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There are friends and then there are soul friends

Jesus poured love into our hearts when He said, “I call you friends,” inviting us into an intimate relationship. He sent the 72 disciples out in pairs so that each had a companion. Christ gives us companions as well. The importance of a compassionate and loyal friend is emphasized by St. Bridget, who wrote, “Go off and don’t eat until you get a soul friend, because anyone without a soul friend is like a body without a head.”

Let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant. (Sirach 6:6)

The word “friend” rolls easily off our tongues! When we say, “I’d like you to meet my friend ... ,” the listener knows little about the relationship. It could be a person with whom we work, or someone who shares the depths of our hearts. Acquaintances tend to come and go throughout life, serving short-term roles: a partner for tennis, a fellow movie aficionado or a dining companion. When couples marry, friendship patterns change and acquaintances often fall away as time is devoted to family. Relationships are enhanced when couples discuss how to distribute their time between family and others.

A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance the friend’s worth. (Sirach 6:15)

The 12th century Cistercian monk, Aelred of Rievaulx, described spiritual friendship as, “ ... what happiness, what security, what joy to have someone to whom you dare to speak on terms of equality as to another self;  one to whom you need have no fear to confess your failings; one to whom you can unblushingly make known what progress you have made in the spiritual life; one to whom you can entrust all the secrets of your heart and before whom you can place all your plans.” Soul friends are gifts from God, helping us burn with devotion to the Lord. Aelred wrote, “a man, though he be absent in body, is yet present in spirit.” When life’s commitments, such as marriage or geographical distance, reduce the time shared between soul friends, the bond remains as each holds the other in prayer.

Bonds of love require patience and commitment. We choose friends and spouses, but we may be bewildered by the temperaments of parents, children, and in-laws. I’ve wondered what was going through Lillian Carter’s mind when her son, Jimmy, became a presidential candidate. She said:  “Sometimes when I look at all my children, I say to myself, ‘Lillian, you should have stayed a virgin.’” Our loved ones exasperate us and try our patience, but also encourage us when we are disheartened. By inviting the Risen Christ into the joys and sorrows of our relationships, we will walk the path of life.