Bernardo M. Villegas
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More Than a Facebook Friend

          The Greek philosophers called it philia which means love of friendship.  In Latin, it was translated into amisticia.  It is the love between two individuals who share mutual feelings, interests and experiences.  Because it is part of the social nature with which our Creator endowed us, friendship is a relationship that exists in every human community.  It is so deeply embedded in Filipino culture that the very name of friendship  (kaibigan), at least in Tagalog, is derived from the root word “pag-ibig” (love).  In many parts of the world to which I have traveled, I get a universal feedback from my foreign hosts:  some of their best friends are Filipino immigrants or overseas workers. The warmth of friendship that a Filipino exudes is especially endearing to foreigners who have allowed, through negligence or excessive individualism, friendship with those close to them, including close relatives, to wane.  As a rather empty or hollow substitute, those who fail to strike deep friendships with those closest to them have the escape mechanism of accumulating hundreds, if not thousands of Facebook friends. 

         Lest we continue to cheapen or water down the concept of friendship through spending hours and hours daily with our “friends” in the internet, we should remind ourselves of the real meaning of friendship.  A modern Saint who wrote and spoke unceasingly about human friendship is St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei.  He even contributed to the vocabulary of Christianity the expression “apostolate of personal friendship and trust.”  He used to say in very graphic terms that every ordinary Christian in the middle of the world should have ten friends hanging from every one of his or her ten fingers, friends that he or she should bring to heaven together with him or her.  Obviously, these are more than Facebook friends who merely “like” every post you make in the internet. 

         To restore the true value to human friendship which we Filipinos should champion where ever we go, let me quote from a commentary on the idea of friendship according to St. Josemaria that appears in the Opus Dei website: “With his example, St. Josemaria taught us how to be friends to our friends.  A friend, as classical writers put it, is another self—someone who helps make our lives more tolerable, who is there for us in our troubles, and shares our joys and sorrows.  A friend is someone we can confide in, because we can trust him or her.  We all need to be able to rely on each other, so as to travel the road of life in this way, to make our aspirations bear fruit, to overcome difficulties, to benefit from the results of our efforts.  Hence the enormous importance of friendship, not only on the human but also on the divine plane.”   It is clear that for friendship to flourish between two persons, there must be frequent mutual contacts, the sharing of feelings, interests, ideals, aspirations, dreams and other human experiences.  Needless to say, the best of friends must first of all be husband and wife, parents and children, members of the nuclear family.  Then there are those from our fellow workers, neighbors, former classmates or childhood playmates and others we meet in the course of our lives.

         It is also obvious that we cannot have “hundreds of friends” at any given time as we pretend to have in social networking relationships such as Facebook.  Continuing with the commentary on St. Josemaria’s concept of friendship: “Friendship is something that is easily noticed; it is almost a tangible reality:  we can sense that we are in tune with a friend , that there is an affinity between us, that we enjoy one another’s company.  For Christians, friendship is raised up to a new level by grace, and becomes a way to communicate Christ’s life to others.  Thus friendship is transformed into a real gift from God, inseparable form charity.”  In fact, the very life of Jesus Christ we read in the New Testament gives us the best example of friendship: “He rejoiced in His friends’ happiness, and He suffered with their sorrow.  He always made time for other people.  He overcame His tiredness to speak with the Samaritan woman; He stopped on His way to Jairus’ house, to attend to a woman who was suffering from a hemorrhage; and in the midst of His own sufferings on the Cross, He spoke with the good thief and opened the gates of heaven to him.  And His love got down to specifics:   we see this in His concern to find food for those who were following Him, and in the way He met their material needs; He is concerned about His disciples’ need for rest, and brings them to a secluded place to spend some time together.”

         As our environment becomes more urbanized, mechanized, digitized and roboticized, there is a danger that we Filipinos may follow the way of other societies in which human friendship has just become a fond memory of past practices and human relationships.  We should capitalize on the strengths of our Asian, Malay and Christian cultures that have always assigned the highest priority to human friendship.  The greatest anchor we have in this regard is our Christian faith that can withstand the forces of egoism, materialism and consumerism that militate against an unselfish concern for others: “The true proof of friendship is putting others first, giving them our time and attention.  This was the key St. Josemaria gave us to show Christ to others.  And Jesus taught it to us with His life—He always had time to devote to each person, to spend time with everyone. Charity acquires its true meaning when another person’s life becomes a priority for me.  People who meet an authentic Christian need to discover God’s own love, when they see how they are treated, how they are valued, how they are listened to, how their virtues are taken into account, how they are given the chance to become part of this supernatural adventure.”  Let us make sure that we are more than just “Facebook” friends to those who are close to us.  We Filipinos should continue to be paragons of friendship.   For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.