Mark Hellinger
The Strange and Joyful Life
June 27, 2017 // Perspective

The spiritual dimension — living in the presence of a friend

Mark Hellinger
The Strange and Joyful Life

One of my favorite aspects of seminary life is one that took me a long time to get used to: that I live in the same house as Jesus in the Eucharist. This is perhaps one of the easiest parts of seminary life to let become ordinary and to slip under the radar of active thought and appreciation. But the fact remains, while at the seminary I have the awesome privilege of living in the true presence of Jesus.

This reality had me thinking about what friendship with Christ really looks like. Generally, someone spends a lot of time in the presence of friends, and in seminary we spend (by choice, and by the fact of living there) a lot of time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. So often, friendship itself, let alone friendship with Christ, is not understood well. It seems to fall apart into either a mutual admiration society or an equal-exchange club.

Friendship with Christ is neither about an equal-exchange club, where I do some nice deeds for Jesus and he gets me into heaven (real friends aren’t keeping score), nor is it a mutual admiration society, where we spend countless hours giving undeserved or useless praise to one another. Friendship with the person of Jesus is a call to a love that exchanges everything about oneself with the friend. Friends make sacrifices for each other and are willing to drop everything for one another. Nothing about us can be hidden from good, long-time friends, and so it should be in our friendship with Christ.

Friends don’t look at each other, they look at a common goal. C.S. Lewis once said of friendship, “Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest.” Part of our relationship with God should be spent looking face to face as lover and beloved, but we shouldn’t neglect the aspect of our relationship that calls us to authentic friendship. The reality is that for most Catholics, spending copious amounts of time in front of the Blessed Sacrament is not possible, and even might betray their vocational duties to their family. Therefore, friendship is something that must be intentionally cultivated, because friendship requires the knowledge that Jesus is by your side, with you, in all things, even when you are not beholding his presence. This means that our friendship with Christ can be built when we simply recognize his presence in all moments of our day, and spend those moments in the knowledge that he is with us as we work, play, relax, etc. Invite him to come into your struggles, joys, hopes, fears, etc. A good friend doesn’t really need anything from you, he just wants you.

In this friendship, this life lived with Christ, it is really easy to become caught up in our “status.” This can become a huge impediment to progress in our friendship with Christ, and it is a problem that I have noticed those discerning priesthood can be especially susceptible to. It can really put the brakes on journeying toward holiness. In seminary we sometimes term this the “super-discerner.” Imagine a friend who, every time you spend time with them, is constantly asking or worrying about where your friendship stands. We have to make sure that our relationship with the person of Jesus Christ is lived, not constantly reflected upon. Don’t get me wrong, we should take moments of prayer to reflect on where we are and how the Lord has been with us and moved us, but if that is the only thing we do when we pray, our friendship will not grow.

One of the most important aspects of this friendship to keep in mind is that a friendship must be lived in the present moment and in the first-person perspective. Often, we try to make excuses for our actions and others’ by acting as though we are the omniscient third-person narrator of life. We have to remember that God is the omniscient third-person, and we are the first-person character in our lives. That means, to really grow in friendship, we must live it and trust in the Lord. This frees us from worrying and anxiety so that we can live this awesome life with and for the Lord, especially with him as our closest friend. May God give us the wisdom and strength to invite him into our lives and cultivate a friendship that will challenge us to grow in holiness!

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