In a previous article in TAN Direction, it was stated that just as there is an analogy between the natural life of man and the supernatural life of grace, there is an analogy between the development of human friendship and friendship between the soul and God. This being the case, a study of human friendship will show how it is that the faithful soul can grow in its friendship with God. For this, we turn to Aristotle, the Philosopher, who treated on friendship in his Nicomachean Ethics. The following are his observations:
Perfect Friendship Is Only Cultivated Over Much Time
“[Perfect] friendships require time and familiarity; for, as the proverb says, it is impossible for men to know each other well until ‘they have consumed together much salt,’ nor can they accept each other and be friends till each has shown himself dear and trustworthy to the other.” (Bk. 8, Ch. 4)
To deepen friendship with God, one must spend a great deal of time with Him in mental prayer, getting to know Him in an intimate manner.
Friends Live Together/Spend Much Time Together
“Those who accept each other but are not living together appear to be well-disposed men rather than friends…But it is impossible for men to pass the time together unless they are pleasant and enjoy the same things.” (Bk. 8, Ch. 6)
One must realize that God is with him at every moment and turn towards Him frequently.
Friends Will/Desire the Same Things
“How could [two people] be friends if they have no common interests and neither enjoy nor are pained by the same things? For they will not even have [the same thoughts or feelings] towards each other, and without these, as we saw, they cannot be friends since they cannot live together.” (Bk. 9, Ch. 3)
One must also conform one’s likes and desires to God’s as His judgement is perfect while the soul’s is flawed. God’s desires are made known, in the first place, by the teachings of the Catholic Church and the duties incumbent to one’s state of life.
Friendship Proceeds from a Disposition, not a Feeling
“Now liking resembles a feeling, while friendship resembles a disposition. For liking is directed no less towards inanimate things; but a return of love for love is accompanied by deliberate choice, and what is done by choice is from disposition.” (Bk. 8, sec. 7)
Therefore, true friendship is a habit. It is something developed over time and expressed even when one’s feelings are not in it. One must be willing to go to prayer and spend time with God even when it feels burdensome or when there is aversion to prayer (see St. Thomas’ commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics ).
Friendship Consists More in Loving Than Being Loved
“Since friendship depends more on loving than on being loved…loving rather than being loved seems to be the virtue of friendship.” (Bk. 8, Ch. 10)
One should focus on what one can do to express one’s love for God rather than brooding over what God has done (or, in many cases, not done) for him.
Friends Hold All Things in Common
“And it has been rightly said, ‘to friends all things are common;’ for friendship exists in association. Now brothers and comrades have all things in common, but other people have only certain things in common, some more, some fewer.” (Bk. 8, Ch. 11)
A good friend does not need explicit permission to come over or to take something from the refrigerator. Both presume that such behavior is acceptable, even expected. In a similar way, one must surrender all that one possesses to God and allow God into all the aspects of one’s life. God, for His part, will then open His treasuries to the soul.
Friendship Involves Conversation and Sharing Secrets
“And just as a virtuous man is disposed towards himself, so is he disposed towards his friend, for his friend is another self. So just as one’s own existence is a choiceworthy object to a man, so is that of a friend, or almost so. But existence was stated to be choiceworthy to a man because he is aware of himself as being good, and such awareness is pleasant in itself. Hence he should be aware also of the fact that his friend exists, and this would come about by living together with him and sharing in conversation and thoughts; for ‘living together’ in the case of men would be taken to mean a thing as this, and not, as in the case of cattle, feeding in the same place.” (Bk. 9, Ch. 9)
“Now, it is proper to friendship that a man reveals his secrets to his friend, because friendship unites their affections, and of two hearts makes one. Consequently, when a man reveals something to his friend, he would seem not to have taken it out of his own heart. Hence our Lord said to his disciples: No longer do I call you servants . . . but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:15).” – St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Contra Gent, IV, 21)
In prayer, one must not hold anything back from God, but bare one’s soul in its entirety and be vulnerable with God.
These points can serve as a foundation for evaluating the development of one’s friendship with God, to see where improvement is needed and where one is doing well.