“Show me your friends and I will tell you the type of person you are.”
My parents used these words to try to persuade me to choose my high school friends more carefully. I did not really take this warning seriously then because I thought my friends were not really that bad and I naively downplayed their negative influence on me.
I only came to realize the power of my friends to influence my life only when my conversion began and I discovered then that many of my deeply entrenched wrong values and negative attitudes could be traced to my close friendships many years ago. Indeed, we must choose our close friends carefully because friendships change us, causing us to act and become like our friends.
Jesus left us a very difficult and challenging command, “Love one another as I have loved you.” What is Jesus’ love like? It begins with an unalloyed obedience to the Father, “I have kept my Father’s commandments and remained in His love.” His is also a love that is not self-seeking but self-sacrificing, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” His love also chooses to love first and always, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” (Jn 15: 10,12,13) His love is unconditional and forgiving, even offered to those that were nailing Him to the cross, “Forgive them, Father, for they do not know what they are doing.”
It is obvious that we cannot love like Christ on our own power. Hence, Jesus also offers us three gifts that make such radical loving possible.
These three gifts impel us and make Christ-like loving possible for us. Firstly, He offers us His own joy to satiate us, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete.” Secondly, He offers us the gift of His own love, “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as expiation for our sins.”(1Jn 4:10) Thirdly, He offers us the gift of friendship with Him that we could never earn or deserve, “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”
These three gifts are interrelated. Without true loving friendship with Jesus Christ, we cannot love God and others like Him. Also, without loving like Christ, we cannot have His joy in us to complete our joy. Everything begins with a true and loving friendship with Jesus Christ, i.e. a friendship that allows His love to transform us completely until we begin to desire and act like Him.
The beautiful thing is that our risen Savior is also offering the gift of friendship with Him to all persons – devout Jews and pagan Gentiles alike. St. Peter and his companions affirmed this universal invitation of friendship with God in Jesus Christ, “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality…The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles too.”(Acts 10:34, 45) As we receive and respond to this loving friendship with Jesus, The Spirit of Christ transforms us so that we too love like Christ and have His joy in us.
Our world is joyless and many of us have lost any hope of joy because we are rejecting Christ-like loving and His truly satisfying joy. On the other hand, we are fast settling for the false and disappointing joys that come from loving in a self-centered way. Many people, including clergy and lay, speak of love today as if love can be detached from the objective truth of God’s commandments. For example, we futilely try to conjure up the possibility of “same-sex” marriage only because we have rejected Christ-like self-sacrificing love. We refuse to seek that love of Christ that gives of self completely to another according to His Father’s will so that “others may have life through Him.”(1Jn 4:9) We unknowingly forfeit any iota of joy in our hearts when we do not love like Christ Jesus.
Let us reflect briefly on some steps to cultivate this deep and true loving relationship with Jesus that is necessary for our Christ-like loving and subsequent participation in His own joy.
First, we must receive and remain in the love of Christ as Jesus commanded us, “Remain in my love.” In addition to receiving this love of Jesus as a pure gift, we must never allow anything to separate us from this love. Our repeated sins, sufferings, struggles, hurts, past failures, worries, regrets, fears, etc. cannot and should not separate us from the love that God offers us in Jesus.
Second, we depend on Christ alone like branches on a vine. Our friendship with Him must not make us treat Him like equals, forgetting His majesty and our nothingness in all things. We must keep His words in mind, “Without me, you can do nothing.”(Jn 15:5)
Third, we seek to grow in intimacy with Him. Friendships that do not grow will soon dwindle and die out. We grow in this friendship by revealing ourselves completely to Him because He has graciously revealed Himself to us completely, “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” Our friendship with Him dies when we try to keep secrets from Him.
Fourthly, we seek to imitate Him and please Him in all things. Because friendships makes people similar to each other, our friendship with Jesus should lead us to love and hate the same things. This is why we too will strive to obey the Father in all things and to selflessly serve others in imitation of Him who “did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.”(Mt 20:28)
Lastly, let us love Mary, the Mother of the Son. How can we claim to love the Son while disdaining His beloved Mother who gave birth to Him, nourished Him, and prepared Him for His redemptive action on the cross? Just imagine the weird relationship between a friend who says to another friend, “I love you but I cannot stand your mother.” Mama Mary will surely bring her truly devoted children to a deep and abiding friendship with her Son, Jesus Christ.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Jesus Christ wants us to have a complete joy even in our seemingly joyless world. It is only His joy that will make our joy complete! This means that if we are ever going to hope for this complete joy, Jesus must be our truest and closest friend and we must be growing in this loving friendship all through our lives. No matter our past, Jesus never stops inviting us to accept and go deeper in this amazing friendship with Him.
He renews this invitation to friendship with Him in our Eucharist in these words of the Eucharistic consecration, “This is my body…This is my blood given up for you.” He is making a complete gift of Himself to us first as our friend, the one and only source, model, and reward of radical love.
Let us accept and respond to His friendship without making excuses. His love alone has power to change us, make us more like Him, and move us to love like Him. This is the only way that His joy will be in us and our joy will be complete.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!