Who is your best friend? How do you define your relationship? Perhaps you know what brings each other joy and you will that for each other. According to the dictionary definition, a friend is someone who is “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” A connection is formed when two people become friends because they have bonded over a common interest. Friendship fulfills our human desires for affection and love through a bond. Since friendship fulfills this need of love that we desire, we can see the connection of friendship with the highest of all virtues, charity or love. The definition of love is willing the good of another. St. Thomas says, “Friends are more commended for loving than for being loved.” (ST II q. 27, a. 2). Our friendships with others should be rooted in charity.
After graduating college, I spent a year teaching high school science in New York City. Part of my responsibilities during the year included helping out in campus ministry. Each month, several students would volunteer to serve at a local parish food pantry. One of these mornings, I witnessed what I would consider true friendship, and true charity, in the story of James and Paul.
James was a freshman and active in campus ministry. He was a street-smart, no-nonsense type of guy. While volunteering one morning at the pantry, James met another young man, Paul, who was also his age but living in poverty. They ended up working together at the pantry several times throughout the year and became good friends. The sister who ran the food pantry would allow Paul to take an extra bag of food home to his family if he helped distribute food in the morning. Paul showed up faithfully every month and happily took home two bags for his family each time.
During the month of February, the days were especially frigid and Paul did not have proper clothing to work in the cold. James saw Paul dressed inadequately. After initially being baffled about why his friend did not have the common sense to dress warmly, he insisted on helping him. James took his friend to the clothing section of the pantry and ensured he had the proper clothes he would need to work in the cold, including instructions on how to layer properly for future cold days.
The charity and love that James showed for Paul is analogous to the charity and love Christ shows us in his friendship. Christ continues to love us in our fallen nature and gives us the grace so that we will know him more. This is his desire for us and he chooses to help us know him through charity. This increase in the knowing of God, leads us to love him more and fulfills our desire for love. Since it is impossible to love something that we do not know, our increased understanding of God brings us in a closer union of friendship with him.
Charity lived in perfection is friendship with God. This charity would not be present without his grace. This grace to be charitable is the gift of love, an invitation to friendship. There are times when we will not recognize this gift of love in our lives and feel distant from God, but he is always willing us to draw closer to him. God desires us to be in the union of friendship with him so that we might recognize his love and ourselves respond with love.
Image: Altobello Melone, Road to Emmaus