The best gifts are the givers. - Fr. James Schall, SJ
There are few things quite so pleasing than fishing with a friend on a nice day. The fishing by itself is for many people worthwhile, but fishing with a friend is a different thing. It is a richer experience because it is shared with a friend. St. Thomas Aquinas even wondered to himself "if anyone could live without friends"? Our Lord himself came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. I think that our understanding of what he actually meant by the abundant life is revealed by friendship, or better yet within friendship.
If we pay attention to the farewell discourse of our Lord in the gospel of John, we notice that at precisely the time in which he wanted to share with his disciples what was most important to him, Jesus revealed a new relationship between God and his beloved human family. "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." This divine friendship...this relationship by which God has befriended us through sharing himself with us is the greatest gift we can hope for in our lives and the lives of our students. Indeed, Fr. Schall's quote is eminently true when considered in light of Christ's gift of himself to us in the offer of friendship.
Those of us who are blessed enough to have one or two people in our lives we can call true friends might have intuited that God's offer of friendship to us in his Son is not the only friendship in which he is involved. We might have thought to ourselves, "Thank you Lord for giving me this person as a friend!" C.S. Lewis has a wonderful quote that supports such thoughts. He says: "In friendship...we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years' difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another...the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting--any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," can truly say to every group of Christian friends, "Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another." The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
What a beautiful way to understand the people God has placed in our lives. Lewis points out that in God's Providence he provides for us the gift of other people as a sign of his love for us and more importantly as a way of growing in our friendship with him through virtuous human friendships that lead us to God. In this way fishing with a true friend can be one of the most important ways that God prepares us and sustains us in divine friendship.
As Fr. Schall says, "We often talk of 'making new friends'. This is precisely what we do not do. We discover others already "there", already "made", as it were, not products of our own fashioning, even though we influence our friends and they us. But this 'influence' or 'love' we bear to our friends ought to make them what they are, not more what we are or want them to be. Friends are in the nature of gifts, not artifacts. Friends are the highest realization of the notion that to us all things are gifts. The concept of gift... stands close to the essence of the highest things."
It is my hope that these reflections on friendship were as helpful to the sophomore students on their Desert Day as they have been to me. I too, wonder with St. Thomas how one could live without friends. In your vocation as parents, I encourage you to ponder the importance of friendship in the life of your child or children. It is much more important than serving the purpose of socialization or fun. It is not about being in the in-crowd. It is not even something that comes and goes with the changing of time and tastes. Rather, friendship is one of the most profound ways that God desires to draw us to himself, who offers to us divine friendship in Christ. Be aware of who your children hang out with and what they do. Provide for them guidance in their friendships by your advice, your example, and above all your own friendship with our Lord. Teach them to respect and reverence their friends. For truly a friend is a gift, and in it we find that the best gifts are the givers themselves.