My book Friendship: The Heart of Being Human aims to do a lot of things, one of which is to highlight the central role of friendship in scripture. God created us for friendship; we are fully human when we are able to live with each other as friends. We lost this in the Fall; Jesus’ Incarnation reestablishes the possibility of friendship between us and God and friendship with each other.
I have some thoughts about what this means for parish life.
1) Christian teaching needs to include friendship as a key to the narrative of salvation. This involves noticing friendship in the Bible and highlighting it in preaching. It also means programming to encourage friendship and to teach, practically, how to develop, treasure, and foster friendship.
2) We need to teach how sin and finitude are related but different, how each inhibits our ability to live in friendship. Practically speaking, the circle of our friends is limited by the time we have and our location in space. The number of people we can be friends with is much smaller than the number of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This means also teaching about eschatological realities, how they can be at once “already” and “not yet.” Similarly, in this world we continue to live as sinners and that has its own impingement upon our ability to live in friendship with other. However, in the world to come, all the friends of Jesus will be friends with all the friends of Jesus. This perspective will help us be real about friendship—which is a key part of building friendship.
3) This involves, I think, teaching as much about friendship as we do about marriage. While God calls most people to marriage, he evidently does not call everyone to marriage, and he does call everyone to stretches of life in which they are not married. But God calls everyone to friendship for all of this life and into and through the life to come.
4) Parishes need to find their courage in teaching about celibacy as a good thing, a positive thing that is not adequately grasped by the negative of not having sexual relations. We need this courage because, first, if we don’t secure friendship as a relationship that is intimate but not sexually intimate, then we will fail to guide people into friendship. If we want friendships to flourish, in the plural, they can’t be imitation marriages. We also need this courage in order to shine a light upon a gospel alternative to the sexual mess that characterizes contemporary life around us.
5) Part of the truth about celibacy is that it requires (more obviously than other modes of life) our need for friendship with God. So we need to teach this. Much Christian spirituality is about fostering relationship with God; let’s be sure to teach people that “relationship” with God is friendship. Remember that great hymn’s closing: Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!
6) Friendship needs to inform our thinking about reconciliation in general and about our thinking about our opponents in church life. Reconciliation is fully realized when we are able to live together as friends. When Jesus enjoins us to pray for our enemies he is, in effect, asking us to pray that our enemies become our friends.
7) The intimacy of friendship is the sharing of a common mind. It means knowing and understanding the friend from the inside. I may not agree with my friend but I can understand how my friend is thinking.
8) God, who is always wanting to give us new friends, may be calling us, you, me, to develop friendship with people with whom, in fact, we differ on important Gospel matters. In any parish there will be disagreements. We should encourage and teach people how to be friends with the people they disagree with. We need to do that without suggesting that the issues of disagreement are unimportant. To teach true friendship is to teach how to be intimate in one’s thoughts, not hiding from one’s friend thoughts which disagree with the friend’s thoughts, but being open and vulnerable and as clear as you can be.