This post is part of a series.
One of the times Jesus says “Go!” is pretty scary. In the Gospel of Luke He sends His disciples on a preaching mission saying, “Go your way; behold I send you out as lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). I live on a little farm and I can tell you that when a canine rips into a farm animal, it is not pretty. As with the Christian life in general, the mission was not easy and was a guaranteed danger. But this story also gives us a great tip on meeting challenges head on and without fear. He sent them out “two by two” (v. 10:1). The simple lesson: we cannot go on our missions alone.
I have a best friend named Justin. Without hesitation I would call him my brother. In high school we ventured off, fishing and rope-swinging into the Haw River. In college we were roommates, both studying horticulture. Today we are both married, live a half-day’s drive from each other, and find it hard to get together. But when we are together, it’s as natural and enjoyable as if we were never apart. In life it seems like we are going two by two.
The Same But Different
One time I came across a quote from St. Augustine about one of his friendships and he described it as “one soul in two bodies”. He probably got that wording from Aristotle, who said, “Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the most brilliant theologians of all time, defined love with that one word – “friendship”. Aquinas defined it that way because Jesus describes His love and relationship to us as friendship – “I no longer call you servants… but friends” (John 15:15).
C.S. Lewis described friends as two souls living “side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” In a sense, the “spirit” of any friendship is that thing that holds them in common, that mutual pursuit that seems to help them be more of who they are. For the Church, the spirit that binds us together is the Holy Spirit Himself. “There is one body and one Spirit” (Ephesians 4:4).
I think this explains my lasting friendship with Justin. From catfish in the Haw River to majors in college, we often pursued the same thing, we were different but had the same “spirit”, and being together made us stronger in those pursuits. Blessedly, we both had conversions to Christ, desiring to live as Christian men. The spirit of our friendship became the Spirit of God. We both later converted to the Catholic Church from Protestantism. Now as married men we are seeking the same thing. We want to be holy fathers, and our friendship continues to help us remember what we are fighting for, and it helps us be better fighters.
Your Friends Make You
They say you become like the five people you spend the most time with. Now, imagine if you spent time with people that were seeking radically different things from you. You would probably part ways at some point. If an athlete has his eyes on the Olympics, seeing himself as an Olympian, he cannot spend too much time with friends that think it’s a waste of time and live in ways damaging to the body’s athletic potential. If he fails to create a healthy separation, he can call himself an Olympian, maybe even keeping some routines that look like he is pursuing it, but he wont be one.
You have the potential to be a saint. Every inner desire of the human heart is but a shadow of our ultimate desire, which is God. For this end we need Christian friendship and brotherhood. If we surround ourselves with friends that are seeking a different end, we can say we are seeking holiness, but it might become an empty routine, and later something we give up altogether.
We need brotherhood firstly because unholy friendships are a danger to our soul. “He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Proverbs 13:20). We cannot delude ourselves into thinking that we will not be influenced by the company we keep. We are. “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Corinthians 15:33).
This does not mean being unkind or rejecting and ignoring every one that is not Christian, but we must carefully choose friends, those we associate closely with, because we will tend to live like them and seek the same ends. If they love the things of the world more than God, we too will learn to love those things. “If any one loves the world, love for the Father is not in him,” says St. John (1 John 2:15). This warning comes from someone who heard from Jesus’ lips the warning that you cannot love mammon (worldly wealth) and God at the same time – you will eventually hate one and love the other (Matthew 6:24). Choose.
Brotherhood and Holiness
The second reason we need brotherhood is that it encourages us to advance in holiness. As Christian men our core identity is a son of God. By having a common Father with other Christians, it follows that we are brothers in a very real sense (not just symbolically), and being together reminds us of who we really are. We are brothers in the family of God. This is why we are told to “love the brotherhood” (1 Peter 2:17), which is a reference to fellow Catholics. But we are not only reinforced in our identity, but encouraged in our faith – at least this is what we should be doing! We are told to “encourage one another” and to “build each other up” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Do you have healthy Christian friendships? If not, its time to assess how you spend your time and with whom you spend it. In today’s world we are swimming in so-called “friends” in social media and such, but those friendships are shallow – no amount of comments and likes will take the place of friendship that spends time in each other’s company. For that we have to go out. There are many things that can be done together, but in my experience I cannot help but suggest you go fishing and rope-swinging.
Many men feel alone in this, like they are the only ones trying to live a holy life. One time the great prophet Elijah said the same thing, even hiding himself in a cave lamenting that he was the last “good one” (1 Kings 19). God corrected him and let him know that there were thousands of other believers, but Elijah would not encounter them in the cave. If you feel despair because you feel alone, the two lessons are to leave the cave, and pray that God will bring you to the friendships you need. St. John says that he who fails to love his Christian brothers is in “darkness” (1 John 2:11) – failing to get out there with our friends keeps us in the dark cave like Elijah.
As you leave the darkness behind, seeking the Light of God, you need to remember that it is dangerous, and heed Jesus’ method of going “two by two”. Go forward with friends.
Jason Craig works and writes from a small farm in rural North Carolina with his wife Katie and their five kids. Jason is the Executive Director of Fraternus, a mentoring program for young men, and holds a masters degree from the Augustine Institute. He is known to staunchly defend his family’s claim to have invented bourbon.