In 1953 a book entitled "Our Best Friend" was published in Milwaukee by the Bruce Publishing Company. It was written by Jesuit Father Christian Pesch and begins with these words: "A true and faithful friend is one of the most precious treasures of life." The dust jacket explains the theme of the book: "The Devotion to the Sacred Heart Presented From the Standpoint of Friendship with Jesus." This is one of many books that we have on the shelves of the national office of the Apostleship of Prayer. We have so many good books and I have so little time to read them. I haven't read this one, but at the beginning of the month I glanced at the first chapter because Michael Hoffman, who organizes the monthly All-Night Vigil in Milwaukee, used it as the theme for this month's First Friday/First Saturday Vigil at which I spoke. Here's what I said:
We don't often think of God as a friend. More often we see God as the Lord whom we worship and adore or the Father whom we honor and obey. Jesus, the Son of the Father, is our Brother. But there is something very important to be gained by thinking about God as our Friend.
The other images or titles carry with them a sense of obligation. God loves us and his creation because he is Lord. God loves his children because this is what fathers ought to do. Jesus loves his brothers and sisters because this is what a family does. There is a sense here that God must love us because that is God's nature.
But at the Last Supper, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus said: "I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father" (John 15: 15). Friends are not under obligation to begin or to continue a friendship. Friends freely choose one another. And they like one another. Have you ever thought of God liking you? Friends like to spend time together; they enjoy one another's company. They share the same interests. Jesus, who has a human and divine heart, chooses you, likes you, enjoys you, and shares your interests and concerns.
Yet friendship must be mutual. Jesus calls us friends because he likes us. What about us? How do we respond? Do we accept his friendship or reject it? Do we like him? We would not be here at the All-Night Vigil if we rejected his friendship, yet we do encounter obstacles to our friendship. At times we do not enjoy Jesus' company. We don't share his interests, desires, and concerns the way friends do. This is what we call "sin."
But there is another, more subtle obstacle to our friendship with Jesus. Fear. Friends don't fear one another. Jesus became human and revealed his Sacred Heart to us in order to cast out fear. It's as though he said: "See my Heart. It's out there, visible and vulnerable. It's open to you. It's on fire, not cold and apathetic. It's wounded for you." Before calling his apostles (and us) "friends" at the Last Supper, Jesus said: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."
In the face of such love how do we respond? Do we return love for love, friendship for friendship? And how can we do that? Last June, on the Feast of Saints Peter Paul, Pope Benedict answered this question:
What is friendship? Idem velle, idem nolle – wanting the same things, rejecting the same things: this was how it was expressed in antiquity. Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing. The Lord says the same thing to us most insistently: “I know my own and my own know me” (Jn 10:14). The Shepherd calls his own by name (cf. Jn 10:3). He knows me by name. I am not just some nameless being in the infinity of the universe. He knows me personally. Do I know him? The friendship that he bestows upon me can only mean that I too try to know him better; that in the Scriptures, in the Sacraments, in prayer, in the communion of saints, in the people who come to me, sent by him, I try to come to know the Lord himself more and more. Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with his will. For his will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself.
The friendship of Jesus brings us together tonight. We come to know him better and in knowing him to like him more so that his desires and will become more and more our own. May our prayer be the one that Pope Benedict offered in his homily:
Lord, help me to come to know you more and more. Help me to be ever more at one with your will. Help me to live my life not for myself, but in union with you to live it for others. Help me to become ever more your friend.