Mary of the Angels
Ken Hughes SJ
This has been moving week. 80 of us Jesuits in 10 scattered old houses
have moved across the River to a single compound of 5 new buildings in Brighton. My body has left Cambridge but my spirit has not yet settled in Brighton. I think that it is hovering somewhere over the
Charles River. So, if Jesus said to me right
now, “I don’t know where you are from,” He would be quite correct.
But, of course, that isn’t what Jesus meant when He said those words. He
meant: “I don’t really know you. I don’t know who you are.” Or, in other words, “You haven’t
revealed all of your heart to me. You haven’t shared with me all your inmost
thoughts, desires, fears. Oh, I know them,” He says, “ but have you
taken time to share them with me? Are you inviting me into all the parts of you?”
Many years ago, a woman told me about the unfortunate miscarriage of her first baby, a girl. She had named this unborn baby, “Hope.” And then,
on the first anniversary of the miscarriage, she found herself, in prayer, talking to Hope and lamenting: “I’m
sorry that I never got to know you.” She wept then in her prayer and she
wept now as she told the story to me.
Later, in my own prayer, I found myself wondering, if I died right now, would I have to say to Jesus those same words:
“I’m sorry that I never got to know you?” Or worse, what if
Jesus had to say those same words to me: “I’m sorry that I never got to know you either.” And that wouldn’t be because Jesus had not tried to know me.
It’s not a question of me not knowing about Jesus or Jesus not knowing all about me. From my side, I have learned much about Jesus from reading and reflecting on Scripture and studying commentaries. I talk about Jesus quite a lot in my homilies. And, on the other side, Jesus, being
God, knows everything about me. As the Psalmist noted: “Lord, You have
probed me, you know me; you know when I sit and when I stand; you understand my thoughts from afar.” There is nothing in me that God does not know, but what God wants , what Jesus wants, is not knowledge,
but relationship, friendship.
Friendship means mutuality, talking and listening, -- on both sides. Friendship
means sharing joys and sorrows, anger and fear and gratitude. Close friendship means sharing the same interests and values, having a similar vision, working for the
same goals. And it especially means spending time together, and wanting to spend
time together, -- what we call prayer, -- not “saying” prayers, but talking to God from our heart..
On a preached retreat to Jesuits at Holy Cross a decade ago, I told the story of this woman with the miscarriage and
my own prayer experience with Jesus in which I feared the same words might be echoed between us: “I’m sorry that
I didn’t get to know you.” That day happened
to be the Feast of the Transfiguration, and after the talk a certain Jesuit decided to celebrate this Feast Day by eating
dinner with the Holy Cross Community. There, of course, he had a number of drinks
before the meal and wine during it. Later, a friend called him and noted his
slurred speech, that she found it difficult to understand him. The next day when
he was more sober, it suddenly occurred to him that if his friend couldn’t understand him because of his drinking, then
maybe Jesus couldn’t understand him either. Maybe Jesus might say to him,
“I’m sorry that I’m not getting to know you. You’re drinking
keeps getting in the way.” Shocked by that realization, he decided then
and there never to drink again. And for the past ten years he has not touched a drop of alcohol.
Not everyone can hear a Gospel story and act with such determination and fortitude!
I can relate this story because he has written the story himself in one
of his latest books. He is my colleague in the tertianship program and well known
spiritual writer, Fr. Bill Barry, SJ.
So, I keep asking myself: are there ways in which I am not allowing a friendship between Jesus and me to grow? Is Jesus getting to know me better and am I getting to know Jesus better? Is our relationship really a friendship or just an acquaintanceship?
We can be so busy that we don’t make time to share with Him and listen to Him.
We can be perfectionists so that we keep Jesus a little distant until those moments when we have everything just right,
and then we can let Him in.
We can simply not trust and rely on the friendship, -- that if the work is going to get done properly, then we ourselves
have to do all the work. And Jesus
gets left out of the partnership.
We can also keep distance because we are afraid of what
He might say or ask.
Or, we can let shame from the past get in the way as if Jesus would be turned off by our sins and failures instead
of wanting to hold them with us.
And, yes, an addiction of any kind, gets in the way because an addiction protects us, blocks us, from real relationships,
as my friend and colleague, Bill, clearly saw.
As we know from shootings in Dorchester, Roxbury, and right here at Egleston Square this week, violence and
death is never far from us. They remind us in a graphic way that we do not know
the day or the hour when our life ends here and we enter the new life of God’s kingdom.
We should never have to live in fear because we are not ready. We should
never be afraid that Jesus will say that He does not know us. All He asks is
that we see how much he wants to be friends with us and seek to respond with
our own desire for friendship. As we grow in openness and honesty and trust in
the friendship, we have nothing to fear. Rather, we can expect that Jesus will
welcome us not because of great things we have done, but simply because we have constantly worked at our friendship, and have
been faithful to it in word and action.
Kenneth J. Hughes, SJ