True Friendship

A series of comments by St. Aelred on Spiritual Friendship

Maybe you have been blessed with a very dear and intimate friend, or just deeply moved by the desire for one. If you have ever received the precious gift of a friend to whom you could open your heart, you know that maintaining this relationship demands love, sacrifice, and understanding of the nature of true friendship. In a Cistercian monastery, we treasure and cultivate friendship which has its roots in the vibrant and steadfast love of Jesus Christ for his friends. Our father Aelred of Rievaulx, (b. 1110), was blessed with unique insights into this mystery which we are happy to share with you below.

"A friend is a guardian of love or, as some might say, a guardian of the spirit itself. Since it is fitting that my friend be a guardian of the love we share, and the guardian of my own spirit, so as to preserve all its secrets in faithful silence, let him, as far as he can, cure and endure such defects as he may observe in me; let him rejoice with his friend in his joys and weep with him in his sorrows, and feel as his own all that his friend experiences."

"More are to be received into the embrace of charity than into the embrace of friendship. We are compelled by the law of charity to receive in the embrace of love not only our friends but also our enemies. But only those do we call friends to whom we can fearlessly entrust our heart and all its secrets."

"It is quite false to call 'friends' those who only share a harmony of vices. Note that, he who does not love, is not a friend. But a person does not love another person if he loves what is wrong. The psalm says: He who loves what is wrong, does not love at all, but hates his own soul." But then, one who does not love his own soul cannot love someone else. So, two people who share with one another only a harmony of vices, glory in the name of friendship but are deceived."

"Worldly friendship, which is born of desire for advantage or possessions, is always full of deceit and intrigue; it contains nothing certain, nothing constant, nothing secure and keeps changing with circumstances always with a view of what it stands to gain. So, it has been said: 'He is a fair-weather friend, and he will not be there for you when you are in trouble. Take away his hope of profit, and immediately he will cease to be your friend."

"Spiritual friendship, that is true friendship, should be desired, not for consideration of any worldly advantage or for any extrinsic cause, but from the dignity of its own nature and the feelings of the human heart, so that it's growth and reward, is nothing other than itself."

"What happiness, what security, what joy to have someone to whom you dare to speak on terms of equality as to another self; one to whom you need have no fear to confess your failings; one to whom you can unblushingly make known what progress you have made in the spiritual life; one to whom you can entrust all the secrets of your heart and before whom you can place all your plans!"

"And a thing even more excellent than all these considerations, friendship is a stage bordering upon that perfection which consists in the love and knowledge of God, so that man from being a friend of his fellow man becomes the friend of God, according to the words of the Savior in the Gospel: "I will not now call you servants, but my friends."

"In friendship are joined honor and charm, truth and joy, sweetness and good-will, affection and action. And all these take their beginning from Christ, advance through Christ, and are perfected in Christ. Therefore, not too steep or unnatural does the ascent appear from Christ, as the inspiration of the love by which we love our friend, to Christ giving himself to us as our Friend for us to love, so that charm may follow upon charm, sweetness upon sweetness and affection upon affection."