By MARIA SERMERSHEIM
As the taxi cab wove through loud, busy streets and the warm “winter” air of Rio de Janeiro tangled my well-traveled hair, I gazed out the open window at beautiful islands dotting the Atlantic; at colorful graffiti consuming every corner; and I thought to myself, “What am I doing here?”
When I told people a few weeks ago that I would miss various events because I would be in Rio for my friend’s wedding, they commonly reacted with a surprised exclamation that she must be a really good friend—with heavy emphasis on “really.” And I said yes; because yes is the right answer, but it always seemed to require further explanation. Yes, we are really good friends…but perhaps not by the standards one might expect. By worldly evaluations, Luisa and I certainly do not talk often enough and have not known each other long enough to warrant a trip around the world for her wedding. So why was I in Rio?
The wondering whisper in my heart was quickly hushed and transformed into wonder at God’s infinite generosity when I arrived at her home. There is no room for suspicion of just cause when the love of Christ is palpable, and that it is in my friendship with Luisa. Our friendship runs true and deep, and it is one that I am confident will last this life and into the next, founded as it is on solid rock. Regarding St. Teresa of Avila’s friendships, Father Thomas Dubay wrote, “It is precisely because all was immersed in God that her friendships enjoyed the security of tenderness, patience, durability and permanence.” Just so, my time in Rio was blessed with a freedom to love with abandon and to serve selflessly. Luisa and I love each other in the Lord, and such love casts out all fear. The doubts that quickly dissipated were never to be seen again.
The prophet Hosea describes God’s solicitation of the love of his chosen people by writing in the Lord’s voice, “I drew them with human cords, with bands of love” (Hos 11:4). I have seen this pattern repeatedly in my life, and I often discover his work in the human cords of friendship. Through true, deep, Christ-centered friends, I glimpse heaven. Luisa is a band of love who draws me to the Lord, and that is a treasure beyond price, as the Book of Sirach rightly says. “A faithful friend is beyond price, no sum can balance his worth” (Sir 6:15). No sum of time or money or travel can balance the worth of a friend for eternity.
As the Uber whisked me away to the airport, fittingly departing from Santa Teresa (the church and the neighborhood), I thanked God for his many and inordinate gifts. Though I was sad that the trip had drawn to a close, I was comforted that the friendships will last. And I cannot help but marvel in anticipation of heaven, an infinite multiplication of such unity. Thanks be to God for friends who draw us further up and further in.