We live in an age of instant intimacy. When I finish a transaction at the bank, the teller says, "Have a good weekend, Phillip." I don't know her from Eve and feel like replying, "Father Bloom to you." But I don't. I take my slip, mumble a meek "Thank you," and leave.
Instant intimacy has devalued a word crucial in today's Gospel: friend. We use it for people we barely know or care about. Senators refer to each other as friends even tho you sense they despise each other. President Clinton calls the Prime Minister of Canada, "my good friend." They probably have never enjoyed a cup of coffee together and surely will not visit after out of office. Clinton may not even know how to correctly pronounce his name, but still they are good friends.
In politics we can forgive such slippery use of words, but we should think twice in areas more important. To appreciate the meaning and cost of friendship, consider Jesus' contrast between a slave and friend:
During Jesus' time the word slave (doulos) did not have the same degrading overtones it has for us (because of our nation's early history). Nevertheless it did refer to someone who belonged to another and had to do his will. That must be the first and essential stage in becoming a disciple of Jesus. Even tho we may not understand everything he is doing, we are his - and we strive to obey him. I'll be honest: if I achieve that much, I consider I have accomplished something very great. But there is more - and we must not shrink from it. Jesus himself tells us:
Our religious education programs encourage young people to consider Jesus their best friend. That is good, but I am afraid, in our therapeutic culture, it means he gives them affirmation - no matter what they do. Yet that is not what he say about the essence of our friendship with him. We become his friends because he tells us everything he has heard from his Father.
How then do you know when you are becoming a friend of Jesus? The answer is pretty straightforward: You are starting to be his friend when you begin being excited about his teachings. A few years ago I took the train across the country. Besides enjoying the beautiful scenery, I had one book: the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I read its 680 pages from cover to cover. It was an exhilarating experience because it involved an intimacy with Jesus. The Catechism sums up his teaching. In a sense it is him telling us everything he has heard from his Father.
Sometimes people remark, "I will listen to what the Church has to say, then make up my own mind." On one level that is fair enough - belief always must involve free assent. But there are two problems. First, many do not get the teaching directly but filtered thru the media. I know the teachings on birth control or in vitro fertilization are difficult, but I wish we could at least get folks to read those few paragraphs in the Catechism before making up their minds.
Second and much more to the point: At stake is not membership in some club, but the eternal salvation of ones soul. The church is not a political party you join because you like her position on various issues. If she were trying to cobble together a popular platform, the Catechism would leave out a number of sections. However, she offers the very teaching of Jesus. The Church as his faithful bride presents all she has heard from him. Few will find themselves "comfortable" with every aspect. I'll be honest: several parts are difficult for me both as a pastor and a weak human being. But then Jesus would be some friend if he did not warn about what could cause irreparable damage.
Jesus is a friend in whom we can place our complete trust. St. Polycarp (69-155) gave an example of such confidence. As he was being led to stake, where he would be burned alive, the Roman consul urged the elderly bishop to save himself by cursing Jesus. Polycarp replied: "Fourscore and six years have I served Him, and he has done me no harm. How then can I curse my King that saved me."
Those who accept Jesus as friend know that he can do no harm, only good. But the friendship is not without cost. Jesus himself told a story about a man who was going to build a tower. Before you start, he warned, make sure you have enough bricks. Count the cost. The same applies if we wish to advance from being his slave to becoming his friend.
From Archives: (Sixth Easter, Year B)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C