February 12, 2015
Thursday of week 5 in Ordinary Time
Jesus Is Company
“It is not good for the man to be alone.”
God himself said it is not good for anyone “to be alone.” We are made in the image of God, and God’s life is relationship—interaction between the Father, Son and Spirit. So human life calls for personal relationships—interaction on the level of shared thoughts, feelings and desires—with other human beings. It is “not good” when that is lacking.
But it is lacking to countless numbers of people. Some are lonely because they have no contact with others. Some because they have only superficial relationships, whether merely professional, social but shallow, or spousal but vertically severed. Those who do not share their thoughts and feelings with others, or experience an expressed “common union” of ideals and goals, of faith, hope or love, are essentially alone. And this—whether the absence of deep, personal interaction is due to personal choice or imposed by circumstances—is, in the words of God, “not good” for a human being.
It is also never necessary or unavoidable. The fact is that deep, experienced, personal interaction is always possible—and on a human level—with Jesus Christ.
First, Jesus exists. He is real, and he is present to all of us—all of the time and everywhere.
And he is present in his humanity. He is not just present as the transcendent, infinite God is present. Jesus still has a human body. We don’t need to see him with our eyes to know that the Jesus present to us is present just as he was to those who walked and talked with him in Judea and Galilee. It is the same Jesus, human as well as divine, and we can interact with him the way we interact with any other human person. We can talk to him without seeing him, the way we talk to others on the phone. And when we use our imaginations to observe his reactions—to “see” his facial expression, or read his body language—what we perceive is not just imaginary. The fact is, we know—sometimes, at least—what his reaction is just as clearly and as certainly as if we saw him with our eyes and heard him answering with our ears.
When we receive a letter from a close friend, don't we know how he or she looked when writing it? Can’t we “just hear” his voice or hers as we read the words? It is the same with Jesus, after we have dealt with him long enough to grow into intimate friendship.
Saint Teresa of Avila writes about this:
The soul can picture itself in the presence of Christ, and accustom itself to become enkindled with great love for His sacred Humanity and to have Him ever with it and speak with Him, ask Him for the things it has need of, make complaints to Him of its trials, rejoice with Him in its joys... It has no need to think out set prayers but can use just such words as suit its desires and needs. This is an excellent way of making progress, and of making it very quickly; and if anyone strives always to have this precious companionship, makes good use of it and really learns to love this Lord to Whom we owe so much, such a one, I think, has achieved a definite gain (Autobiography, chapter 12).
I used to try to think of Jesus Christ, our Good and our Lord, as present within me, and it was in this way that I prayed. If I thought about any incident in His life, I would imagine it inwardly… (Autobiography, chapter 4).
This doesn't require a vivid imagination, however. We don’t need to create a clear or detailed picture; just enough to be aware of Jesus present in his humanity. Teresa continues, “My imagination is so poor that, even when I thought about the Lord's Humanity, or tried to imagine it to myself, as I was in the habit of doing, I never succeeded.”
I had so little ability for picturing things in my mind that if I did not actually see a thing I could not use my imagination, as other people do, who can make pictures to themselves and so become recollected. Of Christ as Man I could only think: however much I read about His beauty and however often I looked at pictures of Him, I could never form any picture of Him myself. I was like a person who is blind, or in the dark: he may be talking to someone, and know that he is with him, because he is quite sure he is there—I mean, he understands and believes he is there—but he cannot see him. Thus it was with me when I thought of Our Lord. It was for this reason that I was so fond of pictures. Unhappy are those who through their own fault lose this blessing! It really looks as if they do not love the Lord, for if they loved Him they would delight in looking at pictures of Him, just as they take pleasure in seeing pictures of anyone else whom they love (Autobiography, chapter 9).
Look at how pictures have proliferated on cell phones! Teresa would have loved that!
The important thing is not a good imagination, but enough awareness of the human presence and of human interaction with Jesus to be able to share our thoughts, feelings and desires with him, and experience an expressed “common union” with him in faith, hope and love. With this we are never alone.
One proof that this is possible is the existence of happy celibates. Long before and after the Church made celibacy mandatory for priests, and regardless of the “administration’s” reasons for doing so (which Pope Francis has said he is willing to put back into the hands of national bishops’ conferences), there were thousands of monks and nuns who embraced celibacy voluntarily and gladly. And there still are. There are even hermits who live in almost complete isolation. What does this tell us?
The first thing it tells us is that they are not alone. Celibacy is proof and witness that it is possible to have with Jesus Christ now, on this earth, a relationship of love that is just as real as marriage, just as developmental of loving persons as marriage is, and just as satisfying as marriage.
How is that for throwing down the gauntlet?
In the proclamation that is it possible for every Christian, in whatever state of life, to have a deep, experienced, personal relationship of love with Jesus Christ, celibates are those who put the Church’s money where her mouth is. If we proclaimed this, and professed to believe it, but assumed that every Christian had to have a wife or husband to be happy, we would obviously not believe what we preach.
The truth is, no one can be happy without love; love given and received. I believe we can extend that to personal, intimate love, the love of deep sharing and union of mind and will and heart. Love of “humanity” is not enough, even if realized in heroic service to others. “It is not good for humans to be alone.” And even when immersed in a crush of people for whom we are lovingly sacrificing ourselves every minute of the day, we can be deeply, achingly alone.
Celibacy, if embraced—whether in a community of religious vows, or as a hermit, or as a single person in ordinary life—as a commitment to developing deep, total, personal, even passionate love for Jesus Christ, bears witness to a real belief that such a relationship is possible. If the celibate is happy, then it is a proof.
What if the celibate is not happy? There are plenty of unhappy married people also; and it just means that in the marriage there is a failure on the part of one or both to interact as they should. An unhappy celibate is simply not interacting properly with Jesus.
That is why celibacy is developmental. Jesus is not always easy to get along with. Celibates, like married couples, spend years learning what it takes to love. There is no way to live fully except by dying to self. Celibates who do not find Jesus requiring that of them are not interacting unreservedly with him. And they are not unreservedly happy.
The point is, this demanding, rewarding, sometimes crucifying and always lifegiving interaction with Jesus can and should be taking place in every Christian’s life. We are all called—in every walk of life—to “spousal love” of Christ (see Ephesians 5:25). The Church is the Bride of Christ, and all of us are “brides in the Bride,” committed to seeking perfect union of mind and will and heart with him.
Anyone doing this is never alone.
Do I choose to let Jesus be my constant companion, and to share my heart and soul with him?
Pray: “Jesus, make me your friend. Make known to me everything you have heard from your Father” (John 15:15).
Practice: Do everything with Jesus that you do with your closest friends. Be creative.
Discuss: Is real, human friendship with Jesus possible?