The Saintly Women Podcast · Saintly Short Take – Saint Teresa of Avila on Spiritual Friendship

Listen to our Saintly Short Take from The Saintly Women Podcast Episode 1: Saint Teresa of Avila to learn more about what the first female Doctor of the Church has to say about true spiritual friendship.

What is true friendship? What does it really mean? Our society might have you believe that true friendship is “supporting one another, no matter what.” While that phrase looks loving on the surface, are we truly loving someone by supporting them “no matter what”? If a friend of ours is making a decision that may be detrimental to their salvation, are we really being a true friend in supporting such a decision? It can definitely be challenging to have a difficult conversation with a friend regarding his or her behavior and its potential repercussions. Society is constantly telling us that initiating this type of conversation automatically makes us “judgmental” – but is judging the actions of an individual as harmful to his or her salvation (as long as long as we do so in a charitable way), really a bad thing?

Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ showed us the perfect example of true friendship in his encounter with the woman caught in adultery in John, Chapter 8, verses 3-11:

Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them,“Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”

Notice that Jesus condemns the Pharisees for their treatment of the woman; they certainly did not exercise charity towards her when attempting to admonish her for her sin. Jesus then shows us the correct way to approach a friend’s sinful behavior – with charity. He saves the woman from the disparaging Pharisees, but He does not tell her that her decision to commit adultery was something to be lauded. Rather, he tells her, “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” Jesus does not condemn the woman, because he wishes to lead her on the righteous path towards God. He rightly refuses to harm or shun her, but instead charitably urges her to purify her life. This is what we, as Christians, are all called to do. We should never condemn or shun others, or treat them with disdain or disrespect because they engage in a sinful action. This is the way of the Pharisees – not the way of Christ. Christ shows us what true friendship really is: taking the hand of our friend, becoming a witness for them, and leading them away from anything that may compromise their salvation. In order to do this effectively, we must also be cognizant of our own sins, and work diligently every day to purify our own lives. Only then, as the Gospel says, “you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5).

The Saints also have much advice to offer us in regards to true friendship.  Here are some great quotes from wonderful saints about being friends to one another in Christ:

Our first quote is from St. Francis Xavier:

“The better friends you are, the straighter you can talk, but while you are only on nodding terms, be slow to scold.” 

This quote is really helpful to put our discussion in context.  Before having a heart-to-heart conversation with your friend regarding his or her behavior, you need to ensure that there is a level of trust and understanding between the both of you.  If that trust and understanding has not yet been established, your friend may question your motives and your intention, and may not be at all receptive to your feedback.

Our next quote comes from Pope St. Clement I:

“We must accept correction, beloved, and no one should resent it.  The exhortations by which we admonish one another are both good and highly profitable, for they bind us to the will of God.”

If we are on the other end of this dialogue – rather, if our true friend is the one initiating the heart-to-heart regarding our sinful behavior – we need to understand that he or she is only doing so to help lead us to Christ.  As long as we understand that our friend’s intentions are pure, we should really try to take in what he or she has to say, knowing that our friend is only doing so for our ultimate benefit – a place in heaven with Christ!

Our last quote is a great one from St. Josemaria Escriva: 

“Never rebuke while you’re still indignant about a fault committed – wait until the next day, or even longer.  Then calmly, and with a purer intention, make your reprimand.  You’ll gain more by a friendly word than by a three-hour quarrel.” 

This is great advice for those of us who tend to be of the hot-tempered variety.  If we are feeling angry or upset with our friend, especially if it is over a sin he or she has committed against us, we should avoid speaking with our friend about it until we have calmed our emotions and are able to discuss the situation rationally.  Often when emotions get the better of us, we tend to drown out the words others are saying, especially if the negative emotions we are feeling are directed towards them. Take some time to decompress and assess the situation.  You will get a better result if you and your friend are both calm; after all, your ultimate goal in this situation should be helping your friend get to heaven, not proving to them how right you are.  A little humility goes a long way in being a true friend!

True friendship is hard to do in our current society.  It takes a lot of strength, a lot of courage, a lot of humility, and A LOT of God.  You can do it, though, with His help. Trust me – He’ll reward you later.