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The Importance of Brotherhood

Friendship with others aids our relationship with God

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Friendship is essential for all of us. The Book of Sirach states it well: “Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; / whoever finds one finds a treasure. / Faithful friends are beyond price, / no amount can balance their worth” (6:14-15).

However, there are times that we may regret our friendships. Several years ago, friends of mine asked me to help them move, and although I was much more interested in other activities that day, I did agree to assist. They did not appear to have an abundance of possessions or furniture, and so I naively believed that this move would be easy. They were moving from a first-floor apartment into a fourth-floor apartment at a location 10 minutes away. Much to my surprise, the new building had no elevator. As a result, I made more trips up and down the stairs than a CrossFit trainer. Furthermore, their couch would not fit into the stairwell, and as a result we had to use a rope and a pulley to heave that couch 50 feet into the air and pull it into a window. I was so tired and sore by the end that I almost fell over while genuflecting during the evening Mass that night. I can remember thinking that I would never do a favor for someone again.

Of course, I am not resentful and still remain very good friends with that couple to this day. I laugh about that experience now and even reflect that they taught me the need to downsize. Most importantly, though, the experience taught me the value of what it means to be a friend. In our own lives, I imagine all of us desire friendship with God, especially in prayer.

St. Teresa of Ávila once wrote that “mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends.” Teresa certainly understood that a deeper union with God means developing a friendship with him, and that takes work. Friendship with God involves a continuous desire to offer ourselves to the God whom we love especially when we may feel like doing otherwise.

There is a great story about a mother who asked her young son to help in the garden. He did not have any desire to do so and therefore made up an excuse. To entice him, the mother offered a monetary reward for his service, and he quickly sprung into action. When she went to get ready for bed that night she felt something in her slippers. Bending down, she discovered the money that she had offered him. There was a note that said: “Keep it. You’re my best friend!”

Several years ago, we had a very difficult eighth-grade class at our parish. The kids were so rambunctious and troublesome that many of the teachers referred to graduation as an exorcism. Amazingly though, after graduation, those same kids did not leave the Church. Several of them sat in the pews crying, and many offered very emotional goodbyes to their teachers. One teacher shared a note with me that she had received. It read: “I know I was a lot to deal with, but you showed me that someone really does love me. Thank you for being a friend.”

Obviously, the sacrifices and the struggles that the teacher endured made a real impact. Those are the lessons that remind us that God gives us friendship to aid us on the way to salvation, even when it is a battle. I once saw two women fighting at a flea market about the price of an item. The exchange got heated, but then one said to the other, “I’ll pick you up tomorrow for lunch.” I was amazed she was going to lunch with her, but she replied, “Oh, Father, if you can’t fight with your friends, what good are they.”

Yes, it is true that friendship will challenge us spiritually, mentally, emotionally and even physically. We may be stretched when asked to do things we never imagined, even deadlifting a recliner! However, we also know that friendship with others aids our friendship with God. We are meant to be with others, and they are meant to challenge us. As St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “In the company of friends, we will find strength to attain our sublime ideal.”

FATHER MICHAEL ACKERMAN is the pastor at Resurrection Parish, Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, and chaplain at Seton LaSalle Catholic High School in Pittsburgh.

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