Rev. John P. Cush is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. He serves as Academic Dean and as a formation advisor at the Pontifical North American College, Vatican City-State. Fr. Cush holds the Doctorate in Sacred Theology (STD) from the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he also teaches as an adjunct professor of Theology and U.S. Catholic Church History. He has served as a parish priest, high school seminary teacher, and as a Censor Librorum for his Diocese, as well as a theological consultant for NET TV. Fr. Cush is a regular contributor to the Brooklyn Tablet and the Albany Evangelist.
One of the more interesting films of the past 20 years, Robert Zemeckis’ Castaway, was the story of a man, Chuck Nolan (played by Tom Hanks), whose FedEx freight airplane crashes on a desert island. This modern-day Robinson Crusoe is trapped, stranded on this island. Thanks be to God, Hanks’ character, Chuck, was on an airplane that was carrying almost everything one could need to survive. And survive he does, learning how to cook, to clean, to build a shelter — even in one particularly harrowing scene, to do minor dental surgery. He has shelter, food, air and clean water, seemingly everything that one could need to survive. Everything, that is, except for company.
In one of the more interesting parts of this movie, there is complete silence, no dialogue whatsoever in this film. Chuck is just trying to survive. Yet he is longing for someone to dialogue. He needs companionship. So, if there is no one there with whom to talk, what can one do? Well, in the case of this character, he meets Wilson.
Wilson functions as the “Man Friday” to Chuck’s Caruso, with one telling exception. Wilson is a volleyball! Granted, Wilson is a volleyball with a bloody handprint for his face. And Chuck forms in this film a relationship with Wilson. They even have arguments, at least in the lead character’s head, leading to one of the more heartbreaking scenes in this movie — while on a raft at sea during an attempt to escape, Wilson the volleyball floats away. When the main character of Castaway notices this, it is too late, leaving the character to shout “Wilson, come back, I’m sorry!”
We can have all of the basic necessities of life and still not have what we need to be fully human. We need community! We need friends!
The Book of Sirach 6:14-16 tell us:
A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter:
he that has found one has found a treasure.
There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend,
and no scales can measure his excellence.
A faithful friend is an elixir of life;
and those who fear the Lord will find him.
Three things, then, in light of the recognized need that all human beings have for friendship and in light of these verses taken from the Book of Sirach.
First, the sign of a good friendship is that the two friends can have a knock-down, drag-out fight, a real disagreement or misunderstanding over an issue and still be able to be friends. And when the disagreement is over, it’s over. Being a friend doesn’t mean that you always have to agree with one another. Being a friend doesn’t mean that you always think alike. For a friendship to grow and develop, it’s important that one remembers that you don’t have to really like each other all the time; it means, in the purest, most Christian way, you have to love each other.
Second, the sign of a good friendship is that one should be able to speak comfortably in front of the other friend, even if it means saying things that the friend doesn’t want to hear, but that he or she needs to hear, with no apologies and no qualifications. There is no hierarchy in friendship. In a true Christian friendship, it is a fraternity of equals. Say what needs to be said, but always, always in charity. There should be no conditions on the friendship. You care for the friend because you care for the friend, not because of what they can do for you. The focus of the friendship is always on the other, never on you.
Finally, the sign of a good friendship is that it leads the other closer to Christ. The friendship should lead each party to be able to see Christ, ultimately to be Christ to one another. Being with our friends, spending our most precious commodity, time, with one another then should lead us to want to do that with our ultimate friend, the Lord.
In the Tradition of the Church, we have the great example of two of the great Fathers of the Church, Saint Gregory Nazianzen and Saint Basil. Read Saint Gregory’s words on his friendship with Saint Basil, a true and real friendship based in Christ:
Such was the prelude to our friendship, the kindling of that flame that was to bind us together. In this way we began to feel affection for each other. When, in the course of time, we acknowledged our friendship and recognized that our ambition was a life of true wisdom, we became everything to each other: we shared the same lodging, the same table, the same desires the same goal. Our love for each other grew daily warmer and deeper.
He goes on further to write:
We seemed to be two bodies with a single spirit. Though we cannot believe those who claim that everything is contained in everything, yet you must believe that in our case each of us was in the other and with the other.
Our single object and ambition was virtue, and a life of hope in the blessings that are to come; we wanted to withdraw from this world before we departed from it. With this end in view we ordered our lives and all our actions. We followed the guidance of God’s law and spurred each other on to virtue. If it is not too boastful to say, we found in each other a standard and rule for discerning right from wrong.
Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.
These two men had a friendship which was a gift from God, a gift that spurred them onward to better: better men, better Christians. Some search their entire life for such a friendship, one that makes the other a better person. We have such a friend in Christ.
The Lord Jesus tells us:
No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. This I command you, to love one another. (John 15:15-17)
The Lord Jesus calls us his friends and he shares himself with us in the Eucharist, the ultimate sign of his friendship with Him. When we eat his Most Precious Body and Blood, may we become one with him, our dearest friend and one with each other.
No man is an island, even while stranded on an island. Everybody needs someone.