I was recently on a retreat where Christian author and international missionary Dan Bauman gave a talk, which he opened with: “one of my favorite things about God is that he lets us do life with our friends.” His point was that the only reason we got to spend that weekend on retreat with friends was because we believe that walking through life in community is what God desires for us. It doesn’t seem that radical of a concept, but it is a phenomenally important one.
One of the primary tenets of Catholic Social teaching is that humans are inherently social beings and that our lives should reflect this. This is on one hand an intention for the global community: to be interconnected as one human family. However, it also applies hugely to our daily lives.
When I started thinking about what it really means to do life with our friends, I kept returning to the people (albeit fictional) that have set the best example of this for me: the cast of Friends. Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler, and Joey literally do everything in life together. Though their lives may not always reflect Christian values, the way they live and constantly support one another I think reflects God’s intention for humanity to live social, communal, lives.
Admittedly, Friends may sometimes be too extreme of an example of this, in that it often seems that they don’t pay attention to anyone besides each other. However, the intention to share life and support each other always is one we can learn from. We don’t simply live and hang out with our friends all the time because it is fun, it is because it is what we were made to do.
In Genesis God says, “it is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). We are designed not to live alone, but rather to live together with one another. Of course, the first way we live socially is in our families. However it is no longer true, as it was in biblical times, that people move from the families they were raised in, into marriage and their own families seamlessly. Now, we have these awkward years, sometimes decades, between leaving our parents siblings, and settling down with our own spouses and families. It is in these college years and beyond that we have to define for ourselves what living social, community-based lives will look like.
Fortunately, long before Friends first aired, Jesus provided a model of this for us. Having never married, he lived most of his life simply with his friends. A huge portion of the Gospel narrative details Jesus time spent travelling, eating, drinking and talking with friends. After his death, the apostles continue this divine tradition of friendship. Acts 2:46 describes that, “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.”
Though Friends is not a community of believers like the apostles, they still model this in their own way. Central Perk is their temple, where they spend the majority of their time together, and lattes the buy each other are their broken bread.
While it may feel hard to relate to Jesus life of ministry with his friends in the first century, it is not too hard to relate to 20-somethings in 1990s Manhattan. Friends models for us how to laugh and cry together, confront one another and forgive one another, eat together, live together, fall in love together, and above all else be always loving and loyal to one another.
Speaking on the importance of this social love, Pope Benedict XVI said “To love someone is to desire that person's good and to take effective steps to secure it. Besides the good of the individual, there is a good that is linked to living in society: the common good... It is a good that is sought not for its own sake, but for the people who belong to the social community and who can only really and effectively pursue their good within it.”
Friends teaches us that we are our best selves when we are social, striving for the good of one another, and the good of all of us. Friendship does not simply improve our lives; it is a primary foundation of Christian life.