What is Christian Friendship?

From time to time, we invite guest bloggers to share their wisdom with us, and today I would like to present Dr. Katherine Yohe who earned her PhD in Historical Theology from the Catholic University of America. On July 19th 2009, she gave a lecture for the Office of Young Adult Ministry’s Relationship Speaker and Discussion Series. The following is an excerpt from that presentation.

Christian friendships are relationships of mutual affection and service, with in-depth conversations, enlivened by the Holy Spirit.

While other forms of love can be one sided, friendships are not friendships unless they are seen as such by both parties. We cannot be someone’s friend if he or she do not consider us a friend in turn. Jesus called friends those who, in turn, were friendly toward him such as Lazarus, John, and the disciples at the last supper. However, we can desire a friendship, reach out in friendship, and offer friendship before there is a return of friendship. Jesus offered friendship, it seems, to everyone. For example, who is he talking about when he says: “Greater love has no one than he lay down his life for his friends”? (John 15:13) Who was he laying down his life for? Everyone!

Affection does not referring to signs of affection per se – such as big hugs – but rather to a movement of the heart that radiates through the eyes and says “I am glad to be with you” or “I enjoy being in your presence.” Can you imagine what the gaze of Jesus must have looked like? Or think of times in your own life: What has Jesus’ love felt like during those graced moments when we have encountered Him? Christ’s love is affectionate; it isn’t mechanical. It isn’t “I’ll be nice to this person because I have to.” Rather it has a warmth, a joy, a delight in being with the other – taking time to walk, eat, and even spend eternity with that person.

Friendship goes beyond the emotional component to service. Good friends do not want to just be together, they want to do things for each other. Jesus served his friends in both little and big ways. He washed their feet, he cooked breakfast for them by the Sea of Galilee, and he died for them.

In-depth Conversations
These are conversations which reveal one’s interior life. Jesus spent a lot of time talking with his friends about who he is, how he prays and understands the Scriptures, what his plans are for the world, and how they can participate in this work. At the last supper he says, “I shall not call you servants any longer, because I servant does not know his master’s business,  I call you friends because I have made know to you everything I have learned from my Father.” (John 15:15)

Enlivened by the Holy Spirit
As Saint Augustine states, addressing God, “For friendship cannot be true unless You solder it together among those who cleave to one another by love ‘poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Spirit’” (Confessions 4.7, quoting Romans 5:5) Thus the love that Christian friends have for each other is inspired, moved, empowered, by the very love of God flowing through each of them. Just as the Father and Son are united in the love that is the Holy Spirit, so to do Christian friends love one another with the Spirit’s love.

What can you do today to strengthen your Christian friendships?

5 Replies to “What is Christian Friendship?”

  1. I attended this talk, it was great. I’m still talking about it. I’d love to hear her speak again. Do you remember some of the authors she cited in her talk? They were good points of reference.

    1. Hi JJ,
      Here is a list of the sources Dr. Yohe quoted:
      Pope Benedict (Deus Caritas Est)
      St. Augustine (Confessions)
      Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes, The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity),
      Aelred of Rievaulx (Spiritual Friendship)
      St. Francis de Sales (Introduction to the Devout Life)
      Catechism of the Catholic Church
      Tom Rath (Vital Friendships)

  2. I was looking for a photo to include with this post. It was interesting. When I googled “friends” and Friendship the first ten pages of photos in the image library were almost ALL of animals. It’s almost as though, according to the image library Our closest frinds are our animals. Kinda sad hugh?

    As to friendship, some the philosophers of old stated that friendship was the “greatest” love since, free from the complications that sex and family ties sometimes bring, friends are more free to speak the truth to each other. I suspect that there is some truth to this insight, though it is also telling as to the degree to which marriage often times falls short of its ideals. One might wish this of every marriage too. Realistically though one can understand that marriage DOES have its complications and frienship can more easily be a far simpler less egocetric relationship.

  3. What can I do today to strengthen my Christian friendships?

    I can try being more practical and while keeping spontaneity, learn what my friends like! People talk about Dr. Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages: Gifts, Words of Affirmation, Quality of Time, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.

    Acts of Service is one of my favorite languages of love: A friend of mine likes to ask me for a ride occasionally and it makes me smile when I see her calling me, because she always tries to explain a lot and I already want to say, “It’s O.K I’d love to give you a ride”.

    A favorite movie that shows friendships is Dances with Wolves. Wind In His Hair and Dances With Wolves barely speak the same language but they hang out at the tribe celebration after the killing of the buffalo. Wind in His Hair proves to be a friend to Dances with Wolves when he helps bring peace and make a fair trade between a Sioux that have found the army hat and Dances with Wolves who still wanted it. If you have seen the movie, you will remember that there is an uncomfortable moment but after the trade Wind in His Hair has a big smile because of the good outcome of the negotiation.

    Then of course, there is that final scene when Dances With Wolves is departing on a peace mission to save his Sioux friends and Wind In His Hair goes to a high cliff to scream good-bye with some awesome words of affirmation to his friend. He says: “Dances With Wolves. I am Wind In His Hair. Do you see that I am your friend? Can you see that you will always be my friend?”

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