A Big “If”

There’s a legendary story about St. Teresa of Avila, who was taking a trip by horse and carriage to visit another monastery. Suddenly, the carriage struck a rock along the road and threw the future saint from the carriage into a puddle of mud. Covered in sludge, she looked up to heaven and said, “If this is how You treat Your friends, it’s no wonder You have so few!”

In spite of her momentary frustration, Teresa truly saw herself as one of God’s friends and she understood that friendship with Jesus was unique — a friendship unlike any other.

We should note that Jesus puts a very significant qualifier on our friendship with Him. He says, “You are My friends if you do what I command you.” Could you imagine proposing this kind of friendship to a peer? Could you imagine spouses proposing this kind of arrangement in marriage? Suggesting this kind of contingency on friendship would practically guarantee that one would either not have any friends or not be married for very long, if at all. By contrast, the friendship that Jesus offers is not the same kind of friendship that exists among equals. After all, our Lord remains our creator and our ultimate judge. So our friendship with Christ is contingent upon our obedience to His commands. We can only claim friendship with Jesus if we do what He commands.

Jesus implicitly assures us that if we do what He commands us, we will no longer be called slaves, for a slave does not know what his master is about. In Christ, God has revealed Himself to us in such a way that obeying His commands sets us free to live as we were designed to live — according to God’s law. Herein lies our liberation from our slavery to sin. Rather than restrict our freedom, following our Lord’s commands sets us free, for freedom can never be separated from the truth about Who God is and who we are in relation to Him. Moreover, our Lord offers His friendship to each of us but He does not impose it upon us. The human person remains radically free to accept or reject this offer of friendship. If we accept Jesus’ offer of friendship, the friendship must be exercised on His terms and not merely our own. To this end, He reminds us that it was not we who chose Him. Rather, it was He Who chose us.

In the end, the friendship Jesus offers us is nothing less than access to the very inner life of the Trinity, made possible through the sanctifying graces of the sacraments. St. Paul marveled at this offer of friendship when he wrote, “But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). After offering us His friendship, contingent upon our obedience, Jesus reveals to us the relationship between love and friendship. He states that the highest form of love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. This is exactly how Jesus loves us and this is how He expects us to love others — in a self-sacrificial way. In dying for us, Jesus shows us that true friendship demands that we offer ourselves as a gift to others. In doing so, we obey our Lord’s command to love one another as He has loved us, thus galvanizing our friendship with Him.

Fr. Magat is parochial vicar at St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Colonial Beach, Virginia, and St. Anthony of Padua Mission in King George, Virginia.

(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)

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