Our Lord sent his beloved disciples to the world always in the company of others. From the very beginning, mission work was to be done communally and never alone. Can you imagine how much more difficult the call to service would be if we were sent to faraway places as a lone stranger in a foreign land? This is not really the most compatible with the concept of Church.
Our Lord knew the disciples needed support, companionship, and friendship to help them persist in the mission of love and mercy, and that has continued through the ages.
This support of each other in the spiritual life, in friendship and love, is what we call spiritual friendship. It is a friendship based upon faith in God that fosters trust and understanding. It provides support and encouragement and helps to guide the deepening of our faith, hope, and love. It helps keep us accountable in our commitments toward God and each other and fosters our growth toward the goal of becoming God's holy people. Friendship like this helps develop saints. The development of these spiritual friendships (which started at the feet of Christ with his disciples) can still be seen throughout history, even in contemporary times, in the stories of the lives of the Saints. There are so many examples.
We can read of the great friendship of Saint Augustine and Saint Ambrose. Ambrose's preaching and guidance played a significant role in Augustine's conversion to Christianity. From this great friendship, we were gifted two of the greatest theologians of the Church. Can you imagine not having the "Augustine's Confessions"?
We know of the origins of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Clare of Assisi, who were contemporaries in the 13th century and shared a profound spiritual friendship. Both were founders of extant religious orders with deeply rich traditions and humble charisms. Francis founded the Franciscan Order, and Clare founded the Order of Poor Ladies (Poor Clares). Franciscan spirituality still permeates the world today.
We can read of the lives of two great Spaniard Saints, Saint Teresa of Ávila and Saint John of the Cross. They shared a deep friendship as they collaborated on the reform of the Carmelite order and shared their mystical, spiritual experiences with the world. John of the Cross wrote extensively on the mystical journey, while Teresa of Avila left behind beautiful writings and poems still cherished today.
We know of the great friendship of Saint Francis Xavier and Saint Ignatius of Loyola, co-founders of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). They were roommates during their studies in Paris and formed a deep spiritual friendship. Through his spiritual exercises, Ignatius influenced Francis Xavier's decision to become a Jesuit and later a famous and well-regarded missionary. Xavier became one of the most famous Jesuit missionaries, traveling to Asia to spread Christianity, always together with a group of companions, some of the greatest missionaries in history.
Probably the most well-known deep spiritual friendship of modern times is that of Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) and Pope Saint John Paul II. Their joyous collaboration on various humanitarian and charitable endeavors was inspiring. They shared a deep commitment to social justice and the sanctity of life and were both faithful Eucharistic people. A Pope and a Mother Superior, faithful spiritual friends and spiritual parents in a world that really needs their guidance and example.
And there are so many more holy people that walked together... Spiritual friendship produces saints.
True spiritual friendship is built on both being Jesus to our friends and receiving Jesus in our friends, in acknowledging and recognizing that we gift our hearts in Christ to each other. Yes, we are sent to support and love one another in our mission to propagate the good news everywhere, and it does not matter where we go if we are following Christ. In the lives of the Saints, there are many good examples, so together with Christ in this Eucharistic and apostolic life, which friends are we taking with us to shine the light of God in the world?
Let us pray: Lord, send us this day the companions needed for our journey home to You. May we grow holy together in your Real Presence. Amen.