our relationships.

CK:
Right. Well I have to say you’ve pointed a lot to that series of things that Christ says at the last supper, but you have left one out, Father.

FHB:
Okay. What is it?

CK:
It’s conditional. All this love. You are my friends, if, you do what I command you.

FHB:
Command you.

CK:
What is that all about? why is he saying that? Why is he giving us that condition?

FHB:
What’s his commandment?

CK:
Love one another, as I’ve loved you.

FHB:
Okay. There you go, you are my friends, if you are my friends, it’s practically a statement of identity. You know?

CK:
I see.

FHB:
I’ve told you that I want you to be my friends and not just my servants and you’re my friends if you do what I commanded you to do. A new commandment I gave you, love one another as I have loved you, so, be like me, I’ll give you the strength to do that. And love everyone the way I love them, and, there we are, we’re friends. So it’s all in the same category. God’s commandments as the apostle says, are not burdensome.

CK:
No, there-

FHB:
It’s not an extra requirement that makes it all hard.

CK:
Yeah. It’s not an add on.

FHB:
No, it’s not an add on.

CK:
It’s more of a promise really, that as long as you are exactly continuing to live in this relationship of love with your brothers and sisters, the way that I loved you, you’re my friends.

FHB:
Exactly.

CK:
Don’t worry. Stop worrying about things.

FHB:
That’s why the first commandment in the tablets of the commandments, the first one that regards love of neighbor, which is the model commandment for love of neighbor, honor thy father and thy mother, because that’s the first, endowed, entitled love relationship that we have. All right. That is the first commandment to which, a promise is, connected. Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy lives may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, to occupy, to enter and to occupy. So the promise of eternal life, whether it’s presented in the Old Testament terms, in terms of long life upon the land which God gives us, or the eternal life of heaven, is related to our love of those whom we are indebted to love-

CK:
Oh, right.

FHB:
[crosstalk 00:16:56] in return. Our love is first and then we love in return.

CK:
Is there… How should I say? You’re going to be mad at me the way I ask this question probably, well maybe not you, but it’ll be because of your charity that you’re not mad at me.

FHB:
I can start with [inaudible 00:17:09]. Why do you always, ta ta ta…

CK:
Well, this is what I want to do. Is there a practical benefit to knowing this about what marriage is and about what friendship is. Can I apply this practically?

FHB:
Practically, okay, so you and your wife or, one and his wife or, one and her husband. All right, we’re having a big disagreement.

CK:
Yeah, right.

FHB:
We used to say a knockdown drag out fight, but of course now that sounds so, not PC that you can’t say no more.

CK:
She’s knock me down a few times.

FHB:
It’s okay.

CK:
[inaudible 00:17:47].

FHB:
No, I know, of course. Anyway, you heard first in Catholic Answers. So, you’re having quite a conflict. Well, the understanding that we present here of love is it clarifies a situation. You have to say, “Now, what are we really after here?” Okay. And am I-

CK:
Oh yeah.

FHB:
… Am I going to live as a true Christian and be determined to give, only good things to one who is dedicated to me also? As you recognize the reality and the concrete reality of the valid relationship you have, and then look at the behavior and expectations in that light. And then of course, as we have St. Paul’s beautiful paying to charity where, love bears all things, hopes all things. So, love can make us patient enabled, which means able to endure suffering, for the sake of others. It can also make us very courageous because if we really love someone, we don’t let them, ruin their lives with their faults, without doing what we can to correct them or to help them, to overcome their faults.

CK:
Because that would be against the definition of love, which is that willing, actively willing, the highest good of the other person.

FHB:
Yeah, right.

CK:
Okay.

FHB:
And then if that kind of love is still rejected, we have those works of mercy. The spiritual works of mercy. One of them is bearing wrongs patiently. And that can also mean patiently, may mean that you have to take some strong measures or speak rather clearly, or require witnesses or other help from outside. All these things can be possible, but they’re not incompatible with charity, as long as you’re trying to get both of you back to this mutual love, founded upon the mutual hope of giving each other, the love, which leads to eternal life. That’s what we’re all about, just fulfilling that commandment. And, most arguments, if you just apply that standard, you could sort of, like a director, you could call it, quits.

But the problem is that we are psychosomatic beings, we are body and soul. And so, if we feel really angry, it roots itself in our body literally, for a good long while even after the argument is over. That is, we develop it ourselves, dispositions to make it easier, to fall back into wrath, that’s why it’s so good to avoid it because we can’t just make it all go away and, men are a little better, even physiologically of shaking off the adrenaline that comes with an argument. Women, have a harder time with it. That’s why they don’t like the quick apologies too much, and not that impressed. because they still feel the experience. But it should give us the light to recognize that this is where we have to go in our relationship in order to overcome, difficulties. Now something simple, that could avoid so much, is a different type of friendship, which St. Thomas talks about in his Summa of theology, which is simply, a question of friendship as part of the justice, which comes from being truth or truth telling.

It’s what’s called affability. And it’s opposed to, argumentativeness. And, that’s not friendship in the full sense, but it’s sometimes called friendship or, it’s like being friendly as opposed to not being friendly. And so, it’s the disposition not to want to cause someone else undue grief or discomfort.

CK:
I see.

FHB:
We might call it politeness, we might call it, having a friendly nature, being easygoing, not being touchy, not taking offense easily because so many arguments began because we have other problems in our own nature and our imagination, our memory, our expectations, which make us react to things as though they were slides, as though we were being mistreated and we become argumentative when really no one’s done anything wrong. We see this with kids, especially adolescents, they can really get peeved very quickly, and they need to learn to meditate on their nature and realize that what’s wrong is that their wills are disordered and they just can’t stand even the thought that someone would tell them, “No, this is the problem.”

CK:
Right. The problem is, when your adolescence is in your 60s and 70s, [crosstalk 00:22:32].

FHB:
Well of course, this is the problem. This affability is a great support to friendship. Just being polite, just being, not quick to judge, or react. And in a way it’s kind of an old fashioned virtue because, in our culture now, even among friends, it’s okay to be kind of a little bit deliberately offensive.

CK:
Yeah.

FHB:
And people often take offense very quickly or they just talk that way. Whereas, older fashioned people tend to be quite reserved in the way they say things that might possibly sound harsh.

CK:
Yeah, right.

FHB:
If you think of your grandparents or whatever, and how carefully they spoke. And now, we’re so used to stand up comics and situation comedies and-

CK:
That we just can’t.

FHB:
… why is crack comments that are funny. And of course they are funny. And of course we’ve got Shakespeare, we’ve got Platas, we’ve got all these examples. But, if we develop the habit of not being argumentative, not being touchy, but being friendly and sweet and not reacting right away, we can avoid, most of what we call arguments because most of them are about practically nothing of importance. Because, if they’re really, really important, that’ll be so solemn, and so heartrending that you’re not going to be just, jumping up and down. You’re going to be thinking deeply about, “No, what can I do about this terrible problem.” So, husbands and wives should be especially careful to be genteel. And it’s always lovely to see a couple of where he still uses terms of endearment, where she still greets me at the door with a kiss, that kind of thing.

Instead of this sort of look up from the paper and go, “Uh.”

CK:
Uh.

FHB:
Or, “I’m watching my program.” Or, “Did you take out the trash?” And, the first things you said [crosstalk 00:24:25].

CK:
This is an affliction of our times though, poor manners.

FHB:
Yeah, poor manners.

CK:
It is an affliction of our times.

FHB:
Exactly.

CK:
And it causes so much trouble and people still refuse to think, “Maybe we should work on our manners.” We’d rather sue each other.

FHB:
Yeah, well there’s, this whole notion of the victim society where everyone’s the victim of everybody else, and I predict-

CK:
That hurts my feelings. I can’t believe you would say that to me.

FHB:
Now, look where you are, you little snowflake you. Okay.

CK:
I’m not little Father.

FHB:
But the result like of what’s going on now. I mean, I dread in the future if they’re going to people that are going to be permanently offended by handshake or being closer than four feet away from somebody, are we going to have a Me Too Movement, just because you traumatized someone because you got within two feet of them, or three feet or four feet?

CK:
Yeah, I know.

FHB:
You wonder, because our society is so off, on what regards the proper balance and proportion in human relationships, that this is a whole new thing now that you can offend people with.

CK:
Yeah, right.

FHB:
I mean, you used to defend people for what you were, and that wasn’t nice either. You’re white, you’re black, you’re Italian, you’re Catholic, you’re Protestant, you’re Jewish, whatever. But that at least is an objective, historical, physical reaction.

CK:
You actually are one of those things.

FHB:
Right, right. And then it just goes to, they start personality equalities, which are perfectly fine and different, become, offensive. It never ends. So, the affability-

CK:
And then everybody is toxic to everybody.

FHB:
Right. Affability… Toxic, that’s the other one.

CK:
I know.

FHB:
Describing other people as toxic.

CK:
As toxic. Yeah.

FHB:
That’s like, you’re describing another human being as poison.

CK:
Yeah.

FHB:
That’s horrible. Would you like to be described that way? Well, because that… if you fulfill the prophecy, because calling someone else toxic is practically speaking, being toxic yourself, because you’re turning other people against this person, you’re characterizing them in the worst possible way and you’re closing the door, to an improvement in the relationship. Now, if someone truly is toxic, it’s better just to get away from them and not just talk about it. All right? I mean, if they really are, if they’re dangerous for you-

CK:
You will get away.

FHB:
… you need to get away from them.

CK:
Yeah.

FHB:
Well some people don’t always do that.

CK:
No, yes you’re right.

FHB:
The point is that if we were affable, if we were polite, if we, showed the normal signs, complimenting people, thanking people, these are all parts of the virtue of affability. And it goes along with the truth telling, that goes along with our human relationships. Granted, you can exaggerate by being, smart and-

CK:
Obsequious.

FHB:
… adulating or obsequious. But at St. Thomas points out, that’s practically never anything more than the venial sin. If you overdo politeness, it’s almost impossible to commit a sin of being too polite. So, unless your intention is evil, but that’s not the case normally. So, I would say a lot of just kind behavior, not getting in because, get into an argument and then there’s a solemn silence and no one breaks it and you become rude to each other and you make it all worse and worse and worse, instead of just insisting on, keeping in your frame and being polite the whole time. Pretend you were a British family, in their country house and you’ve got to have… you got to put your dinner, clothes on and behave nicely at the table.

CK:
Maybe that’s why we all liked Downton Abbey, just because they had manners. They knew how to speak to one another.

FHB:
They could contain themselves, yes. Now, everyone is looking at the clock.

CK:
All right, we going to go. All right, thank you Father.

FHB:
Okay.

CK:
And thank you for everybody-

FHB:
God bless you. So, be true friends of Christ and he will bless you and you will reach eternal life with all the friends you’ve made here below.

CK:
That was the ending. I got nothing. I can’t… Or, I better do it. Thanks for joining us here on Catholic Answers Focus. I’m Cy Kellett your host. Our guest has been Father Hugh Barbour.

FHB:
Winded Father Hugh.

CK:
Oh, we winded you? Be sure wherever you get your podcasts, give us that five star review and maybe leave a comment and share, Focus with people. We’re trying to grow this podcast. We’d like more and more people to know about it and if you get to listen to Father Hugh, do these interviews with us. You know why we’re trying to grow it. All right. We’ll see you next time. God willing right here on Catholic Answers Focus.

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