Re-posted from 20 January 2006
We continue our series with the aspect of "understanding" as it is so important in beginning, fostering, nurturing and maintaining friendships.
"True friendship also means making a heartfelt effort to understand the convictions of our friends, even though we may never come to share them or accept them". ~Saint Josemaría Escrivá~
I have personally pondered and prayed on this quote ever since I came across it several years ago.
It is certainly not always easy to understand the convictions of others when they differ from our own; it does take effort, a caring and a regard for the person. We must, through the grace and strength of God, make a genuine effort toward understanding with a noble Christian spirit. We must be sincere and lay ourselves open to understanding; when we are sincere, perhaps our efforts will be reciprocated by the other party and they too will strive toward understanding our convictions as well, (but being understood yourself isn't your motive; we are asked to attempt to understand others even though it may not be returned in our regard).
And so as we are contemplating authentic friendship and what it is Our Lord desires of us in this area, let us broaden ourselves to open up to the possibilities of where we have fallen short in our efforts of understanding others.
(Following here are various passages from the writings of Fr. Francis Fernandez Carvajal regarding understanding in association with those nearest and perhaps even farthest from us. Other contributors are indicated within the text).
"The Lord asks us to understand others, even though others may not understand or even try to understand us. Perhaps sometimes they are like the guests invited to the banquet who could not bring themselves to respond to the Lord's invitation. We have to care for other people despite the possibility that they may ignore us. We should be performing acts of service for people who very probably will not do the same for us. Let us make life pleasant for those around us, no matter how they or others treat us. Everything we do should spring from a largeness of heart. We cannot keep a running tally of credits or debits. People who complain about the ingratitude of others should take a close look at their own rectitude of intention. Generosity should not lead to recriminations and collapse. Selfless sacrifice should make the heart bigger. It should uplift it with the consoling thought that God is pleased with our efforts.
The Christian gives for love of God without expecting anything in return. It includes whatever one person can offer another: respect, joy, optimism, companionship, attention.....The more generous you are for God, the happier you will be. [J. Escriva, Furrow, 18]
There are many virtues that make it easier to live with other people, and that even make it possible to do so at all; take kindness and forgiveness for example, which lead us to judge people and the way they behave in a favourable light, without dwelling on their defects and errors; take gratitude, which is that appreciation of a good received, with the desire of acting in some corresponding way. Often we will only be able to say thank you or something similar by way of expressing gratitude; it is not difficult to be grateful and it does a great deal of good.
Affection and friendship are of enormous help in our daily dealings with people;.... making an effort to live those many human virtues that make the growth of friendship possible; lack of self-interest; understanding; a spirit of co-operation; optimism, loyalty.
Mutual respect is another indispensible virtue in our relationships with others. It moves us to consider other people as unrepeatable images of God. In his personal relationship with God, a Christian learns to venerate the image of God that is found in each and every man (St.. J. Escriva, Friends of God, 230). We also have to see the image of God in those who, for whatever reason, we find less lovable, less likable, less amusing. Being with others also teaches us to have respect for things, because they belong to God and are at the service of men. Respect is a necessary condition if we are to help others improve, because if ever we try to lord it over others, our advice, our attempts to correct, and our suggestions become ineffective.
Again, Forgiveness: We would be poor Christians if, at the slighest upset, our charity were to grow cold and we were to distance ourselves.......A Christian should examine himself to see how he reacts to annoyances that being with other people always produces.
Jesus' example inclines us to live in a way that is pleasantly open towards other people; it leads us to understand them, to regard them always with an initial sympathy which will be a growing one. A person who feels understood easily opens his heart and lets himself be helped. Anyone who lives the virtue of charity can easily understand people because he makes it a rule not to judge others' inmost intentions, which are known only to God.
"Our friends, all the different people we come across, have to discover in our friendship or our attitude a firm support of their faith. If we want to be for them a source of strength, then we have to be close to them in their weaknesses....."if we are to serve others, for Christ's sake, we need to be very human...We need to understand everyone; we must live peaceably with everyone; we must forgive everyone." (St. J. Escriva, Christ is Passing By, 182)
How then can we improve our efforts of understanding others and the convictions they hold? Let us pray for the help we need to enable ourselves to be true and thoughtful friends to those God has blessed us with in this life, and those we have yet to meet, as we journey towards everlasting life and friendship eternal.
Next: Part III: Christian Friendship; Generosity in Friendship