As we enter into the holy season of Advent, we prepare ourselves for the Christmas, the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ – the most wonderful time of the year. But we all know the holiday season can often times be a struggle for many people for one reason or another. Perhaps divisions within a family, economic worries, or being alone can make this a rather difficult time of year for some. And so as we finish up thanksgiving and enter into Advent, let us consider ways in which we can reach out those who may find this time of year difficult.
I was thinking about this the other days while watching the movie, “Toy Story 3.” Now one may be tempted to laugh here, but the movie, as was the case with the first two films of the trilogy, provide an interesting insight to the concept of friendship.
“You’ve got a friend in me” is the theme song from this popular animated trilogy, and it touches upon what the Vatican praised in the children’s film, namely true friendship.
Personally, this is one of my favorite animated films and I could not agree more with the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano which commended the film for providing a profound reflection on “transcendental human themes and lessons on true friendship through the experience of the characters.”
In the movie, Woody, Buzz Lightyear and the other toys are confronted with their destiny. Andy, their owner has grown too old to play with his childhood toys and is preparing to go off to college. He must decide whether to donate the toys to a day care center or throw them away.
When circumstances beyond their control separate the friends, they do all they can, including risking their own lives to stay together and ensure the safety of the others. The movie exhibits the spiritual reality that true friendship is following the example of Christ who said that there is no greater love than to lay down ones life for a friend.
Reporter Gaetano Vallini explains that “Toy Story 3” reveals that “friendship is the true bond of this unlikely yet tight-net group of toys” and allows the moviegoer to reflect on “important themes such as the value of friendship and solidarity, the fear of feeling alone or rejected, the unavoidability of growing up and the strength that comes from feeling like you belong to a family.”
As the movie draws to its end, the toys are all confronted with a disastrous end. Instead of panicking or screaming out in fear, they simply reach out and hold each other’s hand to endure such an end together. This simple gesture provides us the example of what it means to be a true friend.
There are many things that cause people to feel alone or helpless. Many times there is nothing that we can do to “fix the problem” but there is something that we can do to help those that we care about to face their challenges by finding strength in the reality that they are not alone.
The feeling of being alone, helpless, without hope can be one of the most crippling feelings that one can experience in life. They are often times the result of the loss of a loved one, separation or divorce, or a variety of other human experiences. Many of us struggle to find the right words to say to our friends in pain, as if there were right things that could be said.
In these moments, we don’t need to say anything, but the image from the movie does provide us something we can do. We can reach out and hold the hands of our friends, letting them know by this simple gesture that they don’t have to go through it alone. This simple act of love and friendship is what Christ asks of us when he says, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
The Old Testament book of Sirach also provides a wonderful reflection upon the concept of friendship. The author writes, “Let your acquaintances be many, but one in a thousand your confidant. When you gain a friend, first test him, and do not be too ready to trust him. For one sort of friend is a friend when it suits him, but he will not be with you in time of distress.”
But, “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter; he who finds one finds a treasure. A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth. A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy, such as he who fears God finds; For he who fears God behaves accordingly, and his friend will be like himself” (Sirach 6, 6-17).
One may be reading this and ask what does friendship have to do with becoming a better Christian or in particular a better Catholic. The concept is certainly not exclusive to the Christian faith, but by becoming a better friend to those who are most in need, we become more like Christ who always sought out those who felt abandoned, alone and without hope. Being a Christian means following the example of Christ!
In just a few days we enter into the season of Advent, Christmas and New Years. This can often be a time where many people feel most alone or depressed. This can be a time of year that is not the most joyful time of year for those who have no one with whom to share it. Perhaps this means that we open our homes and our hearts to those that need a true friend in their life. Perhaps it means that we reach out and hold the hand of those who need us most. Perhaps we know someone who needs to hear the words, “You’ve got a friend in me.”