Spiritual Friendship

Homily for the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The other day, I was scrolling through Instagram in between two of my appointments when I came across this post from one of the Catholic accounts I follow. It posed an interesting question: “Have you ever noticed how saints often times come in pairs?” That intrigued me so I continued reading. It was talking about how it’s typically the people we surround ourselves with who keep us focused, who keep us on the straight and narrow, not just in life in general, but most especially in our faith.

As I have been praying with that idea this week, I think it’s an important idea that all of us should consider. Who do we surround ourselves with? Do we have good spiritual friendships? Do we have friends who have enriched our faith life? In today’s readings we have examples of good spiritual friendships.

In our first reading from the Book of Exodus, we hear the story of how Moses was supported by Aaron and Hur in accomplishing a near impossible task. As we’ve just heard, Moses was struggling to keep his hands raised. When his arms became more and more fatigued and began to dip downward, the tide of the battle with the Amalekites turned against the Israelites. Without even having to ask, Moses knew that he could trust Aaron and Hur to come to his assistance. He knew that he could trust in these two friends of his to keep him focused on the mission that was before him.  They came through for him and made sure that he was able to keep his arms steady so that the Israelites would be victorious.

In the second reading, we hear about Paul’s relationship with Timothy. In the section of the letter that comes directly before this, Paul is telling Timothy that he will endure many hardships in his ministry. Paul talks about how some of the people on the receiving end of their proclamation of the Gospel often turn away from God and living virtuous lives. Paul urges Timothy to not be discouraged when that happens and to avoid such people. Instead, he encourages Timothy to keep his gaze fixed on Christ, to remain committed to all that he has been taught about the faith and to continue striving to live it out, to be persistent in his mission of proclaiming the Gospel to everyone when it’s in season and out of season. Finally, Paul tells Timothy to be an example of a faithful disciple of Christ, to be a spiritual friend for others within the community, to be the witness that continually leads others to an encounter with God even when it’s difficult.

Every single one of us needs these types of spiritual companions, these friends in our lives. We need those people who are going to support us when the journey ahead becomes too daunting, when we’re struggling to make sense of our lives and wondering where God is in the moments of hardship. Most often, it’s our friends who find us in the midst of our sorrow, who walk with us through the ups and downs of life. It’s our friends who challenge us when we’re not living up to the expectations of Christian discipleship, who call us out for our crap and help us to want to live better lives. It’s our friends who help point us back toward Christ and who remind us what it means to walk as a disciple of the Lord.

In 2018, Pope Francis called a synod for the universal church for young people, talking about the challenges that young Catholics are facing and coming up with ways to walk with our youth and young adults in the midst of a world that is rapidly changing. In the document that came out of that synod, the Holy Father mentioned the importance of having good spiritual companions. He wrote:

“Friendship is one of life’s gifts and a grace from God. Through our friends, the Lord refines us and leads us to maturity. Faithful friends, who stand at our side in times of difficulty, are also a reflection of the Lord’s love, His gentle and consoling presence in our lives. The experience of friendship teaches us to be open, understanding and caring towards others, to come out of our own comfortable isolation and to share our lives with others.” (Christus vivit, 151)

The words of Pope Francis really highlight something important. In order for us to find those spiritual friends and to hopefully become one ourselves, we have to take the lead from the greatest example of a spiritual companion. We have to look to Jesus. He is our ultimate spiritual friend because it’s in Him that we find the way to the Father.

Jesus is the one to whom we should turn when our faith is shaken, when the road seems too difficult to walk and the burdens of life become too heavy to bear on our own. It is Jesus whom we should turn to when things are going well, to share the joys of what we’ve been experiencing. He is the one who should ultimately challenge us to open our hearts further to the graces of the Holy Spirit, to encourage us to be generous with the gifts that we have been given, and to invite us to participate in the mission of proclaiming the Gospel to those around us. It is Jesus, our ultimate spiritual friend, who helps guide us when we have a decision to make, builds us up when we are struggling, comforts us in our sorrow, picks us up when we fall flat on our faces, and leads us to turn away from sin and to be faithful to the mission He has given to us. Are we doing all that we can to foster THAT relationship above all?

If we’re struggling to foster that relationship with Jesus, today, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to help us, to guide us to discover ways that we can come to know Jesus even more deeply. Maybe that means arriving to Mass a few minutes early each week to connect with Him, to share about our week, to open our hearts to receive His word. If we are looking for other good spiritual friendships, look for ways to get involved here at Holy Family. Join the Council of Catholic Women, Mothers of Pre-Schoolers, the Knights of Columbus, the Men of Holy Family. Decide to go on an Emmaus retreat or join one of our many prayer groups. For our young people: get involved with the youth ministries or participate more fully in our young adult community. Or, if you are planning on going away to college next year, deliberately make an effort to find and join the campus ministry program. These are all ways that we can do our part to grow deeper in our relationship with the Lord and to find and foster other spiritual friendships in our lives.

This was the point that Instagram post I came across this past week was trying to express. Holiness begets holiness. If we surround ourselves with good people who are striving to follow Christ and be His disciples, then we, too, will try to accomplish the same in our own lives. And our striving for holiness will encourage others to do the same. We will be living out the Gospel and encouraging others to follow Jesus by how we live. So this week, may we all reflect on this important question: Who are our spiritual friends and are we willing to be one for someone else?

Photo: Helena Lopes on Unsplash. Used under Unsplash license.

Published by Fr. Tom Pringle

Priest of the Diocese of Orlando. Parochial Vicar at Holy Family Catholic Church, Orlando.

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