It’s Not Just a Metaphor — Jesus Really Does Regard You as His Friend
“It is through friendship with Christ that we experience what is beautiful and what redeems us.” —Pope Benedict XVI
As we honor Jesus the Good Shepherd in the Sunday Gospel, it is also an opportunity to turn our minds towards his vicars, the priests who serve us with generosity and fidelity. Many people are experiencing isolation and loneliness in this pandemic, and priests are not immune from these trials.
Not in recent memory have our shepherds been separated from their flocks, from their brother priests, and from their own friends and families as they are today. Many are feeling quite alone. The antidote can be found in some of the last words spoken by Jesus:
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. (John 15:14-17)
Jesus spoke these words to his Apostles moments after he had consecrated them the first priests of the New Covenant. “I have called you friends,” he said. In saying it to them, he said it to all Christians of all times, and in a particular way to us priests. Like John the Baptist, priests are “friends of the Bridegroom” and rejoice at the Bridegroom’s voice.
The spiritual writer Eugene Boylan writes that the “priest must be the friend of Jesus. He is more than a mere servant, and so he must offer Jesus something more than mere service — for [Jesus] wants more than that... No one else can give Him our friendship or our love. It is the one thing in our lives that is irreplaceable; all the rest could be done by somebody else.”
Friendship with Jesus is not just a metaphor. Jesus really regards us as his friends. After all, it has all the marks of true friendship.
True friends cannot be bought, forced, or earned; their love can only be freely given and received. “I chose you,” Jesus says to each of us, and from all eternity he hopes that we, reciprocating his friendship, will freely choose him too.
True friends hold nothing back from each other. Jesus brings us into his most intimate confidence. “All that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you,” he said. He hopes that we, too, will hold nothing back from him.
True friends enjoy a united outlook, a shared vision, a common goal. Jesus invites us to share his deepest desires for human beings, which is their redemption and salvation. He asks us to “go and bear fruit” and prays “that [our] fruit should abide.” It is the very end and ambition of our priesthood.
More than anything else, though, according to ancient wisdom, a true friend is “another self.” This is nowhere more clear than a priest’s friendship with Jesus. We are, after all, called to be “another self” of Jesus – an “alter Christus” – for the people we serve.
As we grow in friendship with Jesus, he becomes “another self” to us as well. His good becomes our good, his thoughts our thoughts, his aspirations our aspirations. When he rejoices, we rejoice. When he weeps over another Jerusalem, our hearts are moved as well. When he sets his face like flint against the newest scourge of evil afflicting his people, we can do no less.
The recipe for growing in friendship with Jesus is the same as any friendship – by spending time with him. In his Eucharistic Presence, he waits for us, he is glad when we approach, he takes delight in our company and our conversation (as any friend would) and he lavishes his love upon us – because he has called us his friends — and so we truly are.
When we know that, when we really know that, then we also know that we are never alone.