Experience shows that 'laying down one's life' is a mark of real love

I had an interesting chat with our parish priest yesterday. He had come to give my mother Holy Communion as she is bed-bound. Afterwards, he happened to notice that a programme about the Queen was on my mother’s TV, which is fixed the wall of her bedroom. It was showing the funeral procession of her father, the late King George VI, and I remarked that as a young child I remembered a teacher at my primary school being dressed in black and crying at the death of the King.

The parish priest, who is from the Republic of Ireland, was very struck by this: having no concept of monarchy, he wondered that a woman would weep for a monarch, someone she did not know personally. I suggested that perhaps this sorrow for George VI was also in recognition that, very shy and in delicate health, he had followed the call of duty and sacrificed his life for his country.

This resonated with Father and we talked about self-sacrifice in the Christian religion. Afterwards I reflected that sacrifice is intrinsic to our faith: Christ’s supreme sacrifice for us and the consequent invitation to self-sacrifice for others. It is intrinsic to friendship too; didn’t Christ say, “Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his friends”?

I have been reading a book that touches on this theme: The Hearth of Holiness: Friendship with God and Others, by Father Gary Lauenstein CSSR (Ignatius Press). Reminding us that we are called to be friends with God, the author gently points out the corollary: that our human friendships should reflect “the kind of friendship God wants to have with us”.

He writes that his own deepest friendships “have been with the people who shared my most deeply held values.” He echoes what an old lady once told me: “A friendship made in Christ can never die.”

I then chanced on an article about friendship that is more hard-hitting than Fr Lauenstein’s book. Distinguishing between “pleasant friendships” and “true friendships”, the author argues that we only discover the latter when the friendship has undergone a kind of purification, followed by “reconciliation.” This reconciliation he defines as “the death of the ego for the life of the other.” It forces one to respond to the article’s question: “Do we even desire to cultivate this kind of friendship?”

For Christians there is only one answer to this.