Friendship is one of the Essential Elements of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Certainly, it is easier to work together when we all get along, but the friendship we are called to is of a very special character. This friendship is sacred, Bl. Frédéric wrote, it is “a harmony between souls.” [Letter 142, 1837]
St. Vincent loved to remind his followers that Christ treated his Apostles as his friends, teaching that there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends. For Vincent, then, we can have no better friend than God! Therefore, “must we not love all that He loves and, for love of Him, consider our neighbor as our friend!” [CCD XI:39]
God created us to live in community, and just as the Holy Trinity shows us that the Divine life is a shared life, so our pathway to it is also shared. We are formed as Christians through our relationships with others. Our call to friendship, then, is an essential part of our call to holiness.
If this seems difficult at times, if there is tension between us, it is forbearance, Vincent said, that is “the bond of friendship that unites hearts in sentiment and action, not only among themselves but in Our Lord, in such a way that they enjoy great peace.” [CCD VI:51]
Serving each other as friends in Christ, we should take special joy in sharing each other’s burdens. Bl. Rosalie, replying to a request for a great favor from a friend, gladly agreed to help him, saying, “I cannot tell you how you please me in giving me the opportunity to do something for your interests. Always act this way with me, without any hesitation. It is the proof of friendship that I hope for.” [Sullivan, 237]
It is charity, the love of God, that connects us in friendship with each other and with those we serve. Charity, Bl. Frédéric said, is the strongest tie – the principle of a true friendship. Yet charity “is a fire that dies without being fed, and good works are the food of charity.” [Letter 82, 1834]
You may have observed that you grow closer to your friends when you share a meal, or go to a movie, or have them over for a cookout. Through these acts that we share, our lives intertwine; our bonds become stronger.
“But if purely human acts have this power,” Frédéric explained, “moral acts have it even more, and if two or three come together to do good, their union will be perfect. Thus, at least, He assures us who says in the Gospel: ‘Truly, when you are gathered together in my name, I will be in your midst.‘” [Letter 142, 1837]
Contemplate: To have a friend, you have to be a friend. How can I be a better friend?
Recommended Reading: Antoine Frédéric Ozanam especially Chapter 7, ‘Friendship’