In the Book of Sirach (6:15-17), we are told this about true friends: A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; for he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself.
Note the descriptors: faithful, beyond price, and life-saving.
Aren’t these awesome attributes regarding what it means to be a true friend? And yet, how many of us live up to them? A priest friend once told me that if you come to the end of your earthly life and your true friends number the fingers on one hand, you are blessed. But if this sounds negative or dour or pessimistic, please know this is not my intention.
How many of us have heard the phrase that a dog is a man’s best friend? According to Wikipedia, the popularization of this phrase is said to have emerged from a courtroom speech in 1870 by George Graham Vest, in Warrensburg, Missouri, who said: The one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.
Vest’s speech came at the closing of a trial in which he was representing a farmer who was suing for damages after his dog, Old Drum, was shot by a neighbor.
Some time ago, author Tom Hoopes explored the age old belief that dogs really do live up to those words spoken by George Graham Vest and yes, perhaps even the wisdom described in Sirach. Hoopes observed that dogs treat their masters the way the saints treat God whereas cats treat their owners the way many of us treat God. He reflected:
My dog is patient, waiting all day if necessary for what she wants. My cat is haughty, walking away in a huff if you fail to meet her exacting demands. I am the center of my dog’s world. My cat is the center of a world that includes me somewhere at the fringes.
Now having both a cat and dog myself, I believe that these descriptions ring true.
As though by clockwork, each morning my cat awakens me, leads me down the stairs, and heads to her empty dish. Once filled, she eats and then finds her way to a quiet place in my house (an accomplishment, I might add!). On most days, hours will have transpired until a body brush and soft meow indicate that it is time for limited attention and the next round of feeding.
And my dog? From the time she hears my key enter the door lock, there is pandemonium. It is though the master of the universe had entered into her sacred space. In my case, all attention is focused upon—me!
In remembering that God is present in each of us and that we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves, perhaps true friendship can be discerned by observation: When a friend enters the room, do we welcome him as though God were entering our space? Or, do we brush him aside?