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Friendship: What It Is & What It Isn’t

January 14, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Sarah Reinhard

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An Introduction to the Devout Life (Week 9 of 14)

Some will tell you that it is better to have no especial friendships or attachments, that they engross the heart, distract the mind, and foster jealousies; but such are mistaken. They have read in the works of saints and devout writers that individual attachments and excessive friendships are hurtful in the religious life, and imagine it to be the same with the rest of the world, but that is not so. In a well-regulated convent, the general end of all is true devotion, and such individual communication is unnecessary, lest it tend to partiality; but it is needful for those who are in the world, and seek after virtue, to bind themselves together in a holy and sacred friendship, by means of which they encourage, stimulate, and forward one another in doing good. Just as those who journey in the plain do not need assistance from one another, but those who are on steep and slippery paths support each other for security's sake, so those who are professed religious do not require private friendships; but those who are in the world need them, to aid and succor one another in the many evils and dangers which they encounter. (An Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 19, Paragraph II)

Oh, how I remember those days when I knew it all and was always right and didn't need anyone else. Did you ever have those days? For me, they occurred when I was in my 20s, long before I was Catholic, way before I was married, and far before I had any hint of motherhood.

It was a slippery slope I was on, and I had quite a crowd around me, assisting me. If you had asked me, I would have told you that I was enlightened and free. Truthfully, I was blind and chained.

Some of my favorite writing is what de Sales has to say about friendship. While it's clear and beautiful, it also opened my eyes to some of the fallacies of the world around us. What does it mean to be a friend? And what is friendship for?

De Sales points out that friendship is something good and even necessary. Next, he gives some advice about friendship itself and what sort of friends we should have.

…worldly friendship confuses the judgment, and makes people imagine they do well whilst really they are in sin, and induces them to accept all their false excuses and pretexts as substantial reasons. They fear light and love darkness, but holy friendship has a clear light, and does not seek to hide itself, appearing willingly before good men. […] [W]orldly friendship turns to evil, to anger, impurity, jealousy, confusion, irritation; but true friendship is always pure, courteous, and loving, and only changes to a yet more perfect and holy union, which is a lively representation of that blessed love which we shall enjoy in Heaven. (Part III, Chapter 20, Paragraph III)

This is a tall order if you happen to be even slightly extroverted. There's a joy in crowds, a bliss in people, an energy from others. And I suspect that St. Francis observed this time and again.

Then again, when you find that gem of a friend, your “BFF,” you keep them, right? But what if that person is not of the holy mentality? What if…

Let's see what de Sales has to say.

…I do know that our heart draws its breath through the ears, receiving thereby the thoughts of others, which it exhales again by the mouth. Be watchful, therefore, against hearkening to foolish words, else your heart will be infested, and do not fear to be uncivil or rude in rejecting all such. (Part III, Chapter 21, Paragraph I)

He continues and basically says that we have to–brace yourself–cut all ties. No, really. Goodbye, friend. Hello, God.

It's an unthinkable choice in today's culture. Leave my friend for God? Are you serious? Surely I can live my life as a witness and let the Holy Spirit use me as an instrument and…

De Sales is very clear on this. “You must not amuse yourself in unraveling those criminal friendships, you must rend them asunder.” He's not leaving room for any gray here. He's pretty set: those “not good for you” friendships have to go.

Easy for HIM to say. HE is a saint. And I am NOT.

What if I don't even know that a friendship is harmful? Or what if I am the friend who is harmful?

Undoubtedly, I will be. De Sales points out, in Chapter 22, that “scarcely anyone is without his faults.” You have to love your friends despite, and around, their failings, but that love isn't your license to imitate those failings: “friendship, far from requiring us to put on one another's faults, would rather oblige us to strive mutually to overcome all such failings. We must doubtless bear patiently with our friend's faults, but not encourage him in them, still less adopt them ourselves.”

Don't confuse imperfections with sins, though. “True and living friendship cannot exist among sin.” Period. Friendship, says de Sales, can only exist where there is virtue. And sin is not virtue.

I still have days when I think I'm completely self-reliant. I will slam away the offers of help, refuse to respond to charity (or with charity, as the case may be), and flirt with being a Total and Complete Jerk. Thankfully, I have a friend who will set me straight, and she starts by praying for me.

Reading Assignment:

Week 9 Part 3: Chapter 28-35

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you have a trusted and true spiritual friend? Consider how you might intentionally grow closer to God through the gift of this friend. If you don't have such a friend, spend time in prayer this week, asking God to open your heart to seeing that person and accepting their friendship.

2. In what ways can you be a better friend, leading others to God? Who in your life may need a truly God-centered friendship?

Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Sarah Reinhard

Sarah Reinhard continues to delight ”and be challenged by” her vocations of Catholic wife and mother. She's online at and is the author of a number of books for families.

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