Friendship and Ecumenism in the Community of St. John, Part Three

DSC00861 The rule followed by the Community of St. John says, “Like the Apostles, praying with Mary in the Upper Room, the brothers will not cease to beg Jesus to send the Paraclete upon the Church, so that His promises might be fully accomplished.” Prayer, according to the Community of St. John, is common to all men. We all long to know the same Father, who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good” (Mt. 5:45). When people begin to know God they adore Him and entrust their cares to him. This is prayer. Jesus desires unceasing prayer from our hearts for everything that concerns us. He wants us to experience the reality that “Without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Prayer envelopes and accompanies our Christian life if we are to remain in the presence of Jesus. This is the central goal of contemplation in the Community of St. John.

Fr. Philippe believed, like so many in this tradition, that silent prayer was lifting our souls up to Jesus in contemplation of his love and as an extension of our thanksgiving. Silence is practiced in most contexts at the Community of St. John. Silent prayer is interior prayer, a direct contact of the soul with Jesus. St. Thomas called silent prayer a wedding between the soul and Jesus. It is close intimacy with the friend who has chosen to love us. We respond to His call, to His love, in silent adoration and communion. Prayer becomes a simple exercise of love and friendship.

It is with this commitment that Fr. Didier has taught me a great deal about friendship. He noted that friendship is rooted in this contemplation. It is a going outside of our selves to another, to love not as an abstract knowledge but as a real knowing. Our blind mind says, “I want to see Jesus” and we discover him in this other person. The longing we have for transcendence is mete in another who brings Jesus to us. What you contemplate will powerfully shape you actions.

To love a friend we must discover what the other is looking for. This longing must pass into action. You must learn to practice your longing for relationship. But too many of us love to fight rather than to love. Fighting becomes a kind of art we create and develop. Just as an army is trained to fight we build communities that engage in fighting.

I must be regularly awakened to Christ, in my mind, emotion and will. No one can open me up to Christ like a true friend. Jesus has called us “his friends” and by this friendship we learn to love and be loved. But this friendship does not mean we attain perfection in love. This is why I confess to a friend that I have sinned. Sin is the imperfection of love thus fleeing to another in confession of my sin is love.

But what happens when someone you love refuses your friendship. Eventually you may have to stay away. You will have to learn to accept separation. Love must not seek to please but to be true and faithful first. When you falsely seek the satisfaction of another you do not truly love. At the heart of a real friendship is a common commitment to seek the truth. Contemplative life invites you to pursue friendship at the deepest level. It is communion—real intimate life in the Spirit. But some people will not allow this to happen. They shut you out. You must learn to love and remain separate.

John Paul II said that the person who most desires communion with us is Jesus. If this is true we must not idealize our friendships. A perfect friendship can only exist between two virtuous people. None of us is perfectly virtuous but two can strive for it together. And each such relationship is unique. It is thus prudent to seek God to allow a friendship to thrive and mature.

DSC00866 The capacity to love is an act, not an emotion. Jesus most painful human experience, at least in terms of friendship, appears to have been the betrayal of Judas. The reason for this pain was that he loved this man so deeply. Thérèse said that too many priests were functionaries of the church but in reality they were called to be friends. Jesus calls us friends, not servants!

I found myself praying, while my brother was teaching on this type of friendship, “Lord, teach me to love and be a friend, not simply one who functions in ministry as your servant!” I sensed the Spirit’s embrace as I prayed.