No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what the master is doing, but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
John 15: 15
In his classic spiritual text on Spiritual Friendship, Aelred of Rievaulx writes: “But only those do we call friends to whom we can fearlessly entrust our heart and all its secrets; those, too, who, in turn, are bound to us by the same law of faith and security” (I,32)In today’s gospel passage Jesus declares to his disciples that they are no longer servants but rather friendsAs Aelred says, Jesus entrusts to them, to his friends, his “heart and all its secrets.We so often speak of being a follower or disciple of Jesus in quite remote termsToday we are reminded that the relationship that Jesus longs to have with us us, and for us to have with him in return, is friendship.
What does it mean for us to be a friend of Jesus? Perhaps more generally, what does it mean to be a friend? We call someone a “good friend” when we experience from them a certain commitment and steadfastness in our regard, when we experience their “being there” for us at a time and a place where we might not have expected them to beWhen we receive such a gift from another, we realize, for our part, how difficult it is to really be a friendAttraction comes naturally to us; true friendship does notIn some rare cases, however, attraction can become friendship through a long process of communication, commitment and purification
Trust is not a once and for all experience. It is a spiral of relationship, often appearing to be merely repetitive and staticIn truth, however, with each repeated experience of withholding, followed by a new attempt at trusting and fuller communication, trust in the other person slowly growsJesus entrusts to his friends, without qualification, all that he has heard from his FatherEven with our best friend we never entrust all of our secretsWe slowly and tentatively, sometimes over a lifetime, reveal ourselves to our friend, at each point evaluating his or her trustworthinessIn turn, we also learn, by trial and error, to truly hear what it is that our friend willingly and trustingly reveals to usWe prove ourselves trustworthy over time by our increasing capacity to hear at its depth what our friend is really trying to reveal to us. The more receptive the listening and the more full the communication, the deeper the friendship.
It is a true and enduring commitment to the deepest possibility and call of each other that creates the possibility of enduring friendship despite our limits and our inevitable failings at times to behave as a friendWe have very few true and deep life long friends in good part because of the ways we inevitably fail each other in relationshipWe can use friendship quite loosely to apply to many persons who are liked and likable acquaintances or those with whom we have relationships of mutual benefitFriendship, however, requires of us that we have a commitment to the human and spiritual unfolding of what is truest in another, a commitment that endures through mutual failure toward and hurt of each other There are few persons in life whom we know we shall stand by even in those moments when the hurt we have inflicted on each other seems to have broken our relationshipWe learn, as Aelred says, to “fearlessly entrust our heart and its secrets” when we know that the other will and cannot abandon us, and we him or her, even when we badly fail each otherWe come to know the mercy of God when a friend, whom we have badly hurt, refuses to abandon and to cease loving usIn turn, we know something of our sharing in the life and love of God when we discover in ourselves a capacity to see the one we love in our friend beyond the failing or the hurt he or she has caused usThe commitment of friendship is a commitment to the one our friend is called to be, even when that person is hidden or not yet realized.
Finally, it is through a long term process of purification that real friendship develops and is manifestOur earliest attractions to others are often akin to the experience of infatuationWe want to be close to, to be friends with, another whom we see as god-likeTheirs are qualities of mind, body, spirit that we long to share and even to have in and for ourselvesWe may want what is lacking in ourselves to be completed by the gifts and strengths of our friendYet, over time we shall more and more see each other as we areWe shall come to know that those attributes we so admired may well be more fragile or more rigid than we at first recognizedWe shall always come to realize that the gifts come in “earthen vessels” that are fragile and often brokenWe shall come to experience that the other not only fills but also drains us. In short, we come to love not the idol that originally attracted us but rather the actual human person with his or her faults and failings, to be sure, but also with that Divine image that is his or her deepest truth and possibilityAs our illusions fade, a greater reality comes into view: the reality of a call to be also a servant of God by serving the Divine call and Christ form that is the deepest life of our friendThe gift and mystery of friendship is a Divine gift by which two human persons are enabled and empowered to serve each other’s realization of the life they share, with all, in ChristThe purification is essentially a deepening into what Aelred describes: “ But only those do we call friends to whom we can fearlessly entrust our heart and all its secrets; those, too who, in turn, are bound to us by the same law of faith and security.We never, in this life, “entrust all our secrets” to our friendYet, as the love of friendship grows, we realize an increasing desire, openness, and willingness to entrust all of who we are and to receive from our secure and trusting friend all of who he or she is
Thus, today we hear that Jesus is our ultimate friendNo one else knows us to our deepest core as he doesIt is to this depth of who we are that Jesus, who is our friend, is always making known all that he has heard from his Father, which is all of who the Father is. We shall hear what he is making known, we shall deepen in our relationship of friendship, to the degree that we grow in our capacity for communication, commitment, and purification with JesusAs we have seen, friendship does not come easily to usYet, Jesus’ compassion and mercy is infiniteFrom his side, he will always remain committed to who we are truly called to beOur commitment to him will often be lived through repentance and returnHe offers us the parable of the prodigal son so that we might realize that this is exactly the nature of the friendship that he has for usAs long as we keep returning, in honesty and self-revelation, he and his Father will run to meet us and embrace us as a sign of his enduring commitment to us.
On our part, our commitment to friendship with Jesus means growing, day by day, in our capacity to hear deeply the secrets of him and his Father that he is always entrusting to us.
The reason [that God makes use of nothing other than love] is that all our works and all our trials, even though they be the greatest possible, are nothing in the sight of GodFor through them we cannot give him anything or fulfill his only desire, which is the exaltation of the soulOf these other things he desires nothing for himself, since he has no need of themIf anything pleases him, it is the exaltation of the soulSince there is no way by which he can exalt her more than by making her equal to himself, he is pleased only with her loveFor the property of love is to make the lover equal to the object lovedSince the soul in this state possesses perfect love, she is called the bride of the Son of God, which signifies equality with himIn this equality of friendship the possessions of both are held in common, as the Bridegroom himself said to his disciples: “I have now called you my friends, because all that I have heard from my Father I have manifested to you.” [Jn. 15:15]She then recites the stanza:
Now I occupy my soul
and all my energy in his service;
I no longer tend the herd,
nor have I any other work
now that my every act is love
John of the Cross, The Spiritual Canticle, Stanza 28, 1