Posted: Fri, 15 Oct 2021 15:34
Towards the end of the popular musical 'Wicked' the two heroes, Galinda and Elphaba say farewell to each other and go their separate ways. As they reminisce, they see the goodness, light and love that they have shared since they met at school. It is a song that helps us understand how friendship impacts on each of us; friends come into our lives for a reason. Friends make a real difference for good but, realistically, we can make mistakes and say things that we regret. With true and real friends, we can be ourselves, as they say, 'warts and all.' A true friend understands us and wants the very best for us, they only want GOOD for us:
I've heard it said
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you
Notice we are called to LEARN from friends; learn from their values and care. I'm sure these special times have forced us to look at those friends who have helped us to learn and who have allowed us to grow. Family, friends and friends who've become family have all helped us to grow. God calls us to live in community as the Creation stories in Genesis show:
'So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.' (Gen 1:27)
During these times perhaps you have lost physical contact with a dear friend and, while we might be able to Zoom or FaceTime many of our family and friends, not everyone has access to social media. This can be especially difficult and very hard and so I urge you to pray for that friend in a particular way today; through the strength of the Holy Spirit of love, may they experience care and support:
It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So, let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a handprint on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have rewritten mine
By being my friend.
In the pilgrimage of life, friends will come and go; true friends will always make an impact and help write the story of our lives. True friends are that 'handprint on the heart' that will remain forever—even if there is pandemic, physical distancing or breakdown. Perhaps today we need to look for forgiveness for those silly, and not so silly, things that lead to breakdown. We can now share the love that Jesus has for his friend Peter, who let him down big time. Today seek forgiveness for all that has alienated you from your friends
I ask forgiveness
For the things I've done, you blame me for
But then I guess
We know there's blame to share.
However, at the end of the day, AUTHENTIC friends want the best for us. In ancient Celtic monasticism there was always the concept of ANAMCHARA, the soul friend who was the compassionate presence and spiritual guide. Perhaps today God is inviting you to be that PRESENCE in the lives of others. The founder of the Salesian family, Don Bosco insisted that his members be that living presence to those they work with: to be a teacher in the classroom but a friend in the playground. Friends are essential for a healthy life, and help to make difficulties, issues and problems that bit more bearable. The author of Proverbs understands the strength of friendship and how it can place each of us under pressure, and puts it well, offering this wise advice:
One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (or sister). (Prov. 18:24)
I suspect that many of us will have been victims of those 'unreliable' ones who have let us down, sometimes with devastating results. It can hurt deeply as, no doubt, you have shared so much with them. I suppose that it is that sense of betrayal that hurts the most. However, when you have those friends who are your unrelated 'sister' or 'brother', you realise just how blessed you are, especially in these trying times. A good friend will challenge us and, sometimes, take us on journeys that we would rather not go. They will make reasonable demands on our time energy, but true friends will be there for us when we need them. In times of crisis and turmoil you do tend to find out who those true friends are—the 'unreliable' seem to have become strangely silent! Pandemic has been a rather strange blessing; in that we have probably really discovered who those true friends are.
One of the greatest gifts we can give, as true friends, is the ability to encourage: to rise above negativity and point to the positive in life. No matter how confident, charismatic and popular one might seem, we all need that gift of support. You can be the one who offers that lifeline in the most trying of situations— you can be that calm and gentle voice of encouragement. The great Abraham Lincoln carried an old newspaper cutting in his wallet that was discovered on the night of his murder on 9th April 1865 at the afore Theatre: he had underlined all the positive comments that the author of the article had written about him. Many people do not know what Abraham Lincoln went through during his presidency. First of all, he was elected by only a 40% popular vote and then he had to virtually turn the presidency into a dictatorship for the first four years of his presidency to keep the country together. He had many enemies, and he was looking for friends. You would have thought that this dearest and most respected of all US presidents would not have had a problem getting encouragement. Could you see there in the dimly lit theatre box Abraham Lincoln pulling out this little article and glancing at it to gain encouragement? If one of the greatest leaders that the world has known needed simple words of encouragement, then surely, we must too? Today there are people who live and work around you who are discouraged, despondent and depressed. They need a word from you. God may be sending you as a true friend to lift somebody up. It may be that someone right next to you needs just a word of encouragement. Like Abraham Lincoln it would not take much to encourage them. Just a word. A letter, a zoom session, a phone call, or an e-mail. It would mean so much. As a matter of fact, it could make the difference between success or failure in their lives.
Scripture shows us of the depth of friendship between Jesus and so many diverse people that crossed his path from fishermen to businesswomen like Mary of Mandela; from tax collectors to a family in Bethany; from a rich young man to a woman, broken by years of suffering. We can read and reflect on the strength of these friendships that transformed lives. The timid Nicodemus who only came to Jesus under cover of darkness was the one who sought to care for the body after the cruelty of the execution on Calvary Hill. The Emmaus disciples saw their grief, pain and devastation transformed by the 'stranger' that they met in the road—their hearts on fire with zeal. Mary, that self-made woman from Magdala found new life and the encouragement to move on from the one she thought to be the 'gardener' in the Garden of Resurrection. Even when Peter, arguably the closest friend of Jesus, betrayed him, the Lord of New Life offered him a new way forward:
Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again, Jesus said, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep" ...then he said to him, "follow me!" (Jn 21: 15-17, 19)
Surely if this man who rejected the friendship of Jesus around the courtyard of the High Priest, not once but three times, then there is hope for all of us? Just like Peter we can bask in the unconditional friendship that Jesus offers each of us. Friendship will change us, and we need to be OPEN to that change that will bring life, light and goodness. Good friendship can transform our lives, but only if we let it. It might be easier, and perhaps less stressful, to hide in the trees and alleys of life. True friendship demands that you face those difficulties, with those trusted friends beside you—or, at least, at the end of a zoom call. Allow the transformative gift of true friendship be yours today:
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
I do believe I have been changed for the better
And because I knew you
Because I knew you
Because I knew you
I have been changed
Watch and reflect:
Author: Fr Gerry O'Shaughnessy SDB