VATICAN CITY — Being a true friend to priests and seminarians is a great gift the laity can offer to the Church, Pope Francis said on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Addressing lay men and women from Serra International, a group dedicated to promoting vocations to the priesthood and religious life, the pope lamented that the word “friend” has become a bit overused today, especially on social media.
He also called on laity to recover the true meaning of friendship revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
Real vs. virtual friends
“Friend” is one of the most frequently found words in virtual communication, Pope Francis told the Serrans. “Yet we know that superficial knowledge has little to do with that experience of encounter or closeness evoked by the word ‘friend.’”
When Jesus speaks of his “friends,” the pope noted, he points to a hard truth: “true friendship involves an encounter that draws me so near to the other person that I give something of my very self.”
Jesus says to his disciples: “No longer do I call you servants… but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15:15).
Jesus thus establishes “a new relationship” between God and man, freeing friendship from “sentimentalism,” Pope Francis said. He shows us that friendship involves a “responsibility that embraces our entire life: ‘Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13).”
The pope said we become friends only if “our encounter with another person is more than something outward or formal.” True friendship, he said, involves “sharing in the life of another person, an experience of compassion, a relationship that involves giving ourselves for others.”
Friends “stand at our side … they listen to us closely, and can see beyond mere words; they are merciful when faced with our faults; they are non-judgmental,” he said. “They do not always indulge us but, precisely because they love us, they honestly tell us when they disagree. They are there to pick us up whenever we fall.”
To be a true friend to priests means knowing how to “accompany and sustain them in faith, in fidelity to prayer and apostolic commitment,” the pontiff told lay men and women of Serra International.
Lay people who offer priests true friendship, the pope said, “are like the home of Bethany, where Jesus entrusted his weariness to Martha and Mary, and, thanks to their care, was able to find rest and refreshment.”
Founded in North America, Serra International promotes priestly and religious vocations through prayer, and moral and financial support. It is the only lay organization linked to a Pontifical Work, in this case, the Pontifical Work for Priestly Vocations, founded by Pius XII in 1941.
On the last Saturday of every month, Serra International organizes an International Rosary for Vocations. The next one will be this Saturday, June 24.
Its patron is St. Junipero Serra (1713-1784), a Franciscan friar who established a chain of missions in Mexico and California in order to work for the salvation of souls. Pope Francis canonized Fr. Serra during his apostolic visit to the United States in 2015.