“We asked 100 married men, ‘Who do you talk to first when your wife finds out you’ve cheated on her?’” I heard this question recently on a re-run episode of the classic dinnertime game show “Family Feud.” Funny the things we remember, right? Oddly, I also recall the number one answer was “bartender.” Really? Yep. The number one person that one hundred men surveyed would turn to first in a time of crisis was a bartender – not a priest, not their fathers, not a close friend . . . a bartender. That sadly reveals the extent of the epidemic relationship failure among men today.
I’m not talking about the failure of men cheating. While sad enough, I would argue that the greater tragedy is that they have no one to talk to when they fail. The majority of them will bottle up their infidelity – along with the host of other failures they give in to – never telling anyone; never unburdening themselves of the pain and baggage of their “lives of quiet desperation.”
If Those Catholic Men and Exodus 90 are about anything, they are about identifying and releasing the true power of real male friendships and accountability in the context of our Catholic faith. So how do we identify a friendship between men that keeps us from isolation but also keeps us moving forward? Here’s four qualities:
#1 – Authentic friends are on the same quest. “True friendship consists in mutually perfecting one another and drawing closer to God.” St. Teresa of Jesus
What makes authentic friendships exciting and challenging? The journey. Drawing closer to God with a brother beside you is the most compelling thing I know. Realizing that when one of you stumbles, the other one is there to pick him up; makes the road more bearable. When my friend, Martin, gets a little weary with life’s challenges; I’ll jump in, crack a joke, buy him a beer and a great cigar, and remind him that whatever he thinks he’s going through, he should offer it up for my salvation! You see, we’re on the same path . . . the same journey . . . the same quest. Pope St. John Paul II called it “the path of Gospel heroism.” Authentic friends understand this and acknowledge that we can never leave a brother behind.
#2 – Authentic friends are honest. “True friendship ought never to conceal what it thinks.” St. Jerome
The enemy of our souls has a favorite tactic. It goes like this. In his slimy, sly voice he whispers, “If they knew everything about you, no one would have anything to do with you. You’re a fraud. You’ll never be holy.” Of course, his lies are just that. To destroy them, though, all we have to do is be honest. If we really want “iron to sharpen iron”, if we really want to grow in the grace of our Lord, we have to be honest with at least one authentic friend. Sure, it takes a little courage at first, but once you’ve opened up, it becomes natural. Man up. Spit it out. Be honest. Good grief, you’re not that unique!
#3 – Authentic friends are vulnerable. “God sends us friends to be our firm support in the whirlpool of struggle. In the company of friends we will find strength to attain our sublime ideal.” St. Maximilian Kolbe
Real guy relationships only happen when we put ourselves out there – when we’re willing to say, “This is me. I want to grow. I want to take risks. I’m willing to change. I want a good life. But, for now, this is me.” You’ll be surprised at how many guys are looking for a friend they can be that open with. You’ll also meet a few guys who can’t handle the truth. Let’s face it. We live in a world with walls, and a lot of men are willing to hide behind those walls and lick their wounds until they slowly die. While we need to find a way to knock down their walls and rescue these brothers, right now at least, I’d argue we have to focus on those who want relationships.
#4 – Authentic friends treat each other with compassion and respect. “There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.” St. Thomas Aquinas
The best icon of authentic love I can think of is the Holy Family. While much could be (and has been) said of the deep love between Jesus and His mother, it is the example of St. Joseph that jumps out to me when I think about the Holy Family. St. Joseph must have felt the incredible responsibilities of fatherhood when he held Jesus in his arms for the first time and felt the beat of that tiny Sacred Heart. Every father has been there. He must have felt a deep fatherly pride as the God-man he protected grew into the man who would save the world. But, even though St. Joseph was the closest person to our Lady and our Lord, he was still their servant and protector. St. Joseph is what authentic masculine love looks like. It serves, it protects, and it is compassionate, respectful, and abiding. Just as we pray for St. Joseph’s intercession for us as fathers and men, we should look to his example for how to build authentic friendships with our brothers.