As Christians, our lives and our relationships are meant to be different from the prevailing culture. We are witnesses to Christ crucified and risen from the dead, who is the cause for our joy.
As the Mystical Body, the communion we share with one another is one of the ways that we are able to draw others into the love of the Most Holy Trinity and to the eucharistic banquet. When people see the love we have for one another, they should immediately see the love of God dwelling within us.
As witnesses, we are not meant to draw attention to ourselves, but rather, to the gift of the Holy Spirit who dwells within each one of us. There should be a dynamic at work in our friendships and relationships that leads people to wonder in amazement at the love we have for one another, and it should awaken within them the desire to enter into that love. Our bonds of love in friendship—or any other loving relationship—is a reflection of God’s love for mankind. Our friendships are meant to be infectious and life-giving. And while there will always be varying levels of intimacy and affection in each one of our relationships with individuals, the joy in the love of Christ that we share in those relationships should always be inviting to others so that love and communion can deepen and flourish within the Mystical Body.
When our relationships are grounded in the love of Christ, they take on a new quality. There is a closeness that becomes evident to others. I’ve been thinking about this in my own relationships. I’ve noticed that the more my relationships are focused on the love of Christ, the more other people, even within my own parish, ask me about them. I am frequently asked if one of my closest friends is actually my biological sister. I tend to reply with: “Yes, she is my sister in Christ, but we aren’t biologically related.” Our friendship is centered on our mutual desire to grow in holiness through the paths we have each been given. The closeness we share with one another in Christ is evident, so people are convinced that we are sisters.
Another close friend of mine, who I visit with after daily Mass each day, is often confused for my mother. Fellow daily Mass goers see the love and high regard we have for one another, so they’ve come to wonder if we are mother and daughter. We’ve taken to telling people that we are spiritual mother and spiritual daughter, because it is true. Once again our relationship is first and foremost about our shared love for Christ. That love, deepened through the Holy Spirit, radiates outward and the intimacy we share in our relationship is seen by others to the point of people believing she is my mother and I am her daughter.
The same goes for my relationships with my priests. I’m regularly asked how I am able to communicate so effortlessly with them after daily Mass, Sunday Mass, or at an event. First, I’ve made a concerted effort to foster closer relationships with them. Sometimes members of the laity can set priests too far apart—the same can be said of priests who do this to the laity—and this creates an unnecessary barrier to communion with them. They are supposed to be “men of communion” after all. They are called to be “other Christs” to us and the world. By virtue of their ordination, they are meant to draw us into deeper communion with the Most Holy Trinity and with one another.
Priests should radiate the love of God to the world, and as members of the laity, we are called to mirror the love of Christ back to them. As Kathleen Beckman points out in her book Praying for Priests: An Urgent Call for the Salvation of Souls: “If we desire to be inspired by holy priests, we also should mirror holiness to them.” We cannot share in the mutual love of Christ with them if we close ourselves off from priests. Christ working through the holiness of our priests and their desire to grow in holiness strengthens us on the path to holiness as well. Relationships are meant to be reciprocal, so our desire for holiness should also help them on the path to holiness and convict them in their priestly ministry.
What sets all of these relationships apart is that they are all grounded in a mutual love of Christ and a desire to grow in holiness. The more deeply we love Christ, the more we will come to love one another. As we are purified in charity, our relationships become freer and take on a radiance that images the love of the Most Holy Trinity. We first learn this love within our own families, seeking to love our spouses and our children with the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. This love is not meant to stay within our families, however. Love should always be a movement outward from ourselves towards others.
In a time of increasing loneliness and isolation, it is essential that we come to a greater understanding of our call to communion with one another. Our culture desperately needs our witness of charity towards one another found in relationships focused on Christ. Not only because of the great blessing these relationships are for us, but because it is an opportunity to teach others what authentic love looks like. Our love for one another can draw others into the love of God.
Anyone who has experienced the great joy of friendships grounded in the love of God knows that charity is extremely demanding. It is not good feelings and sentimentality. It is self-emptying, forgiving, and constantly in need of purification. There are times when we have to offer fraternal correction or voice concern and may hurt one another. Disagreements—sometimes serious ones—may arise. There will be times when we will have to forgive deep pain we’ve caused one another. Our willingness to choose to forgive in order to love the other person is another testament to the great love we have in Christ and an image of the forgiveness and love we’ve been shown by God.
Christian friendship also means walking with others in their suffering and enduring pain alongside of them. True friendships—just like the love within families—require an acceptance of both joy and sorrow. This is why learning to love one another in this way has a dramatic impact on all of those around us. Friendships grounded in the love of Christ can weather the storms of this life.
In an age of division, when calls to communion are becoming even more essential, let us seek to foster friendships with one another that radiate the love of Christ to others.
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”