Authentic Friendship, Part II: How to Become a Friend of Virtue

This is the second post in a two-part series written by Anthony Haskin, Holy Spirit Prep’s High School History teacher. Read Part I.

“Here we are, you and I, and I hope a third, Christ, in our midst.”

– Saint Aelred on Spiritual Friendship

Are you a man or woman of virtue? Are you the type of person that can truly encourage and inspire your friends to become better with you? You don’t have to be perfect, for none of us are, but you certainly mustn’t be vicious, for you shall make your friends like unto yourself.

“Doing Life Together” in Christ

If you are at least striving for virtue and goodness, then what is the next step? With which friends can you grow into those perfect friendships? It’s not as easy as simply choosing a person and deciding you want to be friends. Like any relationship, it must develop, and I think you will find it develops rather naturally. Which of your friends inspire you to do better, to be better?

HSP high school students enjoy a moment of fellowship at the annual Tying Ceremony.

I asked my Ethics class for examples of good friends, and one answer given was SpongeBob and Patrick. Despite my initial desire to dismiss such a silly example, the student remarked that she chose them because they are always together. This actually illustrates perfectly what Aristotle says must happen for friendship to develop: the friends have to “live together.” To take the Greek more literally, they must “do life together.” You have to share your life with your friend, all of it. And students have no better opportunity to do this than while they are here at school. I am blessed to work here at HSP with some of my dearest friends, such that I can “do life” with, like Mr. Gaines. School is where students can do just the same – where they can “do life together.” They can eat together, study together, play together, talk, love, and pray together. And the last one is especially important, for we as Christians have an advantage over Aristotle: we can root our friendships in Christ. As the great monk St. Aelred said in his treatise on friendship: “Here we are, you and I, and I hope a third, Christ, in our midst.” Authentic Christian friendship must “begin in Christ, continue in Christ and be perfected in Christ.” Keep Christ as your truest friend, and all your other friendships will follow.

The Sweetest Part of Friendship

Many moons ago, I was just like many of our high school students. I had lots of friends, so to speak, but it wasn’t until (by the grace of God) I really began striving to become virtuous, striving to become good, that I developed true friendships. Subsequently, my newfound companions not only supported me on the path to virtue but also guided me to delve deeper into it. I only read Aristotle and Aelred years later and recognized in their books the friendships I had formed in reality. I told one of these true friends once that I didn’t think I had truly loved anyone before I came to know this kind of friendship – that this friend had taught my heart how to love. It was by circumstance, and providence, that we were joined, but we each had the same goals: to be saints! And trying to be a better person necessarily meant being a better friend.

As I developed authentic friendships, I found myself wishing that my friends would be holy and amazing, and I sacrificed all I could to make that happen. For the sweetest part of the friendship comes at the height, when one loves his friend so much, it is as if he is “another self.” The book of Sirach (6:17) states:

“Whoever fears the Lord directs his friendship aright,

for as he is, so is his neighbor also.”

“Farewell of David and Jonathan,” by Rembrandt – Circa 1642

When your friend is so much like you that it is as if he is another you, then you will do anything for him; for his good is your good. Just look at history’s great friendships to see that this is so. Achilles says of his Patroclus: “My dear comrade’s dead – Patroclus – the man I loved beyond all other comrades, loved as my own life – I’ve lost him.” Or perhaps David and Jonathan: “The soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.” Friends truly do become a part of you, and your souls are united. Suddenly, going through fire and toil for your friend doesn’t seem so hard.

A Glimpse of Heaven

Now we return to Charles Ryder, (whom I mentioned in Part I), a rather unfamiliar example to most of our HSP students. I cannot help but think that when they leave these halls, their sentiments may be similar to those of Ryder. They may leave a part of themselves behind, as separation will necessarily diminish some friendships. Tears may be shed, for to lose a friend is a difficult thing indeed. But as Gandalf once said, “Not all tears are an evil.” We can take solace in the joy of a truly Christlike friendship, that even if it shall end in this life, it is but a precursor of that intimate friendship we shall all share into eternity. And so Ryder, bereft of his deepest bonds, nonetheless muses: “To know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.”

Make good friends; be good friends. I promise you it is worth the effort, for there are very few things on this side of heaven better than the deepest of friendships.

Anthony Haskin teaches High School History at Holy Spirit Preparatory School.
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