June 18, 2019

He Called Us Friend

About nine years ago, I had an opportunity to see General Norman Schwartzkof, Stormin Norman!  I attended a luncheon at which he was the guest speaker.  I had never seen the General in person before, and I was impressed.  He is a very good speaker.  He spoke on the subject of leadership.  And the main emphasis of his presentation was that we are all leaders.  Regardless of our role in life, we are all leaders.  Whether we realize it or not, whether we like it or not, we all lead because we all have an effect and an influence on those around us.

He pointed out that leadership is more than corporate executives and politicians.  Leadership is everyone’s responsibility because we all have an influence on the people around us and on our world.  And the General said, “If I had to summarize the qualities of leadership into one word, it would be character.  Committing one’s life to the time honored traditions of sound moral character and a concern and commitment for your fellow man.”  The General went on to say that the world sees America, not only as the strongest and wealthiest nation on the face of the earth, but also as a nation whose citizens are a people of character.

The General talked for about 45 minutes, then he took questions for another ½ hour.  But to me, the most memorable part of his whole presentation was how he ended it.  At the end he spoke of the American Flag.  There was an American Flag hanging next to the podium from which he spoke.  Reaching over, he grabbed the end of the flag and held it in his hand.  He then asked, “What do you see in this flag?  What does it mean to you?”  He then repeated some of the many answers he has received to that question.  Then he said, “What do I see in the American Flag?  I see us, you and me, the American people.  I see the qualities of honor and character that the world has come to know and respect as American.  I see what it means to be an American.”  The General then went on to say, “What is it that compels an individual to leave his loved ones and journey to one of the far corners of the globe and risk their lives for a cause, simply because their country asked them to?  Character!”

In the General’s words, we are all leaders, witnessing to the world by what we are and the values by which we live. To say we are American is to say we are a people of character, trusting in God.  For as the General pointed out we even print it on our currency, “In God We Trust”.

Personally, I like to believe that the General is right.  I like to believe that this is truly how we are perceived in the eyes of the world.  We could talk for hours on the declining moral values of our American culture.  But the General is right.  As a people we should be living our lives as a people of character, honor and integrity.

I mentioned the General’s speech because it reminds me of what a powerful influence we have on others, simply by who and what we are.  How loudly our lifestyle speaks to those around us and to the world at large.  Our life style, how we live our life, our values, our character, our morals speak more loudly to the world than anything that we could possibly say.

In light of this influence that we have on others, there is a line in one of the Gospels that just jumped out at me.  Jesus, in speaking to His followers said, “You are my friends”.  That statement impresses me because during his lifetime, Jesus gave no one a title.  He did not call anyone Pope, or Bishop, or Priest, or Deacon.  The only title He gave anyone was that of friend.  In referring to His followers, you and I, He called us friend.

If simply being an American says so much to the world about who and what we are as individuals and as a people, what does the fact that we are a friend of Jesus say to those around us?  What does it say to the world?  What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus?

That word, friend, is a powerful word.  Friends care about the things that are important to each other.  This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Obey My commandments”.  Friends do not take orders from each other, like slaves or servants.  And true friends do not take lightly the matters that are very important to each other.  If your friend likes a certain sport, or movie, or hobby, you learn to appreciate and enjoy that activity also out of loyalty and enjoyment of your friend.  And if your friend has a set of values that define his or her life, you learn to respect and imitate those values also, so that your common time together may be mutually enjoyable.  For Jesus, these values were summarized in one phrase, “Love one another as I have loved you”.  If we are to be a friend of Jesus, we cannot despise others, especially those within the community of His followers.  No relationship can be sustained without the willingness and love that causes each person in the relationship to sacrifice their own self-interests from time to time.

I once heard a comedian, Grady Nutt, say, “When we first got married, we had a rough first year because we were both crazy in love with me”.  If we are to have a lasting relationship, we must learn to take turns serving and being served.  We learn to find joy in that service, precisely because it is not required.  We serve voluntarily.

Jesus said it best when he said; “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friend”.  And it is that quality of love for another that Jesus asked to be a hallmark of His followers.  The uniqueness of the Christian faith is that we find such a level of love for each other.  It is the single, most important witness we can give to the world of the reality of our faith in Jesus.

In the early days of the Church, the world did not marvel at the Church’s theology.  The world did not stand in awe and admiration at the marvelous works performed by the apostles.  The quality of the Church that made the world stand up and take notice was echoed in the statement, “My, how they love each other”.

To be a friend of Jesus is to love as He loved.  For Jesus did say, “Love one another as I have loved you”.  This not only sounds difficult, it sounds impossible.  But there is a secret to living this kind of love.  And the answer to that secret is to look at how Jesus loved.  Just how did Jesus love us?  Was His love based on our appearance?  Did we first love Him, or did He first love us?  Scripture reminds us that when we were still unlovely and unlovable, Christ loved us so much that He willingly gave up His life for us.

The secret to living and loving as Jesus is to not limit our love to only those that are already lovely and lovable, for to have such limitations on our love is to mirror the friendships of the world.  There is no sacrifice in such love, nor any witness to the world.

But in order to understand and apply this principle of love, I think we need to define our terms.  What do we mean by the term love?  The media has taught us to associate the word with romance and emotion.  But always remember love is not a feeling.  Love is a commitment.  To say you love someone is to say I love you, not because you are pretty or handsome, not because you have a pleasant personality, not because you’re just like me.  I love you because, and only because, you are you.

This should be the way the world sees the Church, the Church being the people, you and I, not this building.  And it is by this love that we are to witness for Christ.  And it is by this love that we are to lead others to Christ.

To repeat the General’s words, the world sees America as a people of character.  Similarly, the world should see the Church, the friends of Jesus, as a people of love.  My prayer is that we may truly show the world what it means to be a true “friend” of Christ.

There is one more line in the Gospel that jumps out at me.  The line in which Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you”.  We are not here by accident.

Jesus has called each and every one of us here for a purpose.  We must never ignore that calling and we must never take that calling lightly.

Jesus not only called us here.  He called us “Friend”.  He obviously has faith and confidence in us.  And He obviously loves us.  May we never forget that the world is watching!  May we never forget that we are His witnesses to the world!  We are his friends.  May the world see in us, a true friend of Jesus!

I mentioned earlier, the statement that General Norman Schwartzkoff made regarding those who have made sacrifices to serve their country, simply out of love for their country.  This is Mother’s Day weekend.  Let us take time this weekend to thank the Lord in prayer for our mothers.  All mothers sacrifice.  All mothers serve.  They sacrifice and serve, not because they have to.  They sacrifice and serve out of love.  The greatest example we have in this life of the love of God, is the love that all mothers have for their children.

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Written by
Deacon Donald Cox

REVEREND MR. DONALD COX is a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Detroit. On June 9, 1979, Deacon Don was ordained to the diaconate by His Eminence John Cardinal Dearden, an important American Father of the Second Vatican Council. He is currently assigned to St. Cornelius parish in Dryden, Michigan. Married and the father of three children and grandfather to four children, Deacon Don was born and raised in Detroit, and educated at St. Brigid Elementary School, Mackenzie High School, and Lawrence Technological University. His theological training was taken at Detroit's Sacred Heart Major Seminary.

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Written by Deacon Donald Cox