The Sacrament Of Friendship

Part 7 of in a Register series on friendship.


God’s grace perfects rather than destroys nature because God is the Creator of nature and does not contradict himself when he redeems it.

Consequently, God is constantly taking ordinary human things and turning them into vehicles of supernatural grace.

We require water to live, so he takes this ordinary everyday stuff and turns it into the fountain living water that, in baptism, bestows the washing, sin-drowning, eternally life-giving supernatural life of the Blessed Trinity himself.

We eat and drink the simple foods of bread and wine and gather in convivial table fellowship to do it, so he raises these ordinary human things to become participations in the very sacrifice and resurrection of the glorified Son of God, fully present in his body, soul, spirit and divinity, joining us in communion with himself and each other.

We fall in love, so God raises the love called eros to participate in the love of the Blessed Trinity through the sacrament of marriage.

We get sick and God uses our experience of physical healing as a sign of the true spiritual healing he gives in the sacrament of anointing.

And in confirmation, God raises the love that is friendship to a participation in his life as well.

The striking thing about friendship, as distinct from a parental relationship, is that it presumes a certain equality. This is surprising and uncomfortable for us, when we start talking about God, because who could possibly speak of being equal to God?

No one, obviously. But then again, who could possibly talk about being a child of God either?

By nature, we are creatures, not children of God. Yet children are exactly what we become in baptism through the grace of Christ. The only reason we don’t find that as shocking as ancients did is because we are used to the idea, having heard the phrase “God the Father” for 2,000 years.

Moreover, this revelation is a bit easier to swallow since a son or daughter is always in an asymmetrical relationship with his or her mother or father. We remain, quite properly, our parents’ debtors forever. So we can more easily adjust psychologically to calling the One to whom we the greatest debt “Father.”

But “friend”? “Equal”? Who on earth is equal to God? Well, nobody — by nature.

But just as the grace of Christ bestows on us a renewed and divinized human nature so that we become children of God, so likewise it is Jesus who graciously declares to his disciples (that would be you and me), “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” (John 15:15).

The striking mark of friendship is that we do not stand face to face looking into the eyes of the other (that’s eros). Nor do we look up, as we do with parental love.

In friendship, we stand side by side, looking at something we love in common. And in our lives as Christians, that’s exactly what Jesus calls us to do alongside him. He directs us — in the liturgy — to join him in the worship of his Father and — as we leave the liturgy — to join him in the evangelization of the world.

And so, in the sacrament of confirmation, we are given the gifts proper to friends of God. We receive the sanctifying gifts of wisdom, counsel, understanding, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and the fear of the Lord (the gifts you get to keep that make us more like our brother Jesus and help us grow in the love of the Father).

In addition, we also get sundry charisms that help us carry out the mission to the world as we walk out of Mass.

Mark Shea is a Register columnist and blogger. To read Mark Shea’s series on friendship: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.