One of the greatest goods in this life is friendship. We see the importance of friendship throughout Scripture. Christ Himself developed close friendships with the Apostles and others. He had a truly profound friendship with St. John in particular. He even tells us that there is no love greater than laying down one’s life for his friends (John 15:13).
The greatness of friendship has been articulated down through the ages, including in both the Old and New Testaments, the writings of Aristotle, a moving portrayal in St. Augustine’s Confessions, the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, and by the saints. The saints themselves have shared great friendships amongst themselves, and much to our culture’s shock in its overemphasis on eros, there have been deep holy friendships between men and women grounded in agape as seen in St. Francis and St. Clare, as well as St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, and others.
The problem with friendship in our culture is twofold. First, we allow our friendships to take on too utilitarian of a nature. Rather than focusing on the love we have for the other person, we often only call on people when we need something.
These friendships of utility are considered the lowest by Aristotle for rather obvious reasons. They serve a purpose, but they lack depth and meaning. This is a very common type of friendship. They serve their purpose, but in the end leave us unfulfilled because they lack any real connection between the parties. It is a relationship of usefulness and that’s it.
The second problem, we have placed an inordinate emphasis on eros, or romantic love, to the detriment of other forms of love. Our culture has convinced us that our spouse can completely fulfill us and be all things to us. This has never been the Christian understanding, which is evidenced by both Sacred Scripture and Church history. No person besides Jesus Christ can be all things to us and completely fulfill us. Our spouse is our first and best friend, but in no way are they meant to be our only friend. This type of understanding leads us to cave in on ourselves and to forget the world around us.
Love is meant to make us move outwards from ourselves, and marriage is no different. Marriage is where the principle of subsidiarity is first practiced in order for us to move outwards in our mission of bringing the world into conformation with the Most Holy Trinity.
Another view that many of us have of friendship is that friends are merely for our pleasure or the good feelings they provide. This is another form of friendship Aristotle discusses that is a sort of mid-level friendship. We share common interests with these friends. We socialize with these people and spend time together, but it is merely for pleasure’s sake. Our affections for these friends are grounded in shared interests and commonalities, but do not go beyond this level. These relationships are well and good, but they too leave us desiring more. These friendships do not plumb the depths of reality and God, and they are not designed to help us reach our destiny and eschatological end. They are good in themselves, but a much lesser good than the types of friendships the saints sought after or that Our Lord discusses in the Gospels.