Nothing replaces true friendship, which is a bond that is as powerful as it is inspiring.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux once wrote:
It is a great support in this life to have a friend you love with all your heart (…) We entrust to him without hesitation all the intimacy of our soul (…) The two souls are now one.”
Nothing replaces true friendship, which is a bond as powerful as it is inspiring, born from an encounter sometimes similar to love at first sight. We often “fall into friendship” through what we might call mutual amazement. That’s why this relationship is as precious as romantic love. It transports us.
The 3 criteria of friendship
Good will, reciprocity and conviviality: these are the three criteria of friendship described by Aristotle, who is sometimes called the philosopher of friendship.
Good will consists in loving the other person and wishing him the best. It is, in Dostoyevsky’s words, “to see him as God would have him be.” This bond of exchange and communion is characterized by reciprocity, where each gives and receives from the other, beyond differences in age, status, or talents. On the subject of conviviality, Aristotle stated that “it is not possible to know each other until we have consumed a measure of salt together.” There is no friendship without sharing abundant time together.
Friendship also implies freedom, as psychoanalyst Saverio Tomasella adds in his book Ces amitiés qui nous transforment (“These friendships that transform us,” available in French). Friends find in each other “the opportunity to confide in each other, to say what you feel, what you think, what you want.” If they feel confident, it’s because they have chosen each other freely.
Friendship makes us better
The presence of friendship over the years shows how each of our close friends can transform us and accompany us as we change on our own. They influence our tastes, our thoughts, and sometimes the very trajectory of our life. Even if we don’t evolve in the same way as they do, they continue to be a source of support, a confidant, a comfort. Our friends know us well, sometimes better than we know ourselves. Above all, they are always on our side. “Friendship—as a manifestation of tenderness, good will, affection, and therefore love—is the crucible of our most profound transformations. Sometimes it transforms us; other times it allows us to transform ourselves,” writes Tomasella, who points out that in friendship, “sincerity goes hand in hand with trust, and gentleness goes hand in hand with respect.”
Having a friend means having someone who can help us. Friends help us to be a friend to ourselves, which is not always easy! Friends, who welcome us unconditionally, to whom we have nothing to prove, with whom we can simply be ourselves, teach us to let ourselves be loved as we are. This is probably what Saint-Exupéry meant in his Letter to a hostage: “My friend, I need you, like a mountaintop where I can breathe!”
A reflection of God’s love
“There is nothing better in this world than the wonderful friendships that God awakens and which are like a reflection of the gratuity and generosity of His love.” This thought of Jacques Maritain touches the heart of the essence of friendship. Only God can inspire our true earthly friendships. He, the true Friend, can satisfy our thirst for love by helping us find friends, and by accompanying us in our friendships. True friendship brings us back to the essentials throughout our lives. Friendship also has its joys and hardships: often, a friendship goes on for a long time without clouds, and then all of a sudden, a conflict arises. It’s similar to a romantic relationship.
Friendship transforms us
Friendship is marked by trials, which allow us to bring a relationship closer and closer to its deepest reality, by going beyond the stage of idealization. Everyone has their limits and flaws. Friends accept us with our faults and limitations. They are willing to go through ordeals with us.
Cardinal Newman, the great 19th-century theologian who will soon be canonized, had an incredible talent for making friends. According to him, the art of cultivating friendships consists in wanting the other to become better. Looking to the soul of the other is the sine qua non condition of a lasting friendship. This is important not only to avoid a merely emotional bond, but also to avoid losing sight of the most important thing: looking at our friend through the eyes of Christ. In this way, friendship serves a great cause, each friend helping the other to grow. Thus, friendship transforms us.