When I was younger, I wanted to make friends so desperately that I would compromise good judgment. At the public pool one day I saw a sign that said, “Do not dive in the shallow end,” and I did not read a warning; rather I saw a challenge and opportunity to make friends. I dove into the shallow end, only to be met with my head hitting the bottom of the pool. Praise God I did not get a seriously hurt, other than a bruised ego and weeks of embarrassing reminders. You would think I learned my lesson, but I later found myself at the edge of a cliff and a body of water below me, while my friends screamed “Jump!” 

In life there are moments when we engage in something because on the surface it seems to be desirable and easy: play a sport because it looks fun, join a club because it seems interesting, become a member of a parish ministry, record a TikTok because it is trending, or even entertain the idea of joining a Pastoral Parish Council. Each of these has a deeper commitment to them but we do not see until we are hip deep in it. There is more than just what is seen on the surface, something much deeper. We see it through because that is what holy grit looks like. We need a similar perseverance in our friendships. 

Jennifer Baker, PhD wrote in an article for “Psychology Today”: “There are certainly mysteries involved in friendship, despite how confident we might be about the practical advantages of having a good friend or two. And no matter how much we appreciate our friends, the relationship is still likely to be a peculiar one, full of ups and downs and a particular kind of commitment.”

She continued:

“Aristotle’s account of friendship might be his most-studied proposal. Aristotle suggested that there were three types of friendship: a pleasure-based sort, where you stay friends as long as you are having a good time with a person; a utility-based sort, where you stay friends because it is so convenient to do so; and a virtue-sort, which is the very best kind of friendship. Aristotle tells us you are to live your life with a friend like this, sharing meals and everyday experiences together. But all of this depends on your commitment to pursuing virtue, and most of us don’t have the time.

Friendships are important infrastructures within our social development. People who find a good set of friends are willing to do just about anything for them, because they become an extension of their families and themselves. 

Abraham Maslow’s “Theory of Hierarchy of Needs,” has been discussed and criticized throughout the years. Needs are listed in a progression of psychosocial, safety, love/belonging (friendships, romantic attachments, family relationships, social groups, community groups) churches and religious organizations, esteem, and self-actualization.  

Friendships fall into the human need of love/belonging which can only be reached if the person feels safe enough. Once a friendship/relationship is established, an individual’s esteem is built up, and that self-esteem fuels a person’s self-actualization. 

CS Lewis in his book “Four Loves” said: “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.” Jesus longs for a friendship with us, and we ignore that as well. In fact, in the Gospel of John it says: “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. It was not you who chose Me, but I who chose you” (Jn 15:12-13,16a).

Many will claim to be friends with Jesus, but the question is whether the friendship is shallow or deep. Back to Aristotle’s friendship models, pleasure, utility, and virtue. Where does our friendship with Jesus’ fall? Do we go on a retreat or conference and become friends with Him because it felt good at the time? That’s pleasure based. Do we pray to Jesus only when we are in need of help? That’s utility-based. Or do we follow Him and interact with Him because He leads us to a virtuous life? That’s virtue-based.

All three can be healthy when they are centered on virtue. The saints were men and women who were able to share a complete relationship with Jesus, one that was full of joy, one that asked Jesus for help and one that allowed them to live virtuous lives because of Him. 

St. Maximilian Kolbe said the following about Jesus in the Eucharist: “You come to me and unite Yourself intimately to me under the form of nourishment. Your Blood now runs in mine … giving courage and support.” 

This statement is a commitment to a true friendship with Jesus who is always present in the Eucharist. Jesus is fully present at every Mass, and in every adoration chapel and in every tabernacle within a Catholic Church. Fully present, looking to take you from a surface level friendship to a deeper friendship where you feel His love, ask for His help, and grow in virtue. You can use your friendship with Jesus is the standard by which you measure all your other friendships. It can calibrate whether you are in a balanced friendship or not. I was on the edge of the cliff overlooking the body of water in Hilo, Hawai’i when I heard my friends, who had already taken the dive, scream “Jump!” I wrestled with it for several moments. I screamed back, “You got me, right?,” to an instant reply, “Of course … always.”

Jesus knows that we fear the deep, yet He invites us as He invited Peter to get out of the boat and join Him. For as long as we keep our eyes on Him, we will walk over the surface of the deep, as if we were walking in the shallow depths. I looked up before I got my running start. I said to myself, “Jesus I am only scared because I fear the deep. Not just the depth of the water, but anything that will require me to trust past my comfort. Jesus, that isn’t a jump to make friends, this is a jump to solidify my friendship with you. Jesus I trust in You.” As I ran and jumped into the water, I finally let go of my fear, and I truly gave my heart to my one true friend, in which I measure all friendships. 

Anchor columnist Oscar Rivera Jr., is director of Youth Ministry in the diocesan Secretariat for the New Evangelization. orivera@dioc-fr.org