Iron is sharpened by iron; one person sharpens another – Proverbs 27:17
I have seen this passage used quite often in the context of stressing the importance of good earthly relationships. In this very brief passage from Proverbs we can see exactly the type of people we ought to have in our life. Iron is not sharped by wood or some lesser material. In this case it almost reads that two similar things sharpen one another. I think for us this highlights the type of friends we ought to strive to have and how we ought to be with our friends.
Here’s a very brief illustration. You have one friend who pushes you to be better, holier, stronger, faster, corrects you etc. and you have another friend who you drink with, have fun with, but one that never demands anything more from you aside from being that someone to have a good time with. St. Francis de Sales mentions that we should surround ourselves with the first type of friend, the iron. Their goal is to make us sharpened (perfect) by removing rust from our lives (desires, earthly things, venial sins, etc.) and taking us from being a dull knife to a sharp one. The second friend, although fun to be around with, does not sharpen us but will likely dull us more! A true friendship is defined by those who are honest with each other and who desire that the other attain perfection and holiness out of charity. Such a friendship is of the highest value because it is driven by God as the end point vs. say drunken debauchery.
Now unless you are called to a contemplative religious life which requires a life of solitude, we should strive to surround ourselves with good holy men and women. Sometimes that will require a strong initiative on our part but it will always be rewarding. The Lord at times will use others as a means to aid us and therefore we should avoid secluding ourselves too much. St. Francis de Sales also mentions that one of the challenges of the religious life is that those left to the themselves really have no means of being sharpened by others (aside from the Lord and perhaps one’s spiritual director) and it can be very easy to follow into a state of lukewarmness because sometimes the words of another would illuminate a fault that we have become numb to. Therefore, those of us who are living in the world should strive to benefit from the corrections of others and seek friends who are willing to correct us, even if it hurts our pride. If we put up our pride during this correction we will bear absolutely no fruit but if we accept correction with humility we will be abounding in grace.
All this being said, aside from striving to find these good, holy friends, WE need to make sure that we are good, holy friends as well! That may mean correcting the fault of a friend, helping them to overcome a desire they are struggling with, etc. This may be difficult but the Lord may have given you certain friends in order that you may lead them to Him and by not utilizing the graces He gives us to help others, we will have to account for that during the judgement.
If we want good, holy friends, let’s make sure to be good, holy friends to them as well.
St. Peter and St. Paul, pray for us!