A new school year has begun and our children are beginning to settle into their new routines, classrooms, teachers and work assignments. Another thing that may be new this year are the friendships your children are beginning to develop with the new students in their classes or perhaps those in a new school they started, such as middle school, high school or college. But are these friendships based on a moral foundation? The Bible gives us great insight on true friendships in Sirach 6: 14-17: “Faithful friends are a sturdy shelter; whoever finds one finds a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price, no amount can balance their worth. Faithful friends are life-saving medicine; those who fear God will find them. Those who fear the Lord enjoy stable friendship, for as they are, so will their neighbors be.”
Looking back on my years of school, one of the best conversations I can remember was with a college roommate. We were both commenting how a friendship rooted in faith is so much deeper than a friendship founded upon any other reason.
Sure, children will make friends with common interests such as similar courses, sports or drama arts. Nonetheless, some of the deepest friendships I have had — as well as witnessed as a youth minister — were with those who shared the Catholic/Christian faith with me. I often pondered why I felt so much more comfortable and more myself around these friends. Why they just seemed easier to talk to, easier to forgive and to accept my apologies and why they were the ones who were constantly there for me to provide inspiration or advice.
If we are each ultimately called to heaven, we can keep in mind that part of our earthly goal is to bring others to heaven with us. This isn’t always an easy task in this ever-tempting world. This is why having friends who are going to lead you toward Christ is so important.
I once heard someone say “our relationship with Christ is never stagnant, it is always going in one direction; either toward him or away from him.” How easy it is in our world filled of distractions to be moving away from Christ. Choosing your friends is such an important part of building that relationship with Our Lord. Some friendships can often lead one down a bad path into temptations.
The temptations youth encounter are endless, from cheating on tests, lying to parents, partying and sexual impurities such as pornography and pre-marital sex. These are all too easy for youth to fall into today. A friend could make all the difference in your child making these choices or not. A friend could be the one to encourage these immoral behaviors or steer them away from them. A simple choice in friendships could help one’s soul to be saved.
So how can you tell if your child’s friends are “good influences”? As a parent, you have the best judgement of this, as you know your child best and can probably see the red flags going up right as your child begins to go down the wrong path. My advice is to talk openly to your child. Although they will most likely be resistant and defensive, your words are sitting with them. Let them know you’re not comfortable with their friendship with the particular person. As parents you have the beautiful gift and responsibility from God to care for your child’s soul. You also have the authority to allow them to do certain things, and you should use that authority to guard their soul. If you are feeling uncomfortable with a certain friendship, don’t allow them to hang out with that particular person or group.
Above all, pray for them. Pray to their guardian angel to protect and guide them each day. Their guardian angels are always with them and protecting them. Charge their angel up with prayer so that the evil one won’t win. I heard a story from a parent of one of my youth group members that their child was having a hard time with an individual in their high school lunch period. One day after hearing about her child’s struggles for some time, the mother decided to pray to her child’s guardian angel to protect her son from the other child bothering him. Unbeknownst to her son that she was praying for him, that day she received a text saying, “Mom, today was the first day that he didn’t come bother me!” Prayer works!
Finally, I would encourage them to be involved with their parish or another local parish’s youth group. Being involved in a ministry program does not make a child immune to temptations, bad behaviors or the lure of sin. On the contrary, they are tempted like everyone else. The difference is they are striving for holiness and trying to walk down a good path. They are usually held more accountable by some of their friendships within the group as well as the youth minister. I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with youth beginning or ending with “I am saying this because I love you and your soul, not because I want to judge you.”
I also have heard many of the youth in our ministries refer to it as a “family.” Families love one another in a deeper way, in a way of self-sacrificing love, looking out for the good of another. Just like a family these youth argue, have their moments and falling outs, but in the end they know they are all striving for the same goal — heaven. They even pray for one another.
For our core team of leaders, we have a large 50-plus group message where we post details of meetings, events, and other information. Youth also can post prayer requests to one another, asking for prayers. Just about every other day in the group are messages asking for prayers for everything from help on an important test or audition to family members who are sick and anything else you would ask for a prayer for.
Lastly, I often think of the many saints who were close friends, leading each other closer to heaven. We must remember, they weren’t saints in their lifetime. They were declared saints after they had died. But during their life, they were striving for holiness and the company they kept helped bring them toward that goal. Some of the more famous friendships of saints who were friends include Ambrose and Augustine, Clare and Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and Mother Teresa and John Paul II, just to name a few. Let us follow the example of these saints to emulate for ourselves and, most importantly, for our children to follow so they too can reach the ultimate goal, heaven.
Kari Janisse has been the Coordinator of Youth & Young Adult Ministries at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Williamstown since 2009. She leads programs for youth starting in 3rd grade through young adults up to 28 years old. She also leads programs outside of the parish called, “+he ROCK “, which are Catholic Clubs at local high schools.