“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”
For us no honor exists that could be greater than Jesus calling us his friends. The more we enter into the fullness of our friendship with him, the more he will move us to be friends for one another, and to cherish friendship itself as a means of grace. The forging of bonds between us that would make us ready to lay down our lives for one another is a powerful witness to the reality of our risen life in Christ. In an alienating world, where so many are frustrated and wounded in their quest for intimacy, we can bear life-giving testimony to the graces of friendship as men who know by experience its demands, its limitations and its rewards.
Among ourselves we must devote time, energy and prayer to the fostering of friendship. There are many different degrees of intensity in celibate friendship, and stages of growth. Our common concerns are to lay aside perfectionism, to respect the variety of bonds we will establish between us, and to ensure that none is left friendless. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”: we shall seek to let go of possessiveness and extend this freedom to one another. We want to have the freedom to continually release our brother for relationship with others, just as in those dances in which the movements constantly weave fresh links between the dancers.
We also have opportunities to make friends outside the community. Friends of different ages, cultures and walks of life will enrich our humanity. We value the gift of friendship with women, as Jesus did; without it we run the risk of spiritual and personal impoverishment. But there are costly constraints to be accepted on both sides in the friendships between religious and others, and discretion needs to be fostered with those outside. In particular it is vital that we protect the confidentiality of one another’s personal lives and the privacy of the Society’s inner life.
The Spirit uses the demands of friendship to further our conversion; struggles are inevitable as well as rewards. Our sexuality, our dread of rejection and disappointment, our need for forgiveness and reconciliation, our difficulties in achieving emotional honesty, are all brought into play. Fear can hold us back. In these struggles we have the constant companionship of Christ to give us courage and joy.