What Is Spiritual Friendship?

Fr. John Crossin, OSFSA key benefit members of the St. Francis de Sales Association enjoy is the opportunity to develop and maintain life-long spiritual friendships. Fr. John W. Crossin, an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales (OSFS) and former executive director of the Washington Theological Consortium, has written and spoken extensively on the topic of spiritual friendship and shares his insights with us in the following series of essays.

The Experience of Friendship

We experience a joy in friendship. Friends enjoy spending time together. Going to a fall football game together—wearing the right color, cheering in unison, sharing hot dogs, and celebrating victory—speaks of the joy of being with friends. There is a strong emotional quality to friendship.

There is a strong emotional quality to friendship.

We like being with our friends. Friendship with another person involves a certain indefinable attraction.

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Kinds of Friendship

There are different kinds of friendship. Friendships involve different levels of communication and sharing. Friendships can be tremendously enriching. Each friendship may have a different focus and depth. All have elements of attraction and joy. Some friendships are between men or between women; others are between a man and a woman. Today some people focus on groups of friends as well as on individual friendships. Our Salesian tradition concerns itself with all these types of friendship.

Some friends are colleagues at work. We share a common interest in our profession or occupation. We often talk about topics related to this work. We may go out right after work on occasion to continue our conversation or to honor a colleague. But we rarely carry the relationship home.

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Spiritual Friendship

Last spring semester I mentioned Spiritual Friendship in a course I was teaching on spirituality. One of the students shared with me that he had never heard the term. He was intrigued with the concept—it seemed to describe one of his relationships.

Spiritual friends are friends with whom we feel we can share our spiritual concerns. These relationships may emerge gradually.

We build our relationships on trust. Slowly we might move from sharing outside events, like football games or concerts, to familiar events like meals, to inner events like the stories of our lives.

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Discerning God's Plan

With a true friend we can share our hopes and discouragements. It is comforting to have an understanding ear to hear our concerns both spoken--and unspoken. It is good to have a person who can serve as a “sounding board” to whom we can vocalize our ideas that seem new or unusual.

With a true friend we can share our hopes and discouragements. It is comforting to have an understanding ear to hear our concerns both spoken--and unspoken. It is good to have a person who can serve as a “sounding board” to whom we can vocalize our ideas that seem new or unusual.

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Healing Relationships

Friends do not expect us to be perfect-nor do we expect them to be. Sometimes we will share our mistakes and even our deeper faults with one another. This can be a great aid in the healing process in the varied situations of our lives.

Friends sometimes have serious differences of opinion with each other. This is to be expected. A vigorous discussion can help us to clarify our opinions and appreciate the insights of our friends.

Occasionally, friends will actually offend one another. Our deeper faults and our sinfulness can affect our friendships.

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Patience in Friendship

In life we are always going either backward or forward. There is no standing still. Though we might not notice the subtle changes in our relationships, they are happening.

Patience is an important virtue for sustaining growth in our relationships and in ourselves.

Daily life provides many opportunities for exercising patience:

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Gratitude

As we come to spiritual maturity, we grow in appreciation of our talents and blessings. We realize that we are not entitled to them. We have not earned them. They are gifts from God.

One danger is that we might take things for granted. We can easily perceive that ‘what we grew up with’ is the norm. Americans who lived through the Great Depression seem to me to be most appreciative of other people and thankful for their support.They are also very careful about conserving and maintaining material possessions. Those of us who grew up in more affluent times seem more likely to take people or possessions for granted.

There is a danger that after awhile we start to take our friends for granted.

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