Bernardo M. Villegas
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Happiness That Comes From Friendship

              It will take time before football fans all over the world will recover from the euphoria caused by their watching the finals of the last World Cup in Qatar between Argentina and France.  The best description I have read about the impact of that unforgettable match between, Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe (both players of the French football Club PSG) is that from prominent political scientist, Richard Heydarian who wrote in his column in another paper (December 22, 2022): “The final showdown in this year’s World Cup was absolutely magical.  In fact, it was dizzyingly surreal.  At some point, it became almost cruel, especially for the fainthearted and anyone with coronary preconditions…The match between fan favorite Argentina and defending champion France turned out so suspenseful, so suddenly competitive, and so filled with twists and turns that it ended up more like a Netflix thriller than a high-stakes chess game.”  Actually anyone who saw the entire game may even consider Richard’s account as an understatement.  I can identify with his words because I was sitting beside a friend who was suffering from very high blood pressure.  I was torn between trying to calm him down to prevent a heart attack and my own personal effort to avoid cussing and shrieking as I witnessed with horror Mbappe carrying out his hat trick, threatening to prevent my idol, Lionel Messi, from achieving his ultimate glory of ending his football career by winning for Argentina the World Cup.

            It was a moment not only of thrill and excitement but also of great human happiness because I was experiencing it with close relatives and friends.  I remember twelve years before I was in a similar situation watching the final of the 2010 World Cup between Spain and the Netherlands.  Having spent some years immediately before that as a Visiting Professor in a business school in Spain, I was rabidly cheering for the Spanish national team.  This time, however, I was with strangers in a hotel in Indonesia where I was staying during a business trip.  Although the game also ended to my great satisfaction, thanks to Andres Iniesta scoring the winning goal, the happiness was limited because I had no friend beside me with whom to share the joy.   

            For my Christmas reflection, I would like to share with my readers the content of an article that appeared in www.opusdei.org by Jose Manuel Antuna.  It is all about the important message that the Child born on Christmas day brought to the world:  that the way to happiness in this world and in the next life is friendship, first friendship with God Himself and friendship with those whom we meet in the course of our lives.  We are reminded in this article that in the first pages of the Bible, in the narrative about how God created our first parents, man was formed in God’s “image and likeness.”  If we purify our sight, we can always glimpse aspects of God in each man and woman.  Because of the great dignity that God endowed on each person, we can be sure that everyone we meet in this world is worthy of being loved:  those we meet at work, at school, when playing or watching sports or even when just strolling down the street or “malling.”  It is clear, however, that we can establish a relationship of friendship only with a limited number of persons.  It is not possible to have an unlimited number of friends because our time is limited and it is completely necessary to spend time with people if we are to be real friends with them.

            A spontaneous affection or common interest (like being both football or basketball fans) can be the source that gives rise to a new friendship.  Friendship is nurtured through time spent together, confiding in one another, mutual advice, conversations, laughter, etc.  Just as a flowing river makes the fields fertile and creates beautiful ponds and lakes, friendship makes life beautiful and fills it with light.  As Msgr. Fernando Ocariz, Prelate of Opus Dei, wrote in a Pastoral Letter, friendship “multiplies our joys and offers comfort in our sorrows.”  Moreover, since God became Man in Jesus Christ, the baby born on Christmas Day, among Christians, human friendship is enriched, supernaturalized with “living water” of Christ’s grace.  This force gives the current a new impetus; it transforms human affection into charity.  At the end of its path, the river flows into the vast sea of God’s love for us. 

            To get the greatest happiness from our friendships, we should consider that the model for loving others is the very love that Jesus Has for us:  “As I have loved you. (John 12:34).”  How did Christ love the people He encountered in His path on earth?  Christ’s love for his apostles, as He Himself said is a love like that between friends.  The apostles had been witnesses to and recipients of the intensify of this love.  They saw how Jesus cared for those alongside Him,  how He shared in their joys and also in their sufferings.  He always had time for those who needed Him:  for the Samaritan woman, for the woman with a hemorrhage, and even for the good thief hanging beside him on the Cross.  The affection of Jesus was shown by a concern for people’s specific needs:  for the food by those who followed Him, and also for their rest. As Pope Francis reminds us, Jesus had a true friendship with His disciples, and even in moments of crisis, He remained faithful to them.

            Friends are absolutely necessary for human happiness.  Like Jesus, we can make use of this great gift that God has given us, the ability to strike friendship with a select group of persons we meet in this life, into what St. Josemaria Escriva, Founder of Opus Dei, called a personal apostolate of friendship and trust, something accessible to every baptized person whatever his state in life may be.  The friendship of Jesus with Peter, with John and with all his disciples is expressed in his ardent desire that they may live close to the Father; his friendship is united to his eagerness that they discover the mission with which they had been entrusted.  Likewise, each of us should make sure that our friendship is a genuine apostolate.  As St. Josemaria said, “It is not a question of having friends in order to do apostolate, but making sure that the Love of God fills our friendship so that it is truly an apostolate, a way of leading our friends to God.”

            Every baptized person has a great love—a gift—to share.  Our relationships with others give Christ the chance to offer His friendship to others through us.  “Lighting up the pathways of the earth” involves spreading throughout the world the precious reality of the love of friendship. We cannot be egoistic, thinking only of our own personal interests.  We should not be satisfied with a superficial relationship with people, often times seeing them only as stepping stones to our personal success and glory.  A large part of the evangelizing mission that God has entrusted to every Christian is to restore to friendship its authentic value, its relationship with God, with the desire to improve… and in the end with our own happiness and that of others.  A Blessed Christmas to All and a New Year filled with Peace, Joy and Good Health.  For comments, my email address is bernardo.villegas@uap.asia.