Show me your friends, and I will show you your future……..
These are very wise words that I picked up along the way from a source unknown to me. The people with whom you keep company will form you to think and act a certain way. Your friends are also indicative of your values. Generally, we don’t spend a lot of time with people who disrespect our values (unless we tolerate being disrespected). Our friends may not share our values, but they at least respect our values. The people who surround us shape our future, for better and for worse. Friends either lead us to faith or away from faith.
I could not even tell you my criterion for making friends when I was a child. I didn’t want to spend time around people who were doing morally bad things. I stayed away from one-on-one and small group experiences with kids of that type of reputation. Most of the people that I knew were religious or religious-in name only. Faith and God were not frowned upon, even though they might have been taken for granted. I went to Catholic school, so many of my friends were actually of the same religion as I. It was not a very diverse experience, but it was a very stable experience. That had its benefits. So long as I was careful, the values of my family had a pretty good chance of being passed along to me.
It wasn’t until high school that I really became exposed to people who thought and acted differently than the values of their surroundings. Being in a Catholic high school, the values system that was being revolted against was Catholicism. My classmates ranged from friendly to hostile against the faith and morals in which I was educated. Initially, my friends were more secularly-minded. They were not into questionable behavior, and they were somewhat friendly to religious practice. But they weren’t exactly enthusiastic about it. Really, they did it because that was what you did.
There was a group of kids in my school (my all boys Catholic school) that were overtly religious. They loved Jesus and going to Mass often. They went to Confession. They prayed when they didn’t have to pray! They went on mission trips and tried to bring other people to Jesus Christ. Overall, they were thought to be a bit wacky. I was never quite sure why, as they didn’t seem to be doing anything different than what everyone else was supposed to be doing. It was just that they were doing it more (and trying to do less of what no one should do, but people were doing anyhow behind closed doors). Generally, these people were disliked. I could not figure out why. Initially, I kept my distance from them.
It wasn’t until someone, a kid named Matt Niebauer, invited me to go to a Steubenville Youth Conference (Franciscan University of Steubenville) that I joined public Christian witness. That changed my life completely. I was exposed to a group of kids that I had never known before. They seemed very happy. They seemed very free. They seemed much more relaxed around each other. Girls and guys respected one another, and carried themselves in a more dignified way. That was new to me. I was surprised by it, and wanted to experience more of it. So, I began to go to retreats with my new friends, and go to prayer opportunities with them. I began to take advantage of service opportunities with them, too. The more that I participated, the more blessed I was!
I didn’t cut ties with my other friends. Some of them would eventually join me in doing things with the Christian kids, and some would not. That was ok. I didn’t want to attach any preconditions to keeping my friends. But, as life went on, and I went to new places, I would look for the type of friends that had Christ in the center of their lives. Catholicism was also a big plus. As I went into the seminary and priesthood, my social life changed a lot, and a different phase in my life began (and that’s another story!). But the principle “show me your friends, and I will show you your future” still holds true. Your friends of yesteryear have put you where you are now, and your friends of today will put you where you are going.
Likewise, you can be a very positive influence on your friends! Don’t underestimate that truth. As I learned in Cursillo, “Be a friend, make a friend, bring a friend to Christ.” Show me your friends, and I will show you your future. Is Jesus welcome in your circle of friends? If you want Him to be your friend, maybe He should be.