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Faithful Friends

Good friendship shows love, compassion, empathy and, ultimately, salvation

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AckermanAn elderly man at the parish recently gave me a great anecdote about friendship. He said that a group of his high school friends had decided to meet for lunch in the city. He pulled into a parking garage but received no ticket. Even though he found that odd, he went off to lunch and later returned to his vehicle. He could find no pay station but thought he would pay as he exited. However, at the exit, there was no way to pay. He found only a mechanical arm functioning as a blockade.

There was a help button on the arm, which he pressed, but he was told by a computerized voice to use his smartphone to scan the QR code to pay. He had no idea what that meant; he did not even have a smartphone! He decided to call his buddies from lunch for help. They, too, did not know what to do, but one of them did the best thing imaginable. He called his teenage grandson. That young man used his smartphone to pay my parishioner’s exit fee.

“A faithful friend is really a treasure,” the man told me, echoing the words of Sirach 6:14. “If not for that kid, I’d be a skeleton in a garage!”

While I do think someone would have eventually shown him mercy, there really is something about the power of friendship and intercession. We need the help of others to endure and thrive in this world and the next.

St. Peter was freed from prison because “prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf” (Acts 12:5). The basic lesson to remember is that we are truly responsible for the well-being of one another, as that is the measure of charity.

I am sure that all of us have been approached by people asking us to pray for them, and that is not to be taken lightly. During the anointing of a man in hospice, I was struck by this as I read the instructions from the rite. Quoting from the Letter of James 5:15, the rite states: “The prayer of faith will save the sick persons, and the Lord will raise them up.”

I began to get choked up as I prayed these words, which prompted a young girl in the room to say to her mother, “Mommy, I don’t think Father is going to make it.” That got a good chuckle, but also helped us all to reflect upon the importance of our common prayer.

At the high school where I am chaplain, some students were lamenting to me about a group project that they were assigned. “I hate group work,” one young woman said. “I always get stuck carrying the lazy person, and my grade is tied to theirs for better or worse.”

I can certainly understand her complaint, and I would venture that many of us are tempted to work alone since it is often easier. However, that is not the way of faith. In an excerpt from “Divine Intimacy” (Baronius Press), authored by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD, I recently read this: “This knowledge of his solidarity with the brethren makes a Christian live, not enclosed in the tiny circle of his own interests, but with his heart open to the needs and interests of others.” Our salvation and our path to holiness are dependent upon the relationships that we build, and usually this involves real sacrifice.

My youngest cousin goes to preschool and normally packs his lunch. When his mother picked him up from school one day he had his bookbag, but not his lunchbox.

“Did you leave it at school?” she asked. He shook his head no. “Did someone take it from you?” He again was quiet. “Where is your lunchbox?” his mother asked exasperated.

“I gave it away,” he told her. “Someone didn’t have a lunch, and they needed it more.”

The best Gospel is sometimes preached while learning to finger paint. The Beatles once sang they could “get by with a little help from my friends,” but we can flourish with ours.

Good friendship shows us love, compassion, empathy and, ultimately, salvation. Friendship and interceding for others can get us out of jams — garages, jails, poor grades — but they also can help us get into something better — the kingdom of God.

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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