The Importance of a Manly and Christian Friendship

Michael

\"Michael\"

Facebook promotes a very odd concept of \’knowing\’ someone, and it has led to the further warping of our sense of friendship.

My experience, like many of you, has been a passing meeting with someone leads to a friend request. But, we are not friends. We are barely acquaintances and yet we claim to know each other enough to claim friendship publically. Timelines, photos, relationship statuses, family, quotes, favorite movies, favorite TV shows, status updates, religious views, and more. A person encapsulated and reduced to a webpage but ready to be \’known\’. And, should you de-friend someone you could just as easily be publicly slapping them or deeply wounding them.

I do not wish to overstate Facebook’s effect on our society, but more than a time or two, I have been asked why I did not accept a friend request in a way that said I was rejecting them as a person. This, I think, meager excuse for friendship reflects how far friendship has fallen in society.

Truth as We See it

As men, we desire companionship of fellow men after our own hearts. As C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, friendship may not be a biological necessity for survival, but as long as men have walked the earth, we men have known we need to do things together.

Long before history began we men have got together apart from women and done things. We had to. And to like doing what must be done is a characteristic that has survival value. We not only had to do things, we had to talk about them…We enjoyed one another\’s society greatly: we Braves, we hunters, all bound together by shared skill, shared dangers and hardships, esoteric jokes – apart from women and children.

Friendship, then, arises when companions of two or more delight in the discovery \”that they have in common some insight or interest\” that others do not share and \”till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden).\” Shared interest begins a journey to the sharing of something more. Love.

\”Do you love me?\” means, to Lewis, \”Do you see the same truth as me?\” Agreement in the answer is not as vital as seeing the importance of searching for the answer to the question. I might not agree with another\’s concept of how best to follow God\’s will but we agree His will should be followed.

Friendship in our culture has been degraded and diluted to base activities. There is little that calls us to a deeper, more intimate connection with our brothers. As casually as we toss around the word \’love\’ we label men, whose surnames and beliefs are unknown to us, as our \’friends\’.

In a desire to give offense to no one by calling day-old-acquaintances friends, we offend the very nature and beauty of friendship. By not going deeper our ‘friends’ become the people who give us satisfaction in one form or another rather taking satisfaction in the friendship itself — a selfish, prideful relationship rather than a fellowship of travelers sojourning on a quest to find an answer each friend seeks.

Lewis is bold enough to argue that friendship can never arise from a desire only for a friend without a thought of truth. I agree. Skimboarding is not scuba diving. The first might be fun and exhilarating but is fleeting. The second is an adventure into depths unknown requiring time, trust, and testing.

Friendship in a Man’s Christian Life

For Catholic men, the same truth, regardless of other differences, is Christ and His example. Blessed Cardinal Newman wrote in his sermon Love of Relations and Friends that our practice of loving our private friends prepares us to love all men truly rather than superficially. If a man cannot love his friends as Christ did His, how can he claim any sort of general love for mankind? Newman said of Christ and His friendship with St. John,

Yet we find our Savior had a private friend; and this shows us, first, how entirely He was a man, as much as any of us, in His wants and feelings; and next, that there is nothing contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, nothing inconsistent with the fullness of Christian love, in having our affections directed in an especial way towards certain objects, towards those whom the circumstances of our past life, or some peculiarities of character, have endeared to us.

Christ Himself then walked in a special way with one of the Twelve, but in no way did this denigrate His friendship with Peter or James or the rest.

I have heard often others speak of the need include each and every person in the group to make all feel included. The desire is good, but the practicalities of searching out kindred spirits and our brief interval upon Earth renders real, developed friendships with all impossible. But, a fellowship of devotion, love, and sacrifice is entirely possible as our Lord showed.

Friendship, as Lewis argued, takes on the nature and characteristics of the friends and the truth they seek. Friendship may inspire the good to better or corrupt the bad to worse. Newman wrote,

But what is it that can bind two friends together in intimate converse for a course of years, but the participation in something that is Unchangeable and essentially Good, and what is this but religion? Religious tastes alone are unalterable. The Saints of God continue in one way, while the fashions of the world change; and a faithful indestructible friendship may thus be a test of the parties, so loving each other, having the love of God seated deep in their hearts. Not an infallible test certainly;…However, under certain circumstances, it is a lively token of the presence of divine grace in them.

Practicing Catholic men inspire one another toward virtue. Men who befriend fellow pilgrims along the way have others who may encourage each other in times of trial, celebrate their triumphs, and continue the journey together. Should they meet others along the way jealousy ought not appear among true friends for each friend brings out something special and unique in the others.

Lewis wrote, \”By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facets. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never see Ronald [Tolkien\’s] reaction to a specific Caroline joke. Far from having more of Ronald…I have less.\”

I still hold to something my parents once told me. You will be judged by the company you keep. Today, I keep the important portion. Judgement is based on the logical assumption that the men around you bring out those virtues or vices most associated with the group\’s characteristics and dynamic.

Colin Duriez\’s Tolkien and C.S. Lewis: The Gift of Friendship asserts that without each other, and the other Inklings, Tolkien and Lewis may never have written The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia. Each brought out something in the other through their mutual interests, shared Christian faith, and constant support and encouragement.

Friendship is Essential for Men

Friendship, as Lewis wrote, is not biologically necessary for survival but, \”like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself (for God did not need to create)…it is one of those things which give value to survival.\” Sirach 6:14-17 tells us what great treasures our friends are when the friendship is guided by fear of The Lord \”for as he is, so is his neighbor also.\”

Whatever the future has in store for me, I trust in God\’s grace to help me achieve what His will desires. But, I know that in humility I might achieve more with my brothers than I could ever achieve alone. Our natural instincts towards communal works, shared hardships and sacrifices, and mundane activities like team sports speak of our natural tendency to work with our fellow men for some higher goal.

As Catholic men, we have two goals: Heaven, and to do what we can for as long as we can to make this world better. In addition, these are not simply goals like some sort of five year plan. These are what we are called to by our Catholic faith and the universal call to holiness. We are called to be saints.

Facebook details will tell you nothing of a man\’s worth or whether he might be a kindred spirit. Age, hometown, hobbies, and the like are learned on the way and count for little when compared to the truth friends seek together.

Lewis said it well enough, \”you will not find the warrior, the poet, the philosopher or the Christian by staring in his eyes…: better fight beside him, read with him, argue with him, pray with him.\” These are the ways we both discover where the heart of a man lies and form a life lasting bond.

In closing, Lewis called for friendships to look more towards the ancients and their practice. Men like Jonathan and David, Cicero, Aristotle and the like who saw friendship as bringing out the best, or worst, in men. The true BFFs, as it were.

A portion of Alfred Lord Tennyson\’s Ulysses seems appropriate. At least, it stirs a man\’s heart for what he may achieve with his brothers.

Come, my friends,
\’T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho\’ much is taken, much abides; and tho\’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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6 thoughts on “The Importance of a Manly and Christian Friendship”

  1. As a man with same-sex attractions who is trying to live a chaste life according to the principles of Courage, I relate to what you said. However, I have always been taught that my desire for intimacy with men is intrinsically disordered. The only difference I see in what you want and what I want is that mine has a sexual component. But I feel I have been taught that because there is a sexual component, all of my desire for intimacy with men as you describe is disordered. This is not a facetious question–how come you get to be close to men and I don’t?

    1. Thank you for your honest and open response. Normally, I
      take a long time to respond to questions and read more on the topic. This
      breath helps to insure I give an ordered and orthodox response to the best of
      my abilities. This time, however, I feel that a more immediate response, first,
      is deserved to let you know I am neither ignoring your question nor deem it
      unworthy of my attention. I beg your understanding if this is wordy.

      First, I assume that by ‘Courage’ you mean the apostolate. I applaud your desire
      to live a chaste life. As a man, I know I am called to live chastely, but
      chastity is not always easy. Intimacy can be both a help and a hindrance in our
      spiritual lives regardless of whom we are attracted. Since I ‘know’ the broad Church
      teachings on sexuality, I believe a response within this context is enough for
      now. Instead of quoting Catechism and documents (I’m sure that will come later)
      I shall respond as a man. Because, at our heart that is what we both are. Men
      trying our best to live the life Christ calls us to. I will make no assumptions
      on your own struggles with chastity, but, instead, I’ll relate, from my own
      perspective and experiences, as best an answer as I can.

      Intimacy (here to be referred to in all its facets EXCEPT sexual) within the
      proper context and conditions is a good thing. Emotional bonds are formed,
      memories made, and trust develops. I use ‘intimate’ to emphasize there is
      something different in our ‘intimate’ relationships from the everyday or casual
      ones. There are events, thoughts, and the like that are only shared by those
      within the circle. Here, I include both the so-called ‘best-friend’ and the
      other ‘close friends’. Intimacy need not be restricted to single individual
      among friends. But, as a man I must place limits on this intimacy when it comes
      to women. When there is a desire for relationship beyond that of friendship
      things change.

      Between men and women, the ‘sexual component’ is a fairly large one. I would
      never discount sex as simply another possibility between two individuals who
      are attracted to each other. Lewis’s Four Loves compares how friends and lovers
      differ. In contrast to lovers, who look towards one another, friends gaze, side
      by side, towards a shared truth outside themselves or even their friendship.
      Friendship exists between lovers to be sure, but their focus remains on each
      other. Between men and women, the desire for greater intimacy is a desire to
      ‘know’ the other in all their intricate ins and outs. Friends, while knowing
      each other quite well, have a built in limit on how far this goes.

      So, to be ‘close’ to a woman I must maintain a certain amount of distance for
      several reasons. First and foremost, if limits are not maintained, the man or
      the woman may desire more when more may not be available. Either because one or
      both are in relationships, one is not interested in furthering the
      relationship, or something else of this sort. While I am not a fan of the
      phrase, emotional chastity must be remembered. Investing yourself in something
      that may or cannot ever be is neither healthy emotionally nor spiritually. Especially,
      if you pursue a friendship knowing your feelings do not match up with the other’s
      feelings. Second, building upon the first, it is not right to lead someone to
      believing something more might develop. When a single man and a single woman
      develop a close relationship there is always the possibility one or both wonder
      what could be because of the chemistry between them. Perhaps this lasts a
      second or perhaps much longer. Getting along well as friends, especially when
      there is agreement on family and religious matters, could mean a relationship
      is possible. For myself, I have to recognize when a boundary is being crossed.
      Do I catch this every time? No. But, that doesn’t mean the boundary does not
      exist. I may enjoy someone’s company and conversation, but if I know they
      desire more than me I have a responsibility to keep them at arm’s length to protect
      their heart.

      Now, after all that, a direct answer with all I have said in
      mind. Your attraction presents a difficulty when it comes to cultivating
      intimate male friends. Not an impossible barrier nor a blanket ban on male
      friendship. This difficulty is, in my eyes, very similar to me having feelings
      for a female friend who does not reciprocate said feelings. For my own heart, I
      have to keep away in those situations. What I say now, I say with the caveat
      that the Church may say differently. In which case, we must both trust in Holy
      Mother Church and Her guidance through the Holy Spirit. I do not know Her exact
      response to your question, yet. Men do desire friendship and bonding with their
      fellow man. Shared difficulties and joys always seem easier or happier because
      we do not partake in them alone. I think this is shared among men regardless of
      their sexual attraction. Bearing in mind that I realize you will not desire a
      relationship with every man just as I do not desire a relationship with every woman,
      I think your desire for close male friends and your same sex attraction could
      unnecessarily burden you. I emphasize might. My own close friends will never
      share the intimacy of a wife should I ever get married. The difference between
      what I want and what you want may just be the ‘sexual component’ but that is a
      large component. Sex sums up a tremendous amount in the context of a Christian
      relationship. The desire for a family, a shared life, an intimacy only another
      shares, and so much more. Sex is never just sex. It is not my place to say you
      cannot or can have close male friends, but I do think there is an intrinsic struggle
      there. The close bonds you desire may create a further desire for a
      relationship which you are now seeking to avoid. The intimacy of friendship is
      merely the first step in the context of a developing relationship. Friendships
      with men with same-sex attraction will be the point this difficulty is greatest
      because each might desire more. Friendships with heterosexual men may put the
      burden you and your desire for chastity, but also on the friend who must
      maintain distance, if he should know. Taking too many steps towards intimacy is
      not healthy if you know your desire is for a more that can never be attained.
      What we are talking about here are the ‘possibilities’ from friendship that can
      and cannot be.

      I realize that no answer I give can fully satisfy your
      question. The very simple, blunt answer is the possibilities are different. I
      don’t like that answer, but it is the same one I would give to a friend who
      kept spending too much time with a girl who kept rejecting him. The possibility
      isn’t there and you’re setting yourself up for heartbreak. All things being
      equal, I see no reason why you cannot have male friends within healthy,
      Christian boundaries. Same-sex attraction does not equal isolation. As your
      brother in Christ know that I am praying for you and your virtuous desire to
      live chastely as a man. Please, pray for me because I too desire to live by
      virtue.

    2. I appreciate your honest and orthodox answer. I don’t want answers which are watered down simply because the truth is hard. The truth, however, is hard. While I may not be isolated, I will experience loneliness because same-sex attractions do not always come with a call to celibacy. I can never have an intimate, primary partner because A. I’m not attracted to women; B. Most of the men I’m attracted to end up in primary, intimate partners with women and not me; and C. If I found a man who wanted a primary, intimate partnership with me, neither one of us could act on it.

      This situation is not like the priesthood where a man remains single for the sake of the Kingdom–the call to celibacy includes a vocation for chaste intimacy. Those of us without the call the celibacy feel the need for intimacy without any means of achieving it. For you, male friendship is between two men who already have primary partnerships with their wives. You can both move freely since you are primarily attached to other people. For me, I want intimacy with someone who shares that intimacy I want with him with someone else–his wife. Instead of the primary attachment I’m seeking with him, I have to look on from the outside and gather up the crumbs from under the table.

      So I read your article with a kind of hope and then realize that we’re not exactly talking about the same thing when it comes to intimate friendship. I appreciate your answer as I work and pray to sort this all out.

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  3. Michael, I cannot thank you enough for this article. Fantastic! I needed to read this. I love the way you incorporated C.S. Lewis, and Cardinal Newman. Thanks for helping us to better understand friendship. I’m ready for some scuba diving instead of just skimboarding! You rock. God bless.

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