Growing up, I went to Catholic school. I was involved in my church—Friday nights were youth group, Thursdays were worship group rehearsal, Sunday nights were Adoration and Confession, etc. Because of this, most of my friends, especially my closest friends, were, like me, staunch Catholics. This can be super beneficial, especially when we’re struggling in Faith. Close Catholic friends help us to grow in holiness, push us to discover God’s will for our lives, and support us in our spiritual ups and downs.
But when I went to college, I found that most of the people I met weren’t anything like my “church friends” from home. In fact, most of them weren’t religious at all. If you’ve had a similar experience—maybe in the workplace or in a new city—then you know what I mean. I was more than a little out of my depth. Catholics around me were talking about fostering Christ in my friendships. But in most of my friendships, I was the only religious one. How was I supposed to have “holy” friendships if most of my friends weren’t religious?
How to Foster Holy Friendship with Non-Catholics
Although all friendships are different, and friendships with non-Catholics certainly have a different dynamic than friendships with Catholics (for example, my non-Catholic friends don’t typically accompany me to daily Mass or send me encouraging spiritual reflections on bad days), there are ways to bring Christ into friendships, even if only one person in the relationship is Christian.
One experience that I had with new, non-Catholic friends was repeated inquiries about my Faith. Why did I believe in Jesus? What did the Church say about this or that issue?
At first, I found this overwhelming. I felt like I had to represent the whole Church with my limited experience and theological knowledge. But before long, I realized that if I resolved to be honest about my faith and my relationship with God, the Holy Spirit could use my faith to clear up others’ misconceptions about the Church. By seeing my joy, they could encounter Christ, even if indirectly. One friend even told me, “I thought the Church was just about repressive rules until I met you.”
Give of Yourself
“There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend,” Jesus tells us. While He was speaking about His Death and Resurrection, the same goes for all our earthly friendships. If we’re willing to do what He would do in our relationships, we can be an example to them of what real Christianity looks like.
This can be as simple as sending a friend a “good luck” text message before a job interview or a big exam, or as big as helping them through a family crisis. It can be a kind word shared when they choose to confide in you, or making sure they get home safe if they’re walking late at night. Whatever it is, being willing to give of ourselves—our time and our talents—in friendships is a sign of a holy, healthy relationship.
Learn from Each Other
There was a time in my life where, any time I spoke about my Faith with others, including friends, my aim was to “convert” them to my opinion and beliefs. Although we have a missionary Faith, this tactic usually isn’t effective, and I’ve seen it harm many perfectly good friendships. While we should always be honest and open about our Faith, a better way to foster holy relationships is to share and listen with mutual respect. By discussing spirituality with non-Catholic friends, I’ve learned a lot about different ways people’s beliefs develop.
By speaking with friends who grew up Catholic and no longer practice their Faith, I’ve also learned what the Church needs to do better and how, unfortunately, some people (especially young people) fall away from the Church before they encounter Jesus. The truth is, a friend is far more likely to see Christ in you if you listen to them and love them than if you try to evangelize them for the sake of winning an argument or getting them into RCIA.
Being Christ to All Our Friends
Ultimately, Jesus calls us to be His Hands and Feet on earth. One image that helps me immensely in how I choose to live out this mission in my daily life, especially in my relationships, is that of the monstrance. When the host is placed in the monstrance, all of our focus is on Jesus, not on the beautiful container that holds Him. As Catholics, we should strive to live the same way. No matter what we do, everything should come from the intention of showing others Jesus: His love, His mercy, His grace, His freedom.
In friendships, we may desire for those close to us to know Christ like we do. That’s a totally valid desire. As Catholics, we hope that one day all people may join us in the Paschal Mystery in Heaven. But sometimes, the more loving thing is to meet people where they are. If they ask about our Faith, we should answer them honestly. We shouldn’t hide what we believe, but we should also respect what others believe and why. Sometimes the missionary work of loving people as Christ did is far more effective than what we typically think of as evangelization.
How do you foster holy friendship with people who aren’t Catholics or Christian? What’s been your experience?
Katherine DeCoste is a student of English and History at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. When she isn’t writing papers or studying for exams, she spends her time playing music, writing poetry, and striving to serve the Lord in small things.