These beautiful words of Christ to his apostles, disciples and to us are an important part of St Thomas Aquinas' theology and of Dominican spirituality. However, perhaps the word and idea of 'friendship', like 'love', has become debased and somewhat casual, so we need to retrieve the Christian understanding of friendship and reclaim the word for our purposes. The following extract from 'The Son's Course' by fr Gerald Vann OP uses the thinking of the Angelic Doctor to help us to appreciate the depth of Jesus' love for us and to understand what it means to be a friend, building on our reflection yesterday from the writing of fr Herbert McCabe OP:
"St Thomas Aquinas, defining charity in terms of friendship, tells us that in friendship there are three elements. There is first 'benevolentia', which causes us to will the good of our friend, even at sacrifice to ourselves; and we have been thinking of the way in which we can give that gift to God, loving and choosing his will for us at each moment as it comes, willing his will. Secondly, to make a friendship that 'benevolentia' must be mutual: and this means more than that each must be ready to give to the other: it means that each must be ready to receive. Some people find it easy to give but difficult or impossible to accept favours themselves. So the egoism in us is reluctant to take life as a total gift from God's hands; we need the humility that will overcome the egoism that the second element in friendship may be fulfilled.
But there is the third essential quality, 'communicatio': a real sharing of life; not just a sharing of superficialities such as exists between acquaintances, but a sharing of the deep things of life, the deep thoughts and ambitions, the secrets of the heart. Our Lord, for his part, calls us not servants but friends because, he says, he has made known to us the secrets of his own heart, has shown us the plot of his own love-story: it only remains for us to do likewise.
How do we thus share our lives with Christ? We do it first by that constant reference to his will which we have been considering, and which means bringing all the events of life to him, keeping nothing away from him, making him - his will and his wisdom - the guiding light in all that we do. But there must also be that constant turning of the mind to God which we call the life of prayer, the whole object of which is to make the awareness of his presence a deep and constant possession. It is as with any human friendship: there must be first the initial stage, the first discoveries, in which, as yet not knowing each other well, we talk much together of our lives, our ideas and ideals, the things we love and the things we hate. Then from that sharing of the materials of our lives there grows the second stage: the 'communicatio' established, there is less need of words, more possibility of that quick understanding and unity of mind and heart which can rely not on words but on silence.
In the divine friendship likewise, at first we need words, need to talk to God - as simply and directly as we would talk to a human friend: there is no need for formal language - of all the things that make up our lives, the big things and the small, the crosses and trials and problems, the joys and gaieties too. But if we are faithful to that daily attempt to talk to him, and if through that sharing of our life with him in those quiet moments we really come to be aware of him and to make that awareness the deepest element in our lives, it may well follow in time that the need of words will grow less, the friendship will become established, secure; and as in prayer we may be able simply to rest silently or almost silently in his presence, so the sense of that presence will not wholly leave us at other times, it will be as a background to all the other activities that make up the life of every day; and in those activities we shall be wiser and gentler and stronger and of more service to the human family because we shall be acting in his presence, and his wisdom will guide us and his love will energize us."
Let us spend time with God, our great Friend, the One who has given himself to us and shares his inmost life with us. And in the time we spend in His presence, let us share ourself with Him and open our lives to His loving embrace and receive with humility all He wants to give to us so that we may give His abiding love, joy and peace to others.
May the Blessed Virgin, our Mother who enjoyed such friendship with God and intimacy with the Son be our companion and help.
The stained glass image of the Sacred Heart surrounded by a grape-vine design is from the former chapel of the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus in Singapore.