A Reflection on the Graces of Friendship

“I no longer call you servants,” Jesus tells his followers in John’s Gospel (15:15), “I call you friends.” In a recent campus talk titled “The Challenges and Graces of Friendship: An Ignatian Perspective (new window),” Fr. Howard Gray, S.J. (new window), reflected on this passage and the central role that friendship has played in shaping Ignatian spirituality since the days when the “first companions” came together in the Society of Jesus. This month, as the Feast of the society’s founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, draws near, as we renew old friendships and make new ones through travel and leisure activities that elude us in the midst of a busy academic semester, it is worth pausing to ponder the blessing of friendship.

Father Gray reminds us that Jesuit spirituality is as its essence relational. It grew from Ignatius’s experience of having developed an ever-deepening relationship with God through a process of discernment that opened a dialogue between his heart and its creator. The God Ignatius met in that relationship desired his freedom, shared his joys and sorrows, revealed Ignatius’s truest self to him, and helped him find his purpose, which he then lived out in engagement with his companions—whom he called “friends in the Lord”—and in service to others.

Following Ignatius, the Jesuit way has been to nurture “contemplatives in action,” understanding that both contemplation and action are grounded in relationship, indeed in companionship. Contemplation deepens the relationship between creature and creator, while action deepens the relationship between creature and creation. The organization of the Jesuits’ unique spiritual practice, the Spiritual Exercises, further expresses this relationality. The exercises are meant to be undertaken with a companion, a guide whose role is to accompany, not direct—someone who will not get in the way of the relationship between a soul and its source, but rather will support that growing relationship just as friends help each other along.

As we take time with friends and family this summer, may we pause to think about the blessings these relationship are in our lives, even when they might also bring challenges, pain, or sorrow. May we be alive to the work of our creator in these relationships and may they in turn lead us to deepen our relationship with the one who seeks to call us not servant, but friend.

– Dr.  (new window)Joseph A. McCartin (new window), Dept. of History

Mission and Ministry