Sacred Scripture teaches that, “faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure.” (Sirach 6:14)
Anyone who has true and intimate friendship knows the sweetness, and sometimes saltiness, it can bring to life. St. Francis de Sales certainly knew this.
Of all the saints, this gentle Church doctor wrote more on the topic of friendship than any other saint. Let’s look at five practical bits of wisdom from St. Francis de Sales on authentic, holy friendship.
1) “Love your neighbor, Dear reader, with a great, charitable love, but befriend only those with whom you can be mutually supportive in virtue. The higher the virtues that you put into these relationships, the more perfect will your friendship be.”
De Sales had what he called ‘little virtues’. He said that two people striving for virtue together are truly great friends. And what were these little virtues?
According to Salesian spirituality, these virtues include honesty, acceptance, generosity, humility, gentle strength, kindness, patience, simplicity, interiority, joyful optimism, courage, and stewardship.
The Book of Proverbs teaches that “iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). This is exactly what the practice of virtue in two friends is: iron sharpening iron.
2) “It is necessary to find those who will support us and need our support in promoting the devout life.”
Authentic, holy friendship depends on two people supporting, even at times correcting, each other on the path to holiness.
3) “Sacred friendship uses plain, sincere language and it praises nothing but virtue and God’s grace, the only foundation on which friendships rests.”
St. Francis de Sales acknowledges the beauty and sacredness of holy friendship. And why is this sort of friendship holy?
Frankly, because it separates from the mundane and reaches towards the transcendent. Idle gossip and worldly commonality do not make up good friendships.
These friendships are fleeting and lack intimacy and the wherewithal to last. Prayerful concern for the other, sacrifice with the perusing of virtue together, and the desire for mutual affection and sanctity make true, good, lovely, and rare friendships.
4) “Friends love each other despite their faults and flaws.”
Real friendship is made up of real people. And people are imperfect. True friendship acknowledges the imperfections in their friend, but also acknowledges that goodness and virtue outweigh imperfection.
In fact, St. Francis de Sales said that when friends argue and truly make up, the friendship is much stronger than before. But, that requires forgiveness and growth.
5) “It is absolutely necessary for friendship that mutuality should exist between the two who love each other.”
Real and holy friendship demands mutual love and respect. There must be give and take and take and give.
If the friendship is one-sided, or even mostly one-sided, it will fail miserably. In intimate and holy friendship, there is no room for selfishness. Instead, there is only room for mutual love.
In fact, the Sisters of the Visitation, whose religious congregation was co-founded by Francis de Sales, end each day with the superior saying to the sisters, “Let us go now in mutual love.” That’s beautiful and holy! Beautiful and holy friendship demands the same mutual love and respect despite imperfections.
Real and holy friendship ought to bring a sweetness to our lives.
Yet, this sort of friendship is so very rare. So rare in fact that many go throughout life without ever sharing the joy and sweetness that holy friendship offers.
Therefore, if God has graced you with such a friend, I encourage you to thank Him for them. Also, be vulnerable and let your friend know how much they mean to you.
Life is very short. We should tell our real friends we love and appreciate them and their friendship. Friends who want to become saints together are one of God’s greatest gifts and treasures.