Friends are key to happiness

Published July 16, 2020, 10:45 PM

by Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas

CHANGING WORLD

(Part 2)

 

The Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) might have significantly limited our physical mobility.  We were forced to isolate ourselves in our homes together with our loved ones.  Thanks to all the advances in digital  technology, however, we were able to connect with our most intimate friends both here and abroad through Zoom, Google meet, Webex, Viber, and a host of other social networking channels.  All the time we were able to save from  having to commute long hours  to and from work helped us deepen, even if only through digital means, the greatest source of our happiness after our personal relationship with God.  It has been more than 60 years since I learned during my students days at Harvard from the writings of St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, that the personal apostolate of friendship and trust is the most effective means that ordinary Christians can employ to evangelize the world.  As the present prelate of Opus Dei, Msgr. Fernando Ocariz wrote in a letter to the faithful of the prelature:  “Saint Josemaria frequently reminded us of the human and Christian importance of this great good (friendship).  There are also abundant testimonies of how he personally formed many friendships that he kept up throughout his lifetime.  As we well know, he insisted to us that the principal apostolate in Opus Dei is that of friendship and confidence.”

          None other than the God-Man Himself, Jesus Christ, gave us an outstanding example of the value of personal friendship.  As Msgr. Ocariz wrote:  “Jesus Christ, a perfect man, lived out fully the human value of friendship.  In the Gospels, we see how from a young age, he formed friendships with the people around Him…Jesus takes advantage of any situation to begin a relationship of friendship, and we so often see him stopping to spend time with specific people.  A few minutes of conversation were enough for the Samaritan woman to sense that she was known and understood.  And hence she asked:  ‘Can this be the Christ? (Jn 4:29).  The disciples from Emmaus, after walking alongside and sitting at table with Jesus recognize the presence of the Friend who made their hearts burn with his words (cf. Lk 24:32).  Also especially touching was the deep friendship that Jesus struck with the siblings Lazarus, Martha, and Mary.  He would literally escape from the madding crowd to spend precious hours dining with the three in their home in Bethany.  As St. Josemaria Escriva wrote:  “Jesus shares words of affection and encouragement, and responds to friendship with his own friendship.  What marvellous conversations in the home of Bethany, with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary!”

          The model of all human friendship is our true friendship with Jesus Christ who fills us with confidence because he is ever faithful.  As Pope Francis wrote in the Apostolic Exhortation Christus vivit, “Friendship with Jesus cannot be broken.  He never leaves us, even  though at times it appears that he keeps silent.  When we need him, he makes himself known to us (cf. Jer 29:14); he remains at our side wherever we go (cf. Joe 1:9).  He never breaks his covenant.  He simply asks that we not abandon him:  Abide in me (Jn 15:4). But even if we stray from him, he remains faithful for he cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13).”  St. Josemaria, who was called the Saint of Ordinary Life by St. John Paul II and could also be named “the Apostle of Personal Friendship and Trust,” wrote in  a letter on March 11, 1940:  “By living in friendship with God, which is the first friendship we have to foster and strengthen, you will be able to make many true friends (cf. Sir 6:17).  The effort our Lord has made and continues making to keep us in his friendship is the same effort that he wants to make for many other souls, making use of us as instruments to do so.”

          There is much talk about practices and experiences that became pronounced during the long months of lockdowns  as being part of the “new normal.”  If, during this period of enforced confinement, we were able to spend more time through digital channels  with friends whom we had neglected in the past because of very tight schedules, let this “wasting time with our friends” become part of our new normal.  As Msgr. Ocariz wrote:  “Naturally, the relationship of friendship leads to many shared moments:   talking together while on a walk or around a table, playing a sport, enjoying the same hobby, going on an outing, etc.  In short, friendship requires spending time on mutual interactions and confidences.  Without these confidences there is no friendship.”   Friendship, as social scientists from Harvard demonstrated from empirical research, is the key to human happiness.  As our spiritual mentors also insist, friendship is also a most effective means of bring Christ to the lives of others, of spreading the Gospel and evangelizing.  As St. Josemaria wrote in Furrow,  “When I speak to you about the ‘apostolate of friendship,’ I mean a personal friendship, self-sacrificing and sincere:  face to face, heart to heart.” Then in a Letter on October 24, 1965,  he reiterated:  “Hence the enormous importance, not just of human but of divine  friendship.  I will tell you once again, as I have been doing since the beginning of the work:  Be friends to your friends, sincere friends, and like that you will carry out a  fruitful apostolate and dialogue.”

          As St. Josemaria showed from his own personal example, among the many good ways of evangelizing,  of bringing the word of Christ to the middle of the world,  in Opus Dei, the main apostolate is always that of friendship.  He never tired of saying:   “It can truly be said, my dearest children, that the greatest fruit of Opus Dei’s work is what its members obtain personally by their apostolate of example and loyal friendship with their colleagues at work — in a university or factory, in the office, in the mines or in the fields.”    God has created us as social beings.  He, therefore, expects us to use this essential  part of our nature to bring his message to those closest to us, our friends.  As St. Josemaria wrote:  “God has made human beings in such a way that we cannot help sharing the feelings of our hearts with others:  if we have received some cause for happiness, we feel an inner force that makes us sing and smile, that makes us in one way or another, bring others to share in our happiness.  If it is sorrow that fills our soul, we want to have a quiet atmosphere around us, that shows us that the others understand and respect us.  As human beings, my daughters and sons, we all need to be supported by one another, in order to travel along life’s path, to make our hopes into realities, to overcome the difficulties, to enjoy the fruit of our labor.  Hence the great importance, both humanly and supernaturally, of friendship.”

For comments, my email address is [email protected]

 
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