Sermon inspired by Friendship With Christ by Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson, preach by Rev. Robert Brucciani at Saint Anne's, Leicester and Saint Mary's Church Hall, Sheffield on 26th February 2023.
Lent, a time for friendship with Christ
Friendship – The Highest Human Relationship
The highest human relationship we can have here below is that of friendship. Compared to other relationships, it is greater than a relationship formed on common interest (football, politics, even religion), it is even greater than a relationship of marriage in the sense that it is entirely spiritual, and in the sense that is the vital ingredient of a happy marriage, for without friendship, marriage is a cold perfunctionary affair.
Friendship In itself
It seeks to win nothing, to produce nothing -- but to sacrifice all. It reflects the characteristics of divine charity on the natural plane, even more clearly than does sacramental wedded love. It beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things . . . seeketh not her own . . . is not puffed up (I Cor 13). It is the salt of perfect matrimony, but it can exist without it.
There is no trough deeper than that of betrayal by a friend. There is nothing so comforting as a deep friendship where two souls can be in silence together.
Friendship with Christ
Impermanence of human friendships
But for all its perfection, friendships come and go. Two people grow out or away from each other with time when there is no fruit to be gathered on either side. There is only one friendship that will fulfil man of which human friendship is a pale shadow; this is friendship with Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Unawareness of Friendship with Christ because His humanity is forgotten
Many Catholics have a great knowledge of Christ, but His Divinity blinds them to his humanity. They forget that He became a man not only so that He could repay the debt of justice due by man to God, but also to be loved as a friend.
Many Catholics sanctify themselves with His sacraments, adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament, pray to Him with devotions, but they are lonely because they do not see Him as their friend.
With Christ: the relationship of dependence, obedience, imitation are on account of His divinity; friendship is possible only on account of His humanity: Jesus loved with His humanity, His suffering humanity. The thing that sets the saints apart from most Catholics is their consciousness of the friendship of Our Lord.
How it starts
Friendship is due to a communion of the soul. Friendship with Christ happens in the same way as human friendships: a look, a word, a common thought then our spiritual lives become real. He reveals Himself beyond our studies of scripture, the catechism; He demands that we open our hearts to Him like a friend: no pretences, no trying to be something we’re not.
How it grows: The Purgative Way and Illuminative Way
Friendship with Christ is initially intoxicating, but is immature on the part of man. It is but the beginning of the path that leads to the Beatific Vision. A friendship needs to be purified and cleansed to be true. Then it can be raised up. The purifying of the friendship of Christ is nothing other than Purgative Way as described by many spiritual authors. This is followed by the raising up which is the Illuminative Way.
In the Purgative Way a soul is purified of disordered attachment to exterior things, (money, food, comfort, anything that gives sensual gratification), then to spiritual things (honour of men, feelings of joy or hope, spiritual consolations), then to self (one’s own will, one’s own self-love).
In the Illuminative Way, the things cast off are taken back again but ordered to Christ: exterior objects are welcomed as instruments of love (beauty, wealth, nature), spiritual objects are accepted as gifts from Jesus. Self is abandoned to Christ and loved because of His love for it.
If a soul becomes disappointed with this Divine friendship, it is through no fault of Jesus. It is because we are holding back.
Like all friendships, there will be moments of elation, moments of tranquillity, moments of dryness, but unlike any other friendship, friendship with Christ can never fail.
Count all things to be but loss and count them as dung, that I may gain Christ (Phil 3:8)
This Season of Lent
The season of Lent is for purifying our friendship with Christ. He showed us the way in today’s Gospel. We must walk the purgative way to remove all obstacles to Christ friendship, to expiate our sins and to expiate the sins of the whole world in imitation of Christ.
We must detach ourselves from - or die to - physical things, spiritual things, and even to ourselves.
A faithful saying: for if we be dead with him, we shall live also with him. (2 Tim 2:11)
Let us ask this grace through the Blessed Virgin Mary, that we may not make our Lent into a dry, interior battle of self-will, but may make it a time of throwing off all the the things that are holding us back from the friendship for which we were truly destined.