It is perhaps my single greatest disappointment, certainly it is a recurring sadness, in my life as a priest. I speak of how many of us miss the fact that we as Catholics are called to have a unique personal relationship with Jesus. I appreciate these words are easily spoken and I have regularly encountered people, including people of strong faith, who have difficulty accepting this concept. These difficulties range from people who have never actually heard the invitation, to those who have heard it but who find it too much of a challenge to believe that it is actually possible.
I have come to the conclusion that this lack of intimacy with Jesus, is, or at least should be, the cause of widespread pastoral concern for us as church. In turn it is I believe one of the main contributing factors to the overall weakening of us as a faith community. Before actually examining this wonderful, yet so sadly neglected call to intimacy with Christ, I would like to briefly visit the two groups mentioned above, those who have never heard this call and those who have heard it, but remain unconvinced that it can be in any meaningful sense a daily reality.
We, through our baptism, and indeed the other Sacraments, most especially the Eucharist, are called to mission. Every time we celebrate Eucharist together, we are fed in word and Sacrament and then we are sent on mission. We are sent to love and serve the Lord and in so doing we are sent out as Christ-Bearers to be workers for the
Kingdom of God. This is both an awesome responsibility and a most moving honour. We misunderstand mission when we confine it to going on the foreign missions. The church needs to regularly remind the faithful that they are called to be an alter Christus. In other words we are called to be the hands, the feet, the voice of Christ in a
world in more need than ever of his message, and his living presence. At times the power, the sheer size of the institution, can allow us a complacency particularly when it comes to mission. The best possible antidote to spiritual indifference is passion. Passion for Jesus. It is in this context we must ask the question: how is it that so many have not heard the call to intimacy with Jesus?
Surely we must take some responsibility for this. The reality is that many will associate us with our Sacramental life, our devotions and our moral code, however how many know that we are called to a unique personal relationship with Jesus? Now whatever about it being understandable that many people outside the Church simply
do not get this, is it not remarkable that so many in the Church have never even heard of the notion of intimacy with Christ. I do appreciate some who have see it as the preserve of the saints or at a push maybe the priests and religious. The fact that so many in the church do not grasp this for themselves as lay Catholics is a comment on
us as Church. We have failed the faithful in this regard. They come to be fed in Word and Sacrament. They often leave hungry or malnourished and bad enough as this is, an equally lamentable correlation of this is that they cannot be either salt or light to the world. In truth then I think it is fair to say that for us within the church we pay a high price for our lack of real intimacy with Jesus. This price is evident in our tepid approach to mission, in that we often settle for preaching to the converted. However the price we pay for this lack of intimacy is no where more evident than in our personal faith life. Put bluntly our pilgrim path is made much more difficult as a result of journeying without the benefit of Jesus. This is not some vague pious statement. This is much more gutsy than that. The fact that we do not actually know Jesus on intimate terms means we are like a bird flying on one wing. The great dis-ease in so many of the faithful who lament not feeling any proximity of the Lord is that they really
have no relationship with Jesus. I mean they do not know, never mind understand Jesus, and therefore any notion of loving him is often cerebral.
This in turn brings us to a fundamental question. This question is shared by many, some within the Church, some without. The question is this: is it possible, in any meaningful sense, to have an intimate relationship with Jesus? Intimacy implies a deep meaningful dynamic. Intimacy implies knowledge, trust and love. Intimacy is warm. Intimacy is mutual. I am often asked how can I speak of such a relationship with one who lived two thousand years ago. Of course this is often the immediate problem, in the sense at the heart of the question is an ignorance, in the original sense of that word, as in not knowing. The question betrays a lack of knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth as evidenced in the Gospels. My answer to the question is such an intimacy possible, is a resounding yes. Not only is it possible, it is desirable, in fact I feel to be serious about being a follower of Jesus and not to have this makes no sense. As a pilgrim edging our way towards the Lord and not to be actively engaged in deepening this core relationship, is for me, tantamount to spiritual suicide. There is no judgement
in this and I trust the reader hears no harshness for there is certainly none intended. Forgive me when I say that it is worth risking causing offence and indeed being offended rather than failing to engage in the issue.
Perhaps I can explain it like this. I have no choice but to speak about this. I am propelled to speak about the passion I have for Jesus. It is for him that I am a priest, a happy priest, a passionate priest. To paraphrase W.H. Auden’s beautiful poem, Stop All the Clocks, ‘he is my north, my south, my east, my west.’ This in turn nudges me to Acts of the Apostles chapter 17: ‘it is in him that I live and move and have my being.’ Perhaps the greatest excitement in this adventure, this adventure of plumbing an intimacy with Jesus, was the discovery that Jesus is passionate about me. Jesus delights in me. Jesus cannot love me more than he loves me now. This reminds me of an incident that happened recently when I was talking to a class of young children. I asked the class does Jesus love us? To which there was a loud chorus of yes. I then asked does Jesus love us at all times? To this there was an equally strong chorus of yes. Finally I asked my third question: Does Jesus love us even when we are naughty? This divided them. Some said no, most said nothing and a few said yes. So I told them very clearly, yes, Jesus loves us when we are naughty. At this moment a little hand went up and a boy of about six years, with great sincerity said but Father, if Jesus loves us even when we are naughty why do we have to be good?
In his innocence this child gave me great amusement but he also reminded me of the completeness of the Lord’s love for us. I acknowledged this and gently answered his question explaining that we try to be good, not to get Jesus to love us more but it is our way of saying ‘and I love you too Jesus’. This simple but profound encounter
brings us to the heart of our topic. It is here that we glimpse what intimacy with Jesus is based on, namely his unconditional love for me and his desire to be loved by me. The real excitement, the real adventure is in the engagement between Jesus and me. This is only possible through a generous commitment on my part. I must give this serious effort. In my experience reading, study, prayer, sacred silence all placed under the specific direction of the Holy Spirit together yield very significant results. What is beyond question for me is that whatever I invest, whether it be time or effort the Lord outdoes me in generosity. The guarantee that I can offer is that when we actually look with our soul, we see, and when we listen with our soul, we hear. In addition to this one of the corollaries of engaging on such a meaningful level with Jesus is that it gradually changes how I am in the world. Slowly, steadily, and this is not magic, no Harry Potter here, but day by day through his love and my patchy fidelity I begin to see the world through the lens of Jesus.