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VII. LOVE OF ONE’S FRIENDS
1. We call those men friends whose principles are the same as ours, and who cherish mutual good will, mutually support one another, and hold confidential intercourse one with another.
Those whose principles are the same soon become friends. We like what is like. Friends cherish more kindly feelings towards one another than they do towards the world at large. They are one heart and one soul. St. Jerome compares friendship to a mirror, which presents a faithful image of the object before it. If one who stands before a mirror laughs, or moves his head, the image in the mirror does the same. His very wishes and dislikes seem to be shared by the image in the mirror. So it is with friendship. Trifling differences do not dissever it, they rather clench it more firmly. The smith sprinkles water upon the fire to fan the flame, and a town that has been re-conquered is garrisoned more strongly than one which has never been lost to the crown. Friends support one another. Pythias and Damon were intimate friends. One of them was sentenced to death by Dionysius the tyrant. He asked permission to go home to set his affairs in order, his friend meanwhile acting as a hostage for him, prepared to die in his stead, did he not reappear at the appointed time. The hour for the execution struck, but the condemned man was not there. Yet his friend persisted that he would come, and so he did. The tyrant admired their mutual devotion and pardoned the one under sentence of death. David, the son of an ordinary citizen of Bethlehem, and Jonathan, the king’s son, made each other’s acquaintance in the camp, and finding in each other kindred souls, they formed a close friendship. When Jonathan heard that David’s life was sought after, he could not eat for anxiety on his behalf, and when he had to part from him, he wept bitterly (1 Kings xx. 24; xviii. 1). Friends hold confidential intercourse with one another, they conceal nothing one from the other. When the door of a room is opened, you see all that is in it. So friends disclose to one another their inmost soul, and reveal the secrets of their heart. Christ communicated many mysteries to His disciples, friends are consequently candid and open-hearted to one another; they tell one another of their failings. Thus Christ warned His apostles of their faults; for instance, He exhorted them to cultivate a more childlike spirit (Matt. xviii. 3). St. Gregory the Great used to say: “I only count those as my friends who have the generosity to point out my faults to me.”
2. Those only are true friends whose friendship is based upon principles of religion.
Friendship, like a building, must rest upon a solid foundation; and only when this foundation is the fear of God and the love of God, will the structure of friendship stand firm. If it is based on wrong or selfish motives, it is founded upon sand. One who is the enemy of God cannot be a true friend to his neighbor; he only loves his friend aright who loves God in him (St. Augustine). When seen in the bed of the ocean, coral appears to be a bush of greenish hue, without any special beauty, but when taken out of the water it becomes bright, red and hard. So friendship acquires its brilliancy, its beauty, its solidity, when it is elevated into the atmosphere of divine love (St. Francis of Sales).
3. Those are false friends whose friendship rests on principles that are reprehensible; they ruin one another body and soul, and forsake one another in the time of adversity.
False friendships are those which are formed merely for the sake of pleasure or gain, or some bad purpose; or between men who need one another’s assistance in perpetrating some dark deed. Thus Judas made an agreement with the high priests against Our Lord; and Pilate and Herod were made friends on the occasion of His condemnation. False friends are only steadfast as long as they need each other (Ecclus. vi. 7 seq.). When Judas in desperation took the money back to the chief priests with self -accusations, they spoke as if they knew nothing about him: “What is that to us? Look thou to it” (Matt. xxvii. 4). False friends act like the swallows; as long as it is warm here, they stay happily in this country with us; but as soon as they feel the inclement winter approaching, they take flight to a sunnier clime. Or they may be compared to bees, which fly away from a flower when they have sucked all the honey out of its cup (Segneri). They are like a reed, which breaks when one leans on it. The Romans used to say: “As long as thou art happy thou wilt have many friends, but as soon as adversity overtakes thee thou wilt find thyself alone.” Misfortune is the test of true friendship.
4. It is not wrong to have friends, and to love them more than other men; for Christ had friends whom He loved with a special predilection.
Our Lord loved all men, but He loved His disciples best; He called them His friends, His children, and treated them with familiarity and confidence. Among His disciples John was His special favorite; next to him He loved Peter and James; these three were with Him on the most memorable occasions of His life on earth, on Thabor and on Olivet. We are told also that Jesus loved Lazarus and his two sisters (John xi. 5). We know that God shows special predilection for, and confers most graces on those who are most like Him, and who love Him most; we therefore are warranted in doing the same, in loving and trusting those most in whom we find similarity of tastes and affection for ourselves. The need of friendship is implanted by the Creator in every human breast.
5. It is a great happiness for us to have true friends, for they add greatly to the enjoyment of life, and preserve us from dangers of soul and body.
Blessed is he that findeth a true friend (Ecclus. xxv. 12). A friend makes our life much pleasanter; his sympathy increases our happiness and makes our afflictions easier to bear. St. Augustine says there is no more salutary balm for our wounds than the consolations of a friend. Just as a stick is not broken as readily if it is bound up with others, so we are not as soon cast down by calamity, if faithful friends are at hand to succor us. A true friend is like another guardian angel; no defense is so efficacious as that which he affords us. “Nothing can be compared to a faithful friend; no weight of gold and silver is equal to his fidelity. They that fear the Lord shall find him” (Ecclus. vi. 15). Alexander the Great, on being asked where his treasures were, pointed to his friends and said: “Those are my treasures.” True friendship does not cease at our death, for charity never falleth away (1 Cor. xiii. 8). Those who have been real friends on earth will see and love one another in heaven; Christ promises His apostles that they shall be with Him hereafter (John xvii. 24). False friends will curse one another after death, for having been a cause of sin and unhappiness to one another.
6. One must not be rash in forming friendships, nor must one do wrong to please a friend.
David complains: “The man in whom I trusted, who eat my bread, hath greatly supplanted me” (Ps. xl. 10). Holy Scripture also warns us to try a friend before taking him, and not to trust him too readily (Ecclus. vi. 7). Do not judge of him as much by his words as by his deeds. And if he asks you to do evil for his sake, answer him as the Greek answered the friend who wanted him to swear falsely in his interest: “I am only thy friend in so far as I do not lose the friendship of God.” The friendship of God is indeed worth more than any human friendship.
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