When I look back at the way my life has changed over the last ten, five, even two years, there is one major change that really stands out to me: my friends.
Graduating high school, I couldn’t wait to get away from some of the people that I had befriended. I was typically the brunt of a lot of jokes as I was the one that still went to Mass weekly with my family and was still a virgin. I was a pretty easy target in my “Catholic” high school and I was looking forward to a change of scenery.
When I moved on to college, I was excited for a fresh start. I could make new friends, build up a new reputation, and finally be the popular guy that I had always wanted to be. I had a girlfriend, I had a solid part-time job that gave me some money to burn, and I would have the freedom to wear whatever clothes that I wanted (no more school uniform)!
The first few days couldn’t have gone better. I found a few guys that appreciated my sense of humour, had similar interests, and best of all, didn’t know about my past of being a loser! We formed a great friendship, but eventually things fell back to me being “the punch-line to everyone’s jokes” as one of my college friends put it. I began to realize that I would just have to settle for that roll in the group in order to be popular.
These weren’t my proudest days as a Catholic young man – with partying, excessive drinking, drugs, pornography, and fornication mixed with weekly Eucharist and a major lack in Reconciliation – but at the time I didn’t care. I had friends, I wasn’t alone, and I thought I was happy.
After college a lot of those friends moved back to their home towns for work and so I once again needed to find a new group of friends. I started to get more involved at my local parish church with the youth group and met some good people there. Some of the bad habits continued on a smaller scale, some of the bad habits got worse. The worst part of it all was that I didn’t think that I was doing anything wrong as I was doing it with friends from church.
I got to a point where my girlfriend and I were looking for a place to move in together. Many of my friends were already living with their girlfriends and boyfriends. Even my brother was already living with his girlfriend. The hardest part would be telling my mom and breaking her heart. She was already at a point where she refused to visit my brother and his girlfriend at their house. She would always welcome them into her house or meet them somewhere, but not at their house while they were not married. How could I do this to her? I couldn’t… and I’m very glad that I didn’t follow what my friends were doing on this one.
The Bible reminds us in Proverbs 13 that “He who walks with wise men becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” I was suffering from the life that I was living with some of my friends, and something needed to change for me to get my life back on track.
We eventually did get married and buy a house together as many of my friends were doing (in one order or another), and I started to notice a shift in the people that we were hanging out with. We still kept in touch with many of our college friends, but most of our local friends were friends from church. For the first time in my life I was realizing how little my 12+ years of Catholic education had taught me about the Catholic faith. I was being challenged in ways that I had never been challenged before and I wanted to learn more. To know more. To do more!
Before we got married, one of my best friends (who I had met at church) also got married. But he and his wife had stopped attending the Catholic Church while they were engaged as they were being “more fulfilled” at the non-denominational church. He was one of the friends that challenged me the most. He was reading his Bible more and more and was asking me all kinds of questions that I couldn’t answer about why Catholics believe and do a lot of the things that we believe and do. I had no answers for the most part, so I’d do some research and then before I could tell him the answer he’d have another question that I couldn’t answer. I’d send him talks to listen to and articles to read from Catholic sources, but he wanted to hear my answers, and I couldn’t present my thoughts in coherent ways. I now feel like our friendship has suffered as the thoughts of how to prove him and his Protestant ways wrong are always at the front of my brain when we get onto the topic.
He was also my Curcillo sponsor when I made the retreat shortly after getting married. We had a small group of men that met weekly or bi-weekly and we would talk about the highs and lows that we’re experiencing in our faith journey. A group of guys that you can share your struggles with and that will hold you accountable for your actions is an invaluable thing!
Another friend that has challenged me over the last few years is someone that I met through a young Catholic adults group lecture series. We met at the first planning meeting as we were both on the planning team and he invited me to go for a drink afterwards as he was new to the city and didn’t know anyone. I soon found out that he was a militant atheist who had recently converted to Catholicism. I was amazed by how much he knew and had learned in such a short time! He let me know that he was so passionate about making fun of Catholics, that he studied it to give himself ammunition. The problem was that it all started to make sense to him, so he completely changed his life around. I began to realize that I was wasting so much time watching sitcoms and reading fiction and could be using that time to grow in my faith! As Proverbs 27 says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” This was never more true for me as I was realizing how dull I was.
Slowly my wife and I realized that we’ve had nearly a complete turn-over in friends. We had met other couples and families at church that live out their faith every day and we are being challenged to do the same. Most weekends we will go over to someone’s house and while the children all play together the parents talk about anything and everything. The kids are becoming great friends with each other and we know who they are surrounding themselves with. If a couple is having an issue with something, there is always someone who can offer some advice and we can talk though it.
I find it amazing the impact that your friends have on your life. If you surround yourself with the wrong crowd, you will likely have a very hard time living out a Catholic lifestyle. But surrounding yourself with people that challenge you to be a better you, it’s hard not to try to live up to that.