Many of those who have gone before us and won a place in Heaven did so with the support of either holy friends or holy family members. In reading the lives of the saints, we often find families and friendships that produced various saints. For example, the families of St. Dominic, St. Bernard, St. Benedict, and the Martos of Fatima all have multiple blesseds. St. Greogry Nazianzen, St. Patrick, and St. Ignatius of Loyola each had strong friendships with other canonized saints. And while we may not have been blessed with a holy family like St. Therese of Lisieux or St. Ambrose (who is the brother of St. Marcellina and St. Satyrus), we can nevertheless work for the salvation of our family while surrounding ourselves with holy friends.
St. Thomas Aquinas on True Friendship
The Angelic Doctor categorized friendship into three types: friendships of pleasure, friendships of utility, and friendships of virtue.
For St. Thomas, the highest and most significant form of friendship is what he termed “friendship of virtue” or “perfect friendship.” This type of friendship is based on a shared pursuit of the ultimate good and a desire for the well-being and moral improvement of the other person. In this kind of friendship, individuals genuinely care for each other’s well-being, support each other’s moral development, and share common values and goals.
St. Thomas Aquinas believed that the purpose of friendship, particularly friendships of virtue, is to foster personal and mutual growth in goodness and virtue. Friends in this type of relationship encourage and challenge each other to live morally upright lives, to grow in virtue, and to seek the common good. In essence, he saw friendship as a means of not only finding joy and companionship but also of striving towards moral excellence and spiritual growth. Friends assist each other in their journey towards living a virtuous and fulfilling life, ultimately aiming for their own well-being and the betterment of the world around them. Hence, true and perfect friendship must be centered around helping each other save their souls and grow in merit.
St. Francis de Sales as a Model of Friendship
Let us consider the example of St. Francis de Sales. He was a friend to many who won the heavenly crown. St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church who lived from 1567-1622, was a lawyer before being called to the priesthood. He heard the message, “Leave all and follow Me.” So he left his worldly life to be ordained a priest. His family fiercely opposed his vocation, but he nevertheless followed God. During this arduous process, he won the friendship of others who also desired to serve Almighty God. Through a devoted prayer life and his gentle manners, he even won over his family.
St. Francis de Sales was a good friend to St. Vincent de Paul. He also was a great spiritual father to St. Jane Frances de Chantal. She first met him in 1604, three years after her husband had died, leaving her a widow mother of four children. Upon the advice of this holy bishop, she laid the foundation of her new “Order of the Visitation” at Annecy on Trinity Sunday in 1610, and the number of postulants soon increased. Two of her children, St. John Francis de Chantal and St. Jeanne de Chantal, also profited from St. Francis de Sales’ friendship and mentorship.
Other Examples of Friendship in the Lives of the Saints
St. Francis and St. Clare were close friends who shared a deep spiritual bond. St. Francis founded the Franciscan Order, and St. Clare founded the Poor Clares. Their friendship was rooted in their shared commitment to poverty, simplicity, and a life of devotion to God.
St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross were both Spanish mystics and prominent figures in the Catholic Reformation. They had a close friendship and collaborated in reforming the Carmelite order. They shared a deep spiritual connection and supported each other in their efforts to bring about spiritual renewal, especially when both were seriously persecuted for seeking to reform the Carmelite Order.
At about the same time, St. Philip Neri and St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi fostered a holy friendship in Italy. The nun was cloistered and lived far from Rome, yet the two had profound spiritual conversations as God granted the priest a special grace of bilocation.
St. Ambrose is known by some as the Honey-Tongued Doctor because of his preaching ability. At Milan, St. Augustine found that Ambrose’s teaching far surpassed all his previous teachers. Augustine found the truth preached by Ambrose irrefutable and irresistible. With St. Ambrose’s tutelage, St. Augustine became the greatest theologian of his time and is known today as the Doctor of Grace.
St. Basil the Great never met St. Athanasius, but the two corresponded by means of letters and became spiritual friends. Together they fought against the Christological heresies devastating the East and served pivotal roles in the first Ecumenical Councils.
Priests and Laity
St. John Bosco, a priest and educator, had a close friendship with St. Dominic Savio, a young student under his care. St. Dominic Savio became known for his piety and virtuous life at a young age, and St. John Bosco recognized his holiness. Their relationship served as a model of mentorship and spiritual guidance.
Prayer for Forgiveness and Deliverance for Our Friends and Family
O Christ, our Creator and Redeemer, Almighty Lord God, forgive the sins of all who are joined to us by friendship and relationship, all for whom we are desired to pray, or have resolved to pray, and all Thy faithful people. Deliver us all from evil, preserve us in all good, and bring us at last to everlasting joy; for Thine honor and glory. Amen.
Source: Gregorian Sacramentary