This is a second excerpt from Dr. Katherine Yohe’s lecture at the Office of Young Adult Ministry’s Relationship Speaker and Discussion Series. The first may be found here: What is Christian Friendship?
Occasionally I have read authors who have stressed similarity as part of their definitions of friendship (namely, Cicero and Aristotle). If two people are very similar, friendships can form quicker and are easier to maintain. The very ease of these friendships make them a great gift in our lives. But Christians can still be friends when such natural similarities are lacking.
I was recently reading Tom Rath’s book, Vital Friendships, where the author argued that we should never expect any one friend, including a spouse, to meet all our needs. Rather, we should look to build many friendships with people having different temperaments, perspectives, abilities, and talents. For example, some friends will be better at encouraging and motivating us, others at challenging us and opening our minds to see things differently, and others at working along side us. These friendships take longer to form, but can be very enriching as we explore new areas of study, have our assumptions challenged, gain new insights, and enjoy new types of music, art, movies, or food.
St. Paul’s description of the Body of Christ points in a similar direction. While friends in Christ need to have some things in common – such as their commitment to Christ and Christian morals and values – there is plenty of room for diversity. The Spirit unites people of different incomes, places in the social strata, cultures, nationalities, and ages. The Spirit gives different gifts to different members so that together they make up the full body of Christ (Rom. 12:1-8). St. Catherine of Sienna even thought that God gave different people different chief virtues so that we would we need to be in relationship with each other in order to develop all the virtues.
Because Christian friendships are soldered together in the Spirit, anything we do to draw closer to God will in turn strengthen our friendships. Pray for strength, wisdom, and patience. Study Scripture to learn the character of Christ and how he related to his friends. Make use of sacramental graces to unite with Christ and be transformed by Him. The more our friendships are formed by the Spirit, the more these friendships will help us unite even more deeply with God who is Love.
What virtue in one of your friends do you most want to develop? How can your friendship support this development?