Good friends are hard to come by. So often today we experience friendships of use. To be honest, half of my friends today only stick by me because I can make minute rice in 45 seconds. To combat this negative culture of snap-streak friendships, let’s look at some of the real ones who did it before us.
St. Rene Goupil and St. Isaac Jogues
Rene Goupil and Isaac Jogues lived out the reality of traveling the world with your friends, except the destination wasn’t nearly as desirable as their home of Paris. Isaac, a Jesuit priest, and Rene, a novitiate who was unable to be ordained due to his deafness, both went to aid in the mission of evangelizing the Huron tribe in North America. They were kidnapped by the Iroquois on their way to a Huron village and were made slaves in captivity.
The two friends prayed together and survived as best they could, even enduring torture that led to Isaac’s fingers being chewed off. Shortly thereafter Rene was spotted making the Sign of the cross and was killed. Isaac eventually escaped and went home to France, but couldn’t shake the feeling that he needed to return to the Iroquois to attempt to bring the Gospel to them again. He was beheaded after his arrival.
The story of Rene and Isaac reveals a core truth about friendship to us: the need to be grounded in our faith in Jesus even while the world seems to be collapsing around us. Maybe you and your best friend aren’t enslaved by a violent, anti-Christian tribe in 1642, but maybe you’re the only Christians at the lunch table, or in the kitchen at work. Speaking up and defending the faith is always easier when you have a friend with you willing to back you up!
St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp
Those of you familiar with Greek and Latin roots will know that Polycarp’s name means “many fish.” A more accurate translation is “a man is set on fire by the Romans but he didn’t die so they had to stab him.” When I first heard about Ignatius of Antioch I thought someone had mispronounced “igneous rock” and it took about 5 minutes to clear up the subsequent misunderstanding. You might not know about them by name, but you will know about the guy who discipled them: St. John. Yes, the Gospel writer and beloved Apostle of Jesus.
Although they were bishops in different towns, we know that they were friends because they sent letters to each other. Them old boys didn’t have myspace! Ignatius encouraged Polycarp to “be sober as an athlete of God” and reminded him that “the prize set before you is immortality and eternal life.” From our perspective, these lines might sound like a student-athlete meme without the blowing-air-out-of-nose emoji, but there is real truth behind what Ignatius is saying to Polycarp. He deeply cares about his friend’s mission and his relationship with God and is willing to call him higher in the midst of trial.
Odds are you or your friends struggle with striving for the prize of immortality and eternal life all of the time. With all the means that are available to us to communicate, we have no reason to not support each other throughout the week as we navigate life to find time for prayer, good conversations, and silence.
St. Perpetua and St. Felicity
These ladies took mommy culture to a new level. Perpetua and Felicity were early Christian martyrs sentenced to death in the military games of the Roman officials. Perpetua had just given birth, and Felicity was on the verge of giving birth. Both were given opportunities to renounce their faith, and, just like your mom trying to get her way at the Customer Service desk in Target, neither of them backed down.
Perpetua’s father, a pagan nobleman, tried repeatedly to get her to renounce her faith before and after she was thrown into prison at the age of 22. As a group of Christians was being prepared by the Romans to be executed, Felicity, and young slave woman, was dismayed because she had not yet given birth, and the Romans were not going to execute her with the others due to her pregnancy. She desired deeply to suffer with Perpetua and the other Christians, and to offer up that suffering for her child and the other Christians being persecuted at the time. She gave birth a few days before the games and was allowed to die with the four others.
It was Roman tradition before executions to have a feast where citizens could come and mock the soon-to-be martyrs. At this feast, Perpetua led the way by turning and laughing at those foolish enough to not be Christian. Her confidence in the Lord was staggering, and it affected her friendship with Felicity in a real way. We live in a time where it is common to laugh at those who have faith. We need Perpetuas to stand up and laugh at those foolish enough to mock Christ, and every Perpetua needs a Felicity to stand shoulder to shoulder with, in the face of persecutions, no matter if they come from the government or those closest to us.
St. Francis and St. Clare
Unlike those two friends that just “happened” to sit next to each other on the bus coming home from a Steubenville conference, Francis and Clare were dedicated to rebuilding the Church through prayer and service rather than through late-night texts about how much they loved each other’s prayer lives.
Francis was born into a comfortable life. He ran a business, partied with his friends, and was able to go off into battle and gain all the honor and glory that was due to a young man of the early thirteenth century. After a while, he tired of that lifestyle. Francis started going to prayer day after day, trying to find God’s voice until he heard it very clearly: an order from God to rebuild His Church. Francis started to physically rebuild the church he was in, which I’m sure God thought was hilarious, but soon enough saw that the Lord was asking him to rebuild the Church spiritually. Francis knew he had to give up everything (as in, he gave away all of his clothes. Yes, ALL of them.), so he became a beggar and went around Italy preaching joyfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
One recipient of this preaching was a young girl named Clare. She was so moved by Francis when he came to preach in her town, that she went up to him and asked him to help her live as radically as he was. She joined a convent, and brought Francis’ intense teachings on poverty with her, much to the chagrin of her father, the other sisters, and even some popes. To the end, she was dedicated to following the Gospel as she first heard it from Francis. He was a spiritual father to her, and because of their deep spiritual friendship, millions have come to know the truth of Christ and the joy of discipleship.
Male and female friendships can be difficult. Francis and Clare simplify things a lot for us. We ought to love the Lord joyfully and renew that joy through each other. We are in an unprecedented era of loneliness, and true joy is rare. We can try tips and tricks to integrate faith into our lives, but at the end of the day, the only way to find real joy is to sell all that we have, go out two by two, and pick up our cross daily.
Let’s Get Real
I’m tired of the fake version of friendship I’m offered on a daily basis. Writing about these great saints, seeing how they loved the Lord and each other has given me a new zeal for my own friendships. I want to write letters like Ignatius. I want to go boldly into places where Christ is not welcome like Isaac Jogues and Rene Goupil, or Perpetua and Felicity. Above all, I want to detach myself from everything in this life and run towards God like Francis and Clare. G.K. Chesterton says that “every generation will be converted by the saint that contradicts it the most.” Be that saint.