We are all made to know, love, and serve God; the fullest expression of that is discipleship with Christ. To follow Christ in His every word and deed shows the greatest love and strength of character of any man or woman. St. Francis de Sales gives us the ideal of friendship by applying Christ’s teaching of discipleship in our everyday relationships.
Every human is in need of community; friendships are a part of life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1879) says:
The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation.
Because of the intrinsic desire for communion with others, friendship can either aid in our path towards sanctity or lead our soul to destruction. There is a great obligation to be cautious in our choice of friends. Persons that cause us to either neglect our relationship with God or deliberately lead us away from Him should be loved with charity but not in a mutual relationship.
The Beatitudes give us a full understanding of discipleship. They give us a glimpse of the person of Christ, and thereby provide an in depth example of how we ought to become. If we live the Beatitudes, we will ultimately be living in communion with Christ as His disciples.
St. Francis distinguishes the difference between false and true friendships. Relationships that are based purely on sensual gratification do not deserve the title of true friendship. Rather, they are temptations that distract us from fulfilling God’s will in our lives. The childish acquaintances that depend on outward appearance or superficial qualities will break as soon as a fault is discovered.
Relationships with the opposite sex are particularly prone to develop in this shallow manner. St. Francis calls these flirtations. While not overtly impure, they often lead to impure relationships by giving emotions and natural instinct free reign over the will. By being aware of the temptations and great danger in encouraging such acquaintances, we come to a fuller understanding of the necessity to purify the motive of our actions.
However, there is the possibility of pure friendships with the opposite sex. Philosophers acknowledge friendship to be a virtue; many saints have shown us that it is possible to reach perfection with others. As St. Francis says, “Thus, perfection does not lie in rejecting all friendships, but in entertaining none that are not pure, holy, and sacred.” True friends become one in their pursuit of a goal, together seeking to overcome all failings. Although we must patiently bear our friend’s imperfections, we must never encourage or adopt them ourselves. We must not tolerate sins at all, for a friend’s soul is more precious than their body; and to permit or encourage sin would lead to their destruction.
We become what we love. Friendship is a reciprocal love in which we acquire the qualities of the other person. The purest friendships are built on the common pursuit of virtue; the bond becomes precious because it rests in God and brings us closer to Him. When we pursue friendship in this noble manner, it becomes a reflection of discipleship with Christ and the Church.