My friend, Fr. Didier Marie, who I have written about in the previous three blogs, stressed time and again during my time with him that we must always move from the existence of a friend to the existence of THE Friend, Jesus. And when we know Jesus as THE Friend we can then move toward one another in His Spirit. The joy of God is found here, in the other. Joy is not primarily found in me seeking my own joy but rather in my seeking the joy of another. This truth is not understood by many Christians in our time, especially in popular evangelical teaching about self-esteem or in seeking to complete or maximize my own joy as the goal of my spiritual life, sometimes called Christian hedonism.
The Apostle John tells us that Jesus calls us His friends. Fr. Didier warned those who were priests that their role was never to entertain people in the Mass. The real priest must learn to “disappear” since “He must increase and I must decrease.”
Fr. Didier told some great stories about the founder of the Community of St. John, Fr. Philippe. I was moved by these stories and sad that I never got to meet Fr. Philippe. I was invited by the order to celebrate their thirtieth anniversary at the Vatican in 2005. I would have been afforded the joy of meeting this man but I had a commitment to teach a seminary course and felt I should not break my word. What attracted me to Fr. Philippe is what attracts me to my friend, Fr. Didier. He was transparent, real and human. He lived this way by joining, as I’ve already noted, the three great wisdoms: philosophical, theological and mystical.
Fr. Didier related accounts of how Fr. Philippe practiced friendship. (By the way, he was a close friend to John Paul II, the present pope, and the late Brother Roger, a famous Protestant monastic in France.) I privately spoke to Fr. Didier about Brother Roger and John Paul II. I was able to confirm how deep their friendship was on a personal level. I still recall how amazed I was when Cardinal Ratzinger, soon to become Pope Benedict XVI, communed Brother Roger first at the funeral Mass of Pope John Paul II. This act of love, which was not a surprise to those who knew about Brother Roger and John Paul, is a surprise to many “hard core” Catholics who insist that a person must always be a Catholic before they can be communed. An exception does not break a rule, I understand, but the fact is that this happened and behind it is a great story that will someday be better understood.
All of this is said to underscore a central point about friendship within Brother Didier’s relationship with me as a Protestant. He, like me, is deeply committed to ecumenism, not as a theory but as a way of life. He wants me as his friend and I want him as my friend because this friendship is at the heart of our love for the unity of Christ’s church. By coming close to one another, even for a few hours and only every few years, we come closer to Christ and his goal for all his people.
Within all of us is a deep sense of the need for spiritual order. If someone we love is to meet us at the airport we will be there and alert to look for them. So we must go to Jesus. Be alert and look for him. Go to chapel, prayer and communion with this desire. A materialistic vision will never satisfy us. Only a vision of Christ and his love for our friend will fulfill us. In each of us is a profound “potency.” This potency invites us to act in love. When we respond we go deeper into the love of Christ. Nothing can replace this. Theology is never a substitute for this. When we make the pursuit of theology a substitute for relationship we are truly dysfunctional human persons.
I came away from the Community of St. John, and the teaching and time with Fr. Didier Marie, realizing once again what I truly long for, especially in my earlier life when I saw theology and ministry in the so many wrong ways, was true friendship. I treasure my friends more than all the knowledge I have been afforded. I treasure time with friends as more important than reading my books, though I still have way too many books and read actively. The life of the mind is critical and there is far too little of this passion in our time. But the life of the mind will never satisfy us if we do not seek Jesus and others. Long to be a friend and long to draw close to Jesus as your true friend.