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in the Catholic Mystic Tradition

Questions and Answers

What about friends? How do they fit into a devout life?

Outline of the Answer
• A Story
• Scorn for Creatures?
• Friends
• A Rule

When I was in Mexico several years ago, doing free work to help build a website for some nuns, the Mother Foundress put her arms around me as I left. She leaned her forehead against mine, and we stayed that way in contemplative silence for a few minutes.

Then she said, “I love you.”

Understanding that this was spoken by a nun, I replied, “And I love those who love Christ more than they love me.”

So what does this teach us about friendships?

Scorn for Creatures?

Many persons can get confused about friendships when they read about saints and mystics of the past who spoke about having “scorn for creatures.” To modern ears, this sounds cruel and inhuman because it seems to contradict the command to love our neighbors. But the problem really is in misunderstanding the old language of “scorning creatures.”

In modern psychological language, “scorning creatures” means simply to break our illusions of identity that we put into relationships we have with other persons. To break those illusions, we do not really scorn other persons themselves, we scorn the manipulation of others for our own benefit. Hence, when we “scorn creatures” we stop using them to satisfy our own needs, and we turn our attention to God as our ultimate and only source of indentity.


Real friends are few and far between. Just because someone shares a class in school with you does not mean that he or she is your friend. Just because someone is a co-worker does not mean that he or she is your friend. Just because someone is a roommate does not mean that he or she is your friend.

Friends do not play “games” of manipuation with each other; instead they speak the truth. Friends listen to each other. Friends seek to understand each other. Friends support each other. Friends give advice to each other and graciously receive advice from each other. Real friends are few and far between.

A Rule

In any friendship, however, it’s important that one rule be respected: friendship can never fall into expectancy or it will destroy itself.

This rule really derives from a mystical understanding of God’s gifts: God gives us many gifts, not for our personal benefit, but to help us do His will. We must accept these gifts as they are given, when they are given, without expecting them. We can ask for them in our need, yes—and then we must wait patiently for God to do what He wills.

And so it is with friends. We turn to Christ for all our needs; we seek His Kingdom before all else. And when God gives us time for mutual sharing with a friend, free of all expectancy and demand—like wildflowers in a meadow—we rejoice.

Nevertheless, all friendship must be like Saint John the Baptist pointing to the Cross: Him, not me.

Even the most intimate bonds of friendship and the closest affinity of minds cannot truly lay claim to . . . peace if they are not in agreement with the will of God. Alliances based on evil desires, covenants of crime and pacts of vice—all lie outside the scope of this peace. Love of the world cannot be reconciled with love of God, and those who do not separate themselves from the children of this generation cannot join the company of the children of God. But those who keep God ever in their hearts, and are anxious to preserve the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace, never dissent from the eternal law as they speak the prayer of faith. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

—From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great, pope
Office of Readings, Monday,
Twenty-Third Week in Ordinary Time

Psalm 101 (adapted)

My song is of mercy and justice;
I sing to you, O Lord.
I will walk in the way of perfection.
I will walk with blameless heart
within my house;
I will not set before my eyes
whatever is base.
I will hate the ways of the crooked;
they shall not be my friends.
The false-hearted must keep far away;
the wicked I disown.
Those who slander their neighbors in secret
I will scorn in silence.
Those of proud looks and haughty hearts
I will never endure.
I look to the faithful in the land
that they may dwell with me.
Those who walk in the way of perfection
shall be my friends.
No one who practices deceit
shall be welcome in my house.
No one who utters lies shall stand
before my eyes.
Morning by morning I will scorn in silence
all the wicked in the land,
uprooting from my heart
all who do evil.


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