Childhood friends, friends from school, friends from the neighborhood, teammates, Army buddies, work friends, Facebook friends, new friends, and old friends — we all have many lists of friends, and many ways of forming friendships. But when you hear the word “friend,” whose face comes to your mind first? Is it a friend you see often, or a face from long ago whose bond of friendship has not been weakened by the time and distance that separate you?
Frédéric Ozanam once explained friendships can be strengthened by both words and actions. Words, by letters or emails, allow us to share our thoughts and share ourselves with each other even when we are far apart from our friends, but he went on, “there are bonds stronger still than words: actions.” Nothing can draw friends closer than to eat together, travel together, or work together.”
Indeed, remember that school trip, and how much closer the group became? Or studying together for a class, going out to dinner, having a backyard barbecue? Each time, we build memories of a shared experience and grow closer to our friends.
“But if purely human acts have this power, moral acts have it even more, and if two or three come together to do good, their union will be perfect.” [Letter 142, to Curnier, 1837] This is the special character of friendship that we form in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul; the friendship that we call an Essential Element of the Society — a friendship that is strengthened by the other two Essential Elements.
After all, what better moral acts could we perform together than to serve Christ in the poor, and to seek holiness together? Indeed, we are called very specifically to share our service, to visit the poor in pairs. Our Rule also reminds us that during spiritual reflections at our meetings “members are always invited to comment as a means of sharing their faith.” [Rule, Part III, St. 7] We receive by giving first of ourselves — to each other in reflection and prayer, and to the neighbor in service.
We cannot truly understand or live our Vincentian friendship apart from service and spirituality. These are the friends with whom we have walked together, seeking, and finding Jesus Christ. Sitting with Him. Listening to Him. Praying with Him. Working to ease His burdens.
It is not we who chose the neighbor, any more than it is we who chose Christ. The neighbor chose us when he made the call to our Conference help line. And when go to him, when we sit with him, two or three of us together, we also will have in our midst the greatest Friend, just as He promised.
In what ways have I seen my Vincentian service strengthen my friendships with fellow members?