Friendship is an interchange and a mutual communication between two persons. True friendship is a great means of sanctification, but false friendship is a serious obstacle to perfection.
St. Francis de Sales wrote, “The more exquisite are the virtues which shall be the matter of your communications, the more perfect shall your friendship also be. If this communication be in the sciences, the friendship is very commendable; but still more so if it be in the moral virtues: in prudence, discretion, fortitude, and justice.
“But should your reciprocal communications relate to charity, devotion, and Christian perfection, good God, how precious will this friendship be! It will be excellent, because it comes from God; excellent, because it tends to God; excellent, because its very bond is God. Good it is to love on earth as they love in heaven; to learn to cherish each other in this world, as we shall do eternally in the next!”
Father Adolphe Tanquerey, author of The Spiritual Life, pointed out that “true friendship is an intercourse between two souls with the purpose of procuring each other’s good. It stays within the limits of moral goodness if the good mutually shared belongs to the natural order.
“Supernatural friendship, however, stands on a far superior plane. It is the intimate intercourse of two souls who love each other in God and for God with a view of aiding each other to attain the perfection of the divine life which they possess. The ultimate end of this friendship is God’s glory, the proximate end is their own spiritual progress, and the bond of union between the two friends is Our Lord.”
Supernatural friendship is marked by calm reserve and mutual trust. “Calm” means self-possessed affection rooted in the love of God. “Reserve”: instead of seeking familiarities and endearments like sentimental friendship, it is full of respect and reserve, for it seeks nothing but spiritual good. “Mutual trust” is confidence raised from mutual esteem and from seeing in the other a reflection of the divine perfections.
Counsel, comfort, and protection are the three important advantages of true friendship.
A friend can act as a sympathetic counsellor who helps to find solutions to life’s difficulties. A friend can comfort us by listening to us and by words of kindness and encouragement. A friend is a protector of virtue by allowing us to open our hearts in times of need and support, and by correcting us.
In true friendship one truly loves a person, but in false friendship one mainly loves the pleasure of being with the person. True friendship is based on faith, will, and reason, whereas false friendship is based on feeling and pleasure.
Father Tanquerey wrote, “St. Francis de Sales distinguishes three types of false friendships: carnal friendship, in which one seeks voluptuous pleasure; sentimental friendship, based mainly on the appeal outward qualities make to the emotions, such as the pleasure of beholding a beautiful person, of hearing a sweet voice, of touch, and the like; and foolish friendship, which has no other foundation than those empty accomplishments styled by shallow minds virtues and perfections, such as graceful dancing, clever playing, delightful singing, fashionable dressing, smiling glances, a pleasing appearance, etc.”
False friendship distracts the heart from God and constitutes one of the greatest obstacles to spiritual progress. It can easily cause loss of time, discouragement, and impurity.
Sometimes our friendships may have elements of both true and false friendship. If it is the element of true friendship that predominates, we may continue such friendship while purifying it, but if it is the element of false friendship that predominates, we must renounce all special relations for a considerable period to allow sentiment to cool down.
“A loyal friend is a powerful defence: whoever finds one has indeed found a treasure” (Sir 6:14).