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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Real Friendship...With Jesus...

“I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”
(John 15:15, NAB)

Friends…are people whom one knows, likes and trust; as most dictionaries would define for us.  A true friend is like a gem, but many a times, we tend to take friends for granted, just as we take this short journey through life for granted.

A Roman Catholic, French-Cuban author, Angela Anais Nin puts it beautifully when she said, “Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

What is it that you cherish most in life? Some say it would be their closest and best friends. Most of us depend greatly on the company of true friends, those who care for their welfare and being and most importantly, help to shape us to become a better person.

As with any relationship or journey, friends bring much needed companionship, support, joy and occasionally strife.

I recall someone having said that a friend is one who wishes and does good things to a friend, for the friend's sake, wishes the friend to exist and live, for her or his own sake, spends time with her or his friend, makes the same choices as her or his friend and finds the same things pleasant and painful as her or his friend.  Quite a mouthful, but it just goes to show why friends are so valued to fill some void within ourselves.

However, in these modern days, technological and digital age, true and sincere friends are hard to come by.  Whatever happened to meeting friends the old fashioned way, perhaps over a cup of tea, coffee or just chit chatting in the park?

I read in the weekend papers that Colombian-born singer ‘Shakira’ Isabel Mebarak Ripoll, raised a Roman Catholic, has become the latest recording artist to accumulate over 30 million ‘friends’ on Facebook.  Just imagine, having such voluminous number of ‘friends’ or just fans!  It certainly can make some of us, normal people, feel ‘out-of-place’ or most ‘unwanted’.  Sometimes, the ways of the world are just simply beyond our wildest imagination!

Shakira, who had met Pope John Paul II back in 1998, apparently surpassed the 30 million mark a few days back, on May 26, and in a show of gratitude, uploaded a video on Facebook thanking her ‘friends’ for making her one of only a handful of musicians to gain such huge number of ‘friends’ on the cyber social networking site.

Similarly, another Christian, American rapper Eminem, born Marshall Bruce Mathers III, became the first person to hit the 30 million ‘friends’ mark on March 10,  Currently the rapper has more Facebook friends (37,279,306) than any other person; living or dead.

As of May 27, other musicians with over 30 million ‘friends’ include another raised Roman Catholic, ‘Lady Gaga’ Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (35,451,406).  Similarly, Robyn ‘Rihanna’ Fenty, known for the dark lyrics of her song Russian Roulette (34,269,822) and even the late, Jehovah Witness follower, Michael Jackson (33,651,096).

For many of these famous ‘celebrities’, life can be very much lonely, abusive and fake; having real friends even more rare.  They may seem to have all the ‘right’ friends in terms of social prestige, in-group cachet, or Hollywood/MTV connections, or a spouse who is rich, brilliant and fabulous looking, but if there is no deep emotional resonance, honesty, sincerity and humility, then none of these relationships will satisfy the deep restless hunger for connection, companionship or ease the pain of feeling isolated.

Behind all the popular celebrity status, who are these people, truly?  As entertainers, are their songs, videos and values even consistent with their own spirituality?

Now, what type of “friends” are these then, on their Facebook?  Online ‘friends’?  Cyber ‘friends’?  Virtual ‘friends’?  ‘Friends’ who “like” you?  Are these mostly stranger-‘friends’ on their homepage; existing purely to boost their popularity ego?  Or, are these merely, just one of the many millions of ‘fans’ who just wants an association with the so-called celebrity; to compete with the ‘statistics’ of other Facebook ‘Joneses’?  Very simply, can you even find any genuine 'friends' on Facebook - one that you know or trust?

In the beginning of this year, we were reminded by Pope Benedict XVI, in a message entitled, “Truth, Proclamation and Authenticity of Life in the Digital Age” that, although Social Networking sites can be a blessing in this digital era, it cannot replace real human contact; real relationships - real community.

The Roman pontiff encouraged social networkers to be more open and honest in their communications, and to not confuse online friendships with real, deeper, lasting ones.    “It is important always to remember that virtual contact cannot and must not take the place of direct human contact with people at every level of our lives,” he wrote.

Although the Pope, at 83 years of age, does not even have his own personal Facebook page, the Vatican has made social media strides through its site,, which links users to YouTube, Facebook pages and even an iPhone application!

The Holy Father continues to invite all Christians, especially young people and youths, to use social media to proclaim the Gospel - both directly, through evangelization and apologetics efforts, and indirectly, through the witness of a life well lived, in cyberspace as well as in real life.

Having said that, although we all do need varied experiences of friendship and community in our lives to help us or to simply share with us this short journey through life...we must always be cautious of online ‘friends’ and not allow these to get into our head to the extent that we get swayed away from our spirituality and diverted from our journey back home.

At the root of it all, we must always maintain the center of our being and know that there is only true friendship in Jesus Christ...the only one who is the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6)...the friend and companion that we must know, like and trust.

Our tradition rich Catholic faith continues to remind us through the Body of the Church and the Holy Sacraments that Jesus has called each one of us, by name, to be his friends.  An Irish Evangelical poet, Joseph M. Scriven, who wrote the poem, ‘Pray without Ceasing’; later renamed into a hymn by a Presbyterian, Charles Crozat Converse, ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’, sums up very simply and beautifully what a friend should be.

This familiar tune carries many, many special heartfelt memories for me and my family…as I remember all my loved ones, especially my late loving father, who was truly and always will be, my precious true friend…

What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,
Oh, what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!

Have we trials and temptations?
Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Can we find a friend so faithful,
Who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness;
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy-laden,
Cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge—
Take it to the Lord in prayer.

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?
Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield thee,
Thou wilt find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised
Thou wilt all our burdens bear;
May we ever, Lord, be bringing
All to Thee in earnest prayer.

Soon in glory bright, unclouded,
There will be no need for prayer—
Rapture, praise, and endless worship
Will be our sweet portion there.