By Emily Malloy
"Tell me what company you keep and I'll tell you what you are."
These words spoken by Sancho Panza in Don Quixote are as relevant today as when Miguel de Cervantes penned them 400 years ago.
Regardless of our awareness, we are influenced by the people in our lives. Throughout adolescence we hear the common refrains that "one rotten apple spoils the basket" or that "we are known by the company we keep." Friends rub off on each other for better or worse.
St. Paul reminds us that we are not to be led astray: “Bad company corrupts good morals" (1 Corinthians 15:33). While we are cautioned against bad relationships throughout the sixth chapter of Sirach, we are also assured that "faithful friends are a sturdy shelter...beyond price." These proverbial statements maintain their relevance because they are true: the people in our lives help to form us.
We also might extend beyond our immediate sphere of influence and look to the example of secular figures and seek to grasp some form of mentor relationship. More often than not, these models never sought to conform themselves to Christ. We might find ourselves dismayed with unsavory aspects of a secular (or religious) hero's life outside the proximity of whatever good he did.
All of this speaks to the reality that relationships are important. Friendship rescues us from the pain of isolation. It facilitates a sense of belonging within a special place outside of family life, as it is a relationship of our choosing. Having the ability to look up to someone whom you hold in high esteem is invaluable. Friendships ought to encourage us on our journey back home to God the Father.
Bearing in mind the importance of earthly friendships, how much more dear to us, then, should be the treasury of friendship to be found in the saints?
We must expand our circles of friends to include the saints in heaven because where human friendships fail, lasting friendship with the saints can be found. These souls are models of virtue and steadfast in their friendship with those in the Church Militant. These souls are not just the images we confine them to, but were living and breathing people who had their own personal struggles. There is an empathetic saint for every sinner to grow close in friendship by studying their lives and imploring their intercessions.
What we gain through our friendships with the saints is the example of how to conform ourselves to God's will by living well and dying well. It can be overwhelming, given the number of the faithful in heaven, to discern which saint to befriend over the course of the next year.
During the feast of All Saints in our home, we cast lots to find a saint to befriend. To do this, simply grab a copy of the Lives of the Saints off of a book shelf and begin copying as many names as possible on small slips of paper. Place them into a bowl, and grab one piece of paper while asking the Holy Spirit to guide you to a particular friendship.
I have come to realize after many years of this tradition that it is the saint who chooses us. Throughout the course of the year, it becomes apparent why this saint reached beyond the veil. These friendships are the most sturdy of shelters. What great company we keep when we keep them close!
"The saints did not all begin well, but they all ended well.” - St. John Vianney