Pope on Friendship

Last Sunday, when I was preaching unto the Nation on the wireless, one of the things that I was speaking about was that I believe that we are all called to friendship with God. I think that for me, friendship is fairly fundamental to my concept of God and also one of the basic motivators in how I think we should all rub along together.

A message from the Pope released recently contains this:

Friendship is a great human good, but it would be emptied of its ultimate value if it were to be understood as an end in itself. Friends should support and encourage each other in developing their gifts and talents and in putting them at the service of the human community.

When I first read the first sentence of that quote, I thought it was an utterly wicked thing to say. On reading it again, I’m not sure what I think of it. Maybe it is because I spent time last week at Aelred’s Rievaulx abbey on his feast day. I somehow think that friendship is an enormously valuable end in itself.

I don’t, of course, think that people should refrain from developing their gifts and talents or put themselves at the service of the human community. But, to make the concept of friendship subservient to altruism seems to me to be inadequate for all kinds of reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on right now.

Anyone else agree?


  1. Robin says

    Many years ago, when my wife and I were going through a spell of difficulty in our relationship, our very wise parish priest told us that a relationship, to be truly healthy, should always look outwards and that its inner joy would grow with sharing and giving to others, whereas if a couple turned inwards on themselves the relationship could atrophy or turn sour.

    We’ve found this to be true for us, and I wonder if it might be what the Pope is thinking of when speaking of friendship?

  2. Elizabeth says

    Yes. As you say, the development of gifts and service to community are great goods, but the way this is set up is putting a strict limit on what friendship is and is for, which I find disturbing.

  3. I agree with both your instinct and your hesitation. Friendship can enable us to do all sorts of things we couldn’t otherwise, and I’m sure there are times when friends help us recognize and use our gifts. But that is a natural result, rather than a goal.

    I think friendship is strongest when the goals have fallen by the way side and neither is trying to achieve anything with or through the other (which is not to say that there won’t be times when one needs the other’s advice, support, help, action…). It is that ability to rejoice in the other with nothing to gain that is the delight of friendship.

    And you have heard me say before– I suspect that if our culture understood friendship better, fidelity in other relationships would be easier too.

  4. My description of choice is “deliberately ambiguous”. What do we think he means by `that debase the goodness and intimacy of human sexuality’?

    There are some good elements of social awareness in there and some stumbling attempts to say something good. However, I cannot shake the feeling that lurking behind the crafted words is an oppressive desire to censor the web, an old-timer right-wing view of “creation” and “design” in keeping with his other utterances on science and ecumenism.

  5. Thanks for these comments.

    Robin – I think that the priest you were talking to was indeed very wise, and I can see how that relates to the statement. I think it is that bald statement that friendship is not an end in itself that I still struggle with.

    Elizabeth – yes, false dichotomy. Reminds me of the (only) line I remember from Obama’s speech – We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals

    Kimberly – yes if our culture did undertand friendship better …. Anglican Communion etc.

    Tim – I think it is a fairly ill disguised attempt to justify censoring the web. It is the most hierarchical institutions which have the furthest to fall.


  6. All Vatican-speak is ‘deliberately ambiguous’, Tim.

    But I share your reservation about that sentence, Kelvin. It smacks of the control-freakery that successive Popes have tried to exercise over the noblest and most enriching human instincts

  7. Looks to me like the Pope is talking about friendship as it is defined in the ‘new vocabulary of the digital age’ – the Myspace and Facebook sense of friendship e.g. people who send people they hardly know or used to know ‘friend requests’ as if that is the end of it… He’s says he is reminding ‘younger catholic believers’ that friendship has more demanding/sacrificial elements.. Could have read it completely wrong but seems fair enough point to me. I have only got 21 myspace friends mind you…

  8. Yes. I’ve got 122 friends on facebook – they vary from people I know and have loved very deeply for many years to people I have occassional contact with or even people I’ve not met.

    Its the same in non-virtual life I would often introduce someone as a friend of mine whether they were particularly close to me or not.

    Friendships that are expressed in virtual environments have different means of expression to those in non-virtual space but each seems to me to encompass the same varying range of levels of intimacy.

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    Think the Pope could have had this in mind?

  10. I tried last night to leave a witty comment here, but alas! it was swallowed up in the ether. The world will have to wait …

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