Earthly Friends - Is it possible?

Dialogue of the Old and the Young

From the Young

This weekend has been very strange.  You know how you can plan things one way and things happen that completely alter them.  Valentine's Day was the 15th anniversary of my first Confession and Communion, which I made here at College, plus the anniversary of other special events in my life.  Instead of working on my thesis or commemorating the day with any amount of prayer, I ended up visiting with a good friend of mine, our former Dominican chaplain, who is my unofficial thesis advisor.  After which I danced at our informal Valentine's Day dance.  It was definitely more fun than working on that horrid thesis!

Yet I do need to work on it.  Please keep it in your prayers, I am no longer very stressed about it but I would like my mind to be free to attend to it now, while I'm in a three day weekend.  I have been pondering for the last two days on how to un-entangle myself from things that have been distressing me exceedingly, and I'm not seeing a way out.   They all basically are about charity towards God and neighbor.  The one concerning God I am slowly solving painfully. 

But towards others it is still somewhat of a mystery.  I was musing on how few really good friends I have.  It is difficult to find someone where the greatest good is shared.  The role of true friendship was in my mind, and oddly enough I got to experience just the opposite the next day.  What amazed me was that my notions of true friendship aren't necessarily shared by others.  I will tell you briefly what happened, because it brought up a couple of interesting questions.  

One of my dearest friends just flew back East to find a house to rent for her family, and so some of the difficulties I had been experiencing had to be expressed merely in my diary rather than to a sympathetic friend from whom I could get a crumb of comfort in my utter solitude.  The validity of even this prop, though, was challenged radically by someone here who has a different view of friendship than I do. 

 A couple of days ago, one girl that I like came to me and asked to discontinue all signs of friendship between us.  Since I had been testing her friendship I was not too surprised because I could see that she didn't know how to respond in a way that I considered to be true friendship.  I was astounded, though, by her reasoning for her request.  She told me that since she is engaged and has a sister on campus that her duty lay simply to her family and that friendship was impossible to non-relatives.  One example she gave was that her parents cried when they went out alone for their wedding anniversary and couldn't wait to get back to (the for the most part) grown up kids.  They couldn't bear the thought of being away from their family for even a few hours.  To be friends with me, then, would be wrong because I'd probably ask her out to tea or something and she would feel guilty in accepting any invitation that took her beyond her family circle.


Wowie!  The poor girl had had to separate herself from others before, and had gotten a very bad reaction from them.  So when she told me this I was able to take it in what she gratefully called a "reasonable" way.  Friendship is something that is not forced upon another.  The others were trying to force themselves upon her without regard to her true good.  I could see that for the present she lacked the ability to open up to others and so it was with no regret that I saw her reject my invitation to further intimacy of soul.  Yet a few things really bugged me about what she had said.


Was she right in saying that friendship must remain within the family?  Immediately before my eye I see my cousin and my uncle on campus.  I hardly spend time with either of them.  My cousin is getting the support she needs from her boyfriend and roommate, while my uncle is very busy as the Dean and I'd hate to disturb him for trivial things.  According to her theory I'd have to dump my  friends and hang on like a leach to my relatives.  I happen to be the oldest of one side of my cousins and the other I am second oldest.  I cannot relate to my cousins as equals but I have more of the advisor like status.  The same applies to my siblings.  We all love each other dearly.  But there is a gulf between us because I am the guinea pig, first in a lot of ways.  This is not to say that I cannot benefit from them in various ways.  We have a very supportive network.  Yet it is not soul satisfying. 


Am I naive in the demands I have of friendship?  What I described as true friendship, she said was sisterly affection.  I do not have a sister.  Does that mean I am projecting my lack of a sister onto other human beings?  For, to me, true friendship consists of willing the good of the other and of being at the complete disposal of one's friends in all ways that are appropriate.  If my friend's sister is in the hospital and she needs someone to cry with at midnight, I am at her disposal.  If I were to call someone at midnight just because I felt flurried because I hadn't completely dusted the house I would consider that an abuse of friendship.  This reasonable availability was called "sisterly" and I was told that it was impossible to have outside of the family.


Yet in looking at my dealings with her I have to disagree.  We know each other inside out although we see each other but seldom.  Our hearts are united and we urge each other onto a greater love for Christ our Beloved.  If our duties allowed, we would be willing to go to the ends of the earth for the other's sake.  Rather than destroying family ties, I find that our friendship enhances our relationships with our respective families.  This takes sacrifices.  I would have loved to have seen her before she left.  But I knew she was busy frantically packing and that I would be more of a burden than a blessing.


This relationship I have with Jane Doe raises a question.  Is it proper for us to confide in each other what we do not to our cherished families?  My answer to this is a qualified yes.  Perhaps I am totally naive about this, but I think that all human beings have limitations as to what you can connect to them with.  I will give you some examples to illustrate what I mean.


Both you and I have friendships with certain people who look up to us.  You know the type.  They come to you for advice and so on, and you give what you can.  But you don't find in them what is necessary for a two sided friendship.  You cannot really confide in the other because that one cannot relate to where you are.


While I am close with my brothers, I cannot talk to them about everything.  They could care less about the details of a skirt I am sewing or the latest book I am reading.  Their world and mine only coincide in a very limited way.  I assume that that applies even to the married.  While they ought to be close in all the important respects, there are still feminine or masculine or immaterial things which cannot be effectively shared in common.  Actually, this is the crux of my disagreement with the girl who couldn't be friends with me.  She thinks it is enough to simply communicate, whether the other is fit or not as a sharer.  Thus she leans on her fiancée for everything, which I think is really silly.  If I were married, I would not bore my husband stiff talking about every little detail of making lace.  Rather, I'd turn to another woman.  I'm not even sure that it would be a bad idea to keep up my deep friendship with Jane Doe should one or both of us get married.  St. Teresa of Avila says that friends of God in the world ought to band together to help each other with encouragement.  I don't think that a husband will automatically be able to be all to his wife.  Jennie and I will probably experience things that he/they would never fathom and not be able to adequately share, and conversely.


Which brings me to another question.  What is perfect friendship, how many can you have, and how does one get there?  In my philosophy paper last year I showed how Aristotle doesn't think man and wife can have perfect friendship.  This I disagree with.  But right now I wonder how one gets to it at all.  There seem to be other degrees of friendship which are not as difficult to get to.  For instance, I can be on good terms with a lot of people who share a common interest.  And that interest is impersonal even if it is important.  So I can be in the Legion of Mary (which I am not because I have a childish prejudice against it).  Supposing that I were, I'd be commonly bound to the others in bringing the world closer to God.  I would say that the friendship is of sorts.  There is no open communication of one's deep stirrings of soul.  Rather, the communication is more on the impersonal level.  Another example that comes to mind is of the one sided opening of soul to another.  I do not feel a very great friendship towards my spiritual director.  There is too great of an inequality involved.  He will never share himself with me because that is really not expected.  Yet another is when two are advising each other on the Christian life but the inner rich life of each is scarcely tapped.  I feel that all these are inadequate to be called the highest sort of spiritual friendship or what I consider true friendship. 


However for both souls to open up to each other seems to stem from a neat sort of mystery.  Each is guessing the hidden worth of the other.  With tentative feelers one probes gently and is probed.  Or am I fantasying about this?   Then the glorious day when both are one in spirit as St. Augustine speaks about concerning his friend. 


For some people, though, this doesn't seem a necessary part of life.  Does God take over this natural function?  I am thinking here of a friend I have who would be perfectly content to never see anyone ever again and just pray all day.  She is not in my generation and is a very holy woman.  She loves me and prays for me but she has no need of communication with me, and I doubt that she would care greatly if she never saw me again because she is self sufficient.  I, on the other hand, seem to need companionship of some kind.  It gets lonely to always be looked up to and seldom treated as an equal.  That is one reason why I love Jane so much.  We respect each other greatly but we have a curious mixing of self respect and the capacity of being deeply influenced by each other.  Both of us are sick of being asked for advice, having this strange position of being isolated from most.


At this point I still have rambling ideas about this topic.   But it is time to go.  This,  by the way, is not the third dialogue topic from me.  For it is too personal to be seen by other eyes.  What are your opinions on the subj?

Have to run,



From the Old


 You are wrong about this not being a good dialogue.  I think by taking out the personal things it would be great.  I will leave it to you but this would be very helpful to many people.  Let us first consider the father and mother of your friend.   They could not enjoy each other without the children.  Not only is this sad, it is sick.  Now let us consider your so-called "friend".  She thinks that by having a friend, she neglects her family.  Not only is this sad, it is sick.  This makes me worry about her future husband.  Is he marrying a girl or an entire family.  Has her mother and father such a need for children that they can never let go for the good of the child.  You are totally right in your assessment of this girl.  I see problems down the road that are not good. 


However, because of my philosophy of friendship, I think you let her down


My philosophy is that you can never expect someone to be a friend - you can only expect of yourself to be a friend to everyone.  I do call some people friends, but my criteria is simple, they never ever lie, and they are there when I need them even if I do not ask with whatsoever help they are capable of. 


My philosophy of being a friend is the reason I believe I will never have the kind of friend you are looking for, and this includes a future wife, my own children or grandchildren.   My idea of being a friend is doing with prudence what is good for someone even if they hate me for it. 


As far as someone being a friend to me, I expect the same thing I give out.  However, my experience is that only Christ and Our Lady are my true friends because only Christ and Our Lady are willing to tell me what I must hear, even if I do not like what they say. 


Let me give a practical example.  Suppose someone at College is talking about you and not in a good way.  Your so-called friend hears this and defends you but does not tell you what is said because she does not want to hurt your feelings.  By this omission she is lying to you.  As a side thought, those who attack me for whatever reason (usually because they are jealous) do not bother me much, but those who believe these lies without proof, bother me a great deal. 


Can a husband or wife be a true friend?  No! In fact no one can, only Christ and His Mother.  Why?  Because there are things we talk with them about that we do not talk with any human about.   What I should share with my wife is what I am, not what I was.  That belongs to God alone and he has already forgiven me or rewarded me and both He and I do not look back but forward to what I will do and not what I did do, good or bad. 


Equality in a friendship?   It is not possible.  One thing I learned in studying autosuggestion or hypnotism, is that in every conversation one person dominates the other.  One person is always superior in whatsoever the two are talking about.  This cannot be avoided.  There are no equals. The best we can hope for is to know when to listen to someone better at the subject than we are, or to talk when we know we are better than they are.  In your case, this will almost always mean that you will control the other person, and if he or she is weak in spirit, he or she will resent the fact that you see things better than they do. 


My greatest friend is a nun I seldom see but when I do I feel that she is interested in nothing else in the world except me.  She does not tell me what I want to hear, but what is good for me to hear.  When it comes to things that she knows I am well read in, she listens to what I have to say but does not accept what I say without logical reasoning and good questions.  I always walk away from her a better person but she does not tell me what I want to hear. 


In all my years of writing or talking with you I never did see any weakness in you, but perhaps now I do.  If by the grace of God we have one good friend in our lives we will be one of the very few who ever did.  The best we can hope for is to be a friend to everyone else, never expecting the same in this life.  People are judgmental in two ways. They see as faults those things they do not do, and see as weaknesses those things they do and you do not.  If you smile and laugh a lot, and they do not, they think you are not contemplative enough.  If they spend three hours a day in prayer and you spend two hours a day, they think you do not love God enough. 


I say all these things as the gabby person I am because I think that friendship in this live is not possible.  My children want me to be their friend, but I want to be their father.  Can I be both?  No!  Because only God can be the friend, I must live up to the job I have and that is father.  They should not confide in me that belongs to a priest in confession or to God alone.  I should not confide in them what belongs to God alone.  No one on this earth should know me the way God knows me. 


From the Young


In which way do you think I let my friend down specifically?  You are rather vague on this point and all I could read between the lines was a failure to let her know that I was willing to be constant to her at all times whenever she needed me (a fact which I assumed she knew but didn't vocalize- perhaps not a very good omission?)   I did as I saw my duty.  That is, she needed to order herself somewhat from too many distractions pulling her away from family.  It was necessary for her to recognize that she really wasn't giving enough time to her family.  When she finally has time for her family, only then will it be time to start branching out again.  The current evil was that she was gadding about with everyone.  She was not discriminate enough to set aside a proper amount of time to be spent with her circle of friends. 


From the Old


You let her down by not showing her that her family was too close and this could lead to problems in the future, especially with her future spouse.


From the Young


Her reaction when seeing the fact that her time was spent unwisely was mixed.  She saw the truth that she needed to spend more time with her family.  She didn't see that although that was a duty, it is not the whole of life, and that her reaction was overdone.  Again, I repeat that she was expending herself so much on others that she was not giving the proper amount of time to those closest to her.  I will use the name we gave her when in Hollywood so it is easier to write about her: Jane Doe was troubled by certain people on and off campus who had excessive need attachments to her.  She was spending too much time with mentally imbalanced people who depended upon her as their all and consequently demanded every spare moment from her as proof of friendship.  


As I said, we spoke for four hours.  I would have been guilty of not being a true friend to her had I not pointed out that I thought she was wrong.  And I did, in what I considered a prudent fashion.  God let us be children so that we would have the process of growing up.   We do not learn everything at once.  So I was not going to tell her everything at once because she was definitely not ready.  I contented myself with telling her some general principles that if really put into practice would allow her to extend her narrow family circle to the bigger one of family and friends and brethren in Christ.


From the Old


Good for you.


From the Young


What are some of these principles?  First, that charity, root of friendship of any kind, means that we will the genuine good of the other.  What are some of the implications of this?  We pray for others.  We correct and admonish others when there is the probability that it will do good.  We encourage others not to have a disordered attachment to ourselves.  We desire that others get ever closer to God.  We do not allow others to spend time with us by way of visits, letters, or calls when it is detrimental to their good.


Charity also supposes a proper love of ourselves.  God loves us.  That is why we love ourselves, for we love ourselves in Him.  Practically speaking, what does this entail?  Well, we love God.  So we can't disobey His commandments out of a false love for ourselves.  Further, we have to love ourselves in a way that will further our love for God and neighbor.  I truly love my neighbor, not only when I will his genuine good, but my own.  This means that I just might have to say no to myself to certain things.  For instance, you bring up the example of things which should only be said to a priest in confession.  If I should have a desire to reveal such a thing to another, I have to say no to that.  Similarly, I have to say no to what I called the desire of communicating without thought to the fitness of the one being spoken to.  Further, I must say that I believe that it is a human and necessary to have true friends in whom one may rely on for various things.  And I will spell this out later in detail.


To your saying that you can never "expect" someone to be a friend...  Do you mean that absolutely speaking?  I doubt that you are.  For we have Christ saying to His disciples "I call you not servants but friends".  Friendship is a freely willed reciprocal affair.  The Apostles had the choice of accepting or rejecting Divine friendship.  It is extended to all but not all receive it.  What am I saying?  That we do not "demand" friendship.  God Himself respects the freedom of man to become friends with Him.  (This is not to say that in a sense He "demands" friendship as a condition for man to achieve final happiness.)  To expect friendship, or the return of friendliness as the only response possible is silly,  but to see that the possibility of friendship's developing given the proper conditions (such as that something which is mutually attractive and so on) when both parties freely give of themselves is not.


You say that your philosophy differs from mine because your idea of "being a friend is doing with prudence what is good for someone even if they hate me for it."  Here I believe some distinctions have to be made because either we have contrasting theories or only seeming contraries.  It is true that I said I think that perfect friendships are possible, not only between man and wife but with others.  Aristotle in speaking of perfect friendships laid down various conditions.  The perfect friendship was not based on utility or pleasure, but on the respective virtues of the parties.  Perfect friends had to spend a lot of time together.  They had to rejoice in the other's virtue as a reflection of their own (here I might add that this is the pagan view that needs to be Christianized).  The friends had to be for the most part equal.  (This is why he says man and wife cannot have perfect friendship because they are very unequal in that man has the "ruling virtue" and the woman is to be "submissive" in the relation of ruler to ruled...) 


What you say of equality is very interesting, and I will respond to it when I get there more fully.  But for now let me say a few words on how I see it pertaining to this question of perfect friendship.  When one speaks properly of a friendship (leave God aside for the moment) one speaks generally of the state in which two reciprocate friendliness.  Both have their strengths and weaknesses.  One will strictly speaking be more beloved of God than the other, because as you rightly said, there is no true equality of persons.  Yet on this earth we do not always know for certain who actually is the more beloved because God's gifts differ and we do not have the Divine scale.  Therefore I believe it is possible to treat as an equal those who have the same bent as you towards God.  And I might say in addition that "perfect" has many connotations.  I will not split hairs over this but simply say that in my mind, I describe perfect as the best kind of friendship possible to fellow human beings living on this planet.  That means that the friendships of pleasure or of utility are not of the best kind for humans.  The best type are spiritual friendships.  And these friendships have their grades as well.  The most satisfying of which relations seem to be those of spiritual equality of sorts.


This equality must have some explanation, though, and I will bring up an example.  Who is the more saintly, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, or St. Peter of Alcantara?  I claim that they regarded each other as equals enough that they had a very, very deep friendship.  Obviously they were not equal.  But this is what I see.  St. Teresa of Avila consulted both St. John of the Cross and St. Peter of Alcantara.  She had a high degree of respect and love for them.  In this sense she was "unequal".  Yet she calls St. John her "son".  And I'm sure she had terms for St. Peter as well.  St. Peter excelled her in extraordinary penances.  St. John excelled her in sublime poetry.  But at the same time St. John called her "mother".  He admired her so much and she was such a comfort to him that his greatest sacrifice was in burning her letters.  I don't know if St. Peter knew St. John.  But as far as the rest of the relationships went, I think it is fair to say that it was a common love of God that brought about an equality of sorts.  By this I am not saying that they all were at the same degree of holiness.  Rather, in the various manifestations of the love of God towards them, there were enough common factors for them to relate to each other in the manner of equals.


As far as someone being a friend to me, I expect the same thing I give out.  However, my experience is that only Christ and Our Lady are my true friends because only Christ and Our Lady are willing to tell me what I must hear, even if I do not like what they say. 


You are right in saying that we must be prepared always to do what is good even if we are hated for it.  I think that this is true but this must be understood not only in a negative connotation, but a positive one.  You are putting forth one's personal duty to love all in Christ, and that one must do things which are painful to hear and consequently a source of hatred or friction.  This is being a true friend for your side.  But if the other person takes it in the wrong way, I do not believe that he is a true friend.  For a true friend is a genuine lover of Christ.  And one who loves Him is prepared to take humiliation and correction at the hands of his friend.  Again, I do think that in the two-sided genuine friendship, a person will not have fear of displeasing his friend to the extent of hatred or dislike being engendered.  For, a true friend will recognize the need to admonished by another when he is in the wrong, and consequently will be grateful for his friend's care even if it be of a painful kind.  Here I am saying that although it is painful to hear the truth about oneself at times, it is a necessary part of friendship, and this is why friendship is reciprocal.  It is not simply one-sided, and I believe you can really expect this out of a true friend even of human friends in this world who are not God and Mary.


If by true friend in a husband or wife you mean a total satisfying of one's soul in being understood and loved infinitely, of course there can't be a true friend in anyone including Mary.  When I used the term "perfect friendship" I meant that which is most perfect in human relationships, the spiritual which can be linked to the marital friendship based on the love of Christ.  I said elsewhere that every human being is limited.  Hence, that in which a person is superior and inferior to me will differ person to person.  But that which most closely unites people is a great love for Christ.  After God, Mary indeed is the most satisfactory.  But our friendships with both differ.  We shall see God in His essence in Heaven.  That is fully satisfying to the human heart.  But Mary is our Mother.  She is not infinite although she has been sufficiently graced to be mother to us all.  Therefore she being finite cannot be infinitely satisfying even though she knows and provides for all our needs through the bounty of her Son.  Just as you say that you cannot be a friend to your children, so I will say that you cannot be friends of a kind with Mary, but be her child.  She is fully perfect for what we need of her.  Yet here I must say on once more I think that perfect friendships on this earth with human beings not yet in heaven are possible.  Perfect friendships are by definition rare.  But I think that they do exist especially among the more holy of us.  The closer each person of the friendship is to Christ, the deeper the friendship. 


[Equality in a friendship?   It is not possible.]   Now I am troubled about the use of the word "control" here.  I can indeed control how I will shape a conversation to a certain extent.  But to control another person in ways beyond that is beyond my call.  I can say the truth, but I cannot force another to accept it.  I can only say things which can persuade another to accept the truth, but ultimately it depends upon the other's free will.  Just as it is wrong to force baptism on the unwilling, so it is wrong to control even for the apparent good of another, unless I am in the position of authority. 


The Old  [People are judgmental in two ways. They see as faults those things they do not do, and see as weaknesses those things they do and you do not.  If you smile and laugh a lot, and they do not, they think you are not contemplative enough.  If they spend three hours a day in prayer and you spend two hours a day, they think you do not love God enough.]


The Young  This is very true!  But can't you say true friends really do see more clearly the state of the other and are able to be of help?  Isn't this the paradox one comes up to even say in the matter of spiritual direction?  You don't want to get one who will just rubber stamp what you have planned, but you also don't want one who totally misunderstands you to the point of misdirecting you according to his own wishes or views? 


Well, I think I have said quite a mouthful for today.  But I want to close with one of the thoughts I was thinking of the last time I wrote you.


Christ says "I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake."  He is "distressed" and "agitated".  Why?  It is no easy thing to view one's horrifying Passion.   This is not a meditation on the whole swarm of details concerning the Agony.  Rather, two thoughts suffice for my purposes. 


 Christ is supremely alone.  It is tricky to speak of Him without falling into heresy... so you must read this in the best light possible... here the word "alone" is to be understood in the correct sense.  All the more painful because He sees so clearly is this sense of separation from all of creation felt.  He alone has personal consciousness of the astounding magnitude of His Passion.  All other men are separate consciousness.  This vast view cannot be communicated finitely.  Men have but a dim perception of this drama.  (Here a human example is when one loses a close family member.  That infinite gulf one feels in utter separation from others in this experience is similar.  No one knows exactly how you are feeling because you are who you are!  That is why it is but a grain of comfort when one who has gone through the same thing tries to console you, and yet that comfort is


Yet, our God turns to three.   They are His special friends.  Alas, they are asleep!  Our Lord in His Sacred Humanity desires the loving supportive presence of His friends.  They cannot pierce the infinite and see all that He is undergoing.   But the little they do sympathize with would ease His Heart.   O greater wound!  He hasn't even this slight boon for they are unconscious in more than one way.


The Old

What can be added to that?