Saved by One's Friends

13 January 2005: Friday of the First Week in Ordinary Time
Mark 2, 1-12: Healing of the Paralyzed Man

William Butler Yeats said: “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends and say my glory was I had such friends.” I guess the paralyzed man whom Jesus healed may have said what Yeats would say several hundred years after. It was because of his friends that he was healed. Jesus saw their faith! His friends did everything in their power for his healing. As it was impossible to bring him close to Jesus, they removed that part of the flat Palestinian roof and lowered the paralyzed man to where Jesus was teaching.

Friends are essential in our well-being. We need friends because we are human and we are human before we are anything else. Our Christian life is based on our friendship with Christ. At the washing of the feet, Christ calls us his friends. As companions of Christ, we are therefore asked to share in his task: to serve others and make them our friends. Thus we must center our energies and focus to the generative pursuit of service and the quality of our relationship with others. Friendship exists when each of us holds each other close to our hearts.

How important are friendships in our life and in our faith?

First, as the paralyzed man had entrusted his whole self to his friends, my friends allow me to be who I am. I am comfortable and open with them. They are more aware of my humanness, more capable of considering possibilities and alternative ways of seeing through the layers of masks and deceptions, and because of the time we have spent together, they would have certain insights about myself which others will not be able to see. My experience of friendship has brought me back to my roots, being at home, less defensive and self-preserving. It is often true that our friends know our secrets than our parents. Our friends accept us. And because of this confidence, our friendships can bring out our deepest longings.

Second, my friends give me hope. They make me a hopeful person. When we leave the university, we discover so many things that shock us, hurt us, and disillusion us. These harsh experiences of real life often paralyze us. A heart broken person does not know how to move on without the person he loves. An employee falsely accused by her boss does not know how to continue relating with her. A student discovering certain truths about his family finds himself in a helpless situation. And someone finds oneself lonely even in a crowded dormitory. It is at these times that we long for another to talk to, someone who can listen to us, thus our friends come in handy. In some mysterious ways, our friendship offers hope amidst the cynicism and disillusionment. Just knowing that we have friends inspires us to move on and continue the work the Lord has given us. St. Francis Xavier wrote St. Ignatius about this:

“You write me of the great desire which you have to see me before you leave this life. God our Lord knows the impression which these words of great love made upon my soul and how many tears they cost me every time that I remember them.”

Third, my friendships are generative. When I am enriched humanly by my friends, and like love, we are able to nourish other relationships as well as our relationship with the Lord who sustains the friendship. Our friends know who we are. And in certain experiences, they are able to probe into our deepest selves, sharing our pains and our joys, and at the same time, challenge us to go beyond ourselves and to pursue our dreams. Friends help us build our own lives. In building our own lives, they direct us towards the ideals that brought us together and made us friends. Every friendship should bring us closer to God. Friendship gives us a concrete experience of God. No wonder that those who do not have the authentic experience of friends, find is difficult to relate to Christ who offers his friendship to us. The experience of human friendships makes it easier for one to pray to a personal and loving God. St. Robert Southwell SJ, once wrote:

“If you love a friend so much, if he or she is so attractive that everything he asked of you, you would agree to; and if it is so sweet to sit and talk with him, describe your mishaps to him --- then with how much more trust should you betake yourself to God, the God of goodness, converse with him, show him your weakness and distress, for he has greater care of you than you have of yourself, indeed he is more intimately you than you are.”

Think therefore of what friends the paralyzed man had. They cared so much about him and believed so much on Jesus’ power to heal him that they did all they could for him to get to Jesus. It was because of their faith that the paralyzed man was healed. His friends knew who he was and they clearly loved him. His friends brought him the hope of healing from his paralysis. And finally, his friends helped him build his life once again by bringing him closer to God.

Let me end with a story from Fr. Bausch about old Mrs. Hildebrand as recounted by Robert Smith of Pennsylvania.

It's been many years since I saw her, but in memory she's still there every holiday season. I especially feel her presence when I receive my first Christmas card. I was only twelve years old and Christmas was only a few days away, and the season's first blanket of white snow magnified the excitement. I dressed hurriedly because the snow out there was waiting for me. What would I do first? Build a snowman? Slide down the hill? Throw some flakes in the air and let them flutter down? Well, our family station wagon pulled into the driveway and Mom called me over to help her with the groceries. When we finished that, she said, "Bob, here are Mrs. Hildebrand's groceries." No other instructions were necessary. As far back as I could remember, Mom shopped for Mrs. Hildebrand's food and I delivered it. Our ninety-five-year old neighbor lived alone. She was crippled with arthritis, and she could only take a few steps with a cane. I liked Mrs. Hildebrand. I enjoyed talking with her. More accurately, I enjoyed listening to her.

She told me wonderful stories about her life, about a steeple church in the woods, horse and buggy rides on Sunday afternoons, and her family farm that had no electricity or running water. She always gave me a dime for bringing in her groceries. It got so that I would refuse only half-heartedly, knowing she would insist, and five minutes later I would be across the street at Beyer's Candy Store. As I headed over with the grocery bags that day, I decided I wouldn't accept any money from Mrs. Hildebrand. This would be my present to her. So, impatiently, I rang the doorbell. "Come in," she said cheerfully, "put the bag on the table." I did so more hurriedly than usual because I could hear the snow calling me back outside. She sat at the table, picked up the items out of the bag and told me where to set them on the shelves. I usually enjoyed doing this, but it was snowing! As we continued, I began to realize how lonely she was. Her husband had died some twenty years before. She had no children. Her only living relative was a nephew in Philadelphia who never came to visit her. Nobody even called on her at Christmas. There was no true, no presents, and no stockings. For her, Christmas was just another date on the calendar. She offered me a cup of tea which she did every time I brought in the groceries. "Well," I thought, "maybe the snow could wait a bit." We sat and talked about what Christmas was like when she was a child.

Together we traveled back in time, and an hour passed before I knew. "Well, Bob," she said, "you must be wanting to play outside in the snow," as she reached for her purse, fumbling for the right coin. "No, no, Mrs. Hildebrand. I can't take your money this time. You can use it for more important things," I insisted. She looked at me and smiled. "What more important thing could I use this money for, if not to give it to a friend at Christmastime?" She placed a whole quarter in my hand. I tried to give it back, but she would have none of it.

I hurried out the door and ran over to Beyer's Candy Store with my fortune. I had no idea what to buy --- a comic book, a chocolate soda, ice cream. And then I spotted a Christmas card with an old country church on its cover. It was just like the church Mrs. Hildebrand described to me, and I knew I had to buy it. I handed Mr. Beyer my quarter and borrowed a pen to sign my name. "For you girlfriend?" Mr. Beyer teased. I started to say no but quickly changed my mind. "Well, yeah," I said, "I guess so."

As I walked across the street with my gift, I was so proud of myself. I felt like I'd just hit a home run in the World Series. I rang Mrs. Hildebrand's doorbell. "Hello, Mrs. Hildebrand," I said, and handed her my card, "Merry Christmas." Her hands trembled as she slowly opened the envelope, studied the card, and began to cry. "Thank you. Thank you very much," she said in almost a whisper, "Merry Christmas to you."

On a cold and windy afternoon a few weeks later, the ambulance arrived next door. My mom said they found Mrs. Hildebrand in bed. She had died peacefully in her sleep. Her night table light was still on when they found her and it illumined a solitary Christmas card with an old country church on the cover.

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