Friendship is a household concept that has surrounded us since childhood. It has enjoyed a renewed prominence in the vocabulary of the new digital social networks that have emerged in the last few years. It is a word conveying ideas of love, affection, and trust. The concept is one of the noblest achievements of human culture. It is in and through our friendship that we grow and develop as humans. The expression brings to mind pleasant memories of our dearest friends of games and secret handshakes, smiles and laughs and, later on, of long conversations, confidences and shared troubles. For this reason, true friendship has always been seen as one of the greatest good any human person can experience. We should be careful therefore, never to trivialize the concept or the experience of friendship.
Meanwhile, there is no rational being who does not desire the companionship of a good friend. Everyone needs to be in relationship with others, not just to exchange opinions, to comment on trivial events or to chat about current affairs. The need to communicate goes deeper than that, for things happen deep down in everyone’s soul. Some are pleasant and need to be shared whereas others could be so distressing that one needs to pour out its sorrows. Considering the fact that man is not an island, every person however holy needs an outlet, for no one created by God can be self-sufficient. However, not all outlets are palliative or therapeutic; some do not absorb the troubles being poured out, some simply reflect them or bounce them back again while others worsen the situation.
Conscious of this, Aristotle, the famous ancient Philosopher names three kinds of basic friendship: the “pleasant friendship”, the “useful friendship’’ and the “virtuous friendship’’ The pleasant friendship results when two people find each other’s company pleasant. What one sees in the other is the other’s cause of some pleasure for him or her. In the useful friendship, each person receives some benefit from the other, and this becomes the basis of their relationship. In these two types of friendships, the friend is loved neither for his own sake, nor for who he is himself. Aristotle calls them “incidental friendships”. The circumstances of these friendships notwithstanding, they are not bad in themselves, rather they are just natural but not friendship in the real sense of the word.
The fullest friendship is the “virtuous friendship’’. As opposed to pleasant and useful friendships, it occurs when two persons love each other for the other person’s sake and for who they are in themselves; not “incidentally”. Just as the name implies, this kind of friendship can only begin when virtue or goodness is present. My real friend is that person who gives me joy. It is the kind of joy that can always feel that God has sent him. He does not run away because of adversity. In the words of Aristotle, “in poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge’’. Friendship is only possible in a sincere openness to give and receive a love which is true to Jesus in both its spiritual motivation and in its corporal expression. Friendship implies real presence, at least for a time, in both body and soul, and therefore integral respect for the unity of body and soul of the friend. Friendship will require self-revelation, and thus trust and openness. It proceeds from deepest truth of the human person and aims for that same truth in the friend. It will require faithfulness sustained by a readiness to forgive without conditions. Friendship is not a convenience, but involves commitment, and self-sacrifice, and suffering. Friendship needs to be realistic, that is grounded in truth and humility, not in fantasy or thinly- veiled selfishness. A friend is not a means to an end, but an end in himself; a friend is not there to be the object of my infantile or neurotic desires, but to be treasured like a pearl of great price; a real “treasure hidden in a field”.
In as much as we are in dare need of friendship, it is necessary to realize that honest friendship is determined by the attitude of the other friend; by his or her priority in life; like moral purity, church, education and other virtues. Besides, a friend who will not create an enabling environment for a deeper love of God is no friend.