Last week Kairos 155 went down at the Jesuit Retreat House in Parma. I had the opportunity to deliver a talk on this retreat. The general theme of the talk is the “results of God’s friendship,” a talk which connects to and builds upon the “God’s friendship” talk earlier in the day.
Here’s a highly edited version of the talk I gave. Note that it is edited so that it doesn’t give away too much of the Kairos experience, and so that I don’t bring up certain things that don’t need to be said on the Internet! Note also that this talk is very long – about 40 minutes speaking. To not have you, the reader, veer off into lala land reading this massive piece, I’ve divided it into three parts that will be posted progressively over the weekend. Finally, remember that it is a reflective talk, not an essay, and so should be read as such.
P.S. I also need to point out that when I speak of the three Persons of the Trinity and then the “three modes” God works in – creation, redemption, sanctification – I am in no way limiting one mode to each person… all three Persons work all three “modes” all the time! Unity!
Earlier today, we spoke about “God’s friendship,” about how this divine person we call Father, Son and Holy Spirit can be and wants to be not an authoritarian master, not a naggy conscience prickler, but a close and loving friend. And it’s true: God does want to be your friend, to be in a loving and intimate relationship with each one of you. However, as great as an idea as this sounds – this friendship with an all-powerful, all-present, eternal being, it’s hard to believe in it sometimes – for some of us, often. And that’s understandable. For one, well, God is sort of invisible; He doesn’t speak to us like our other friends do; plus, we’re so busy all of the time, it’s hard to take the time to listen to what He’s saying to us. Our culture is not conducive to developing a friendship with God. On top of that, there are so many things and experiences in this world that hurt us and make us unhappy, sometimes it’s really tough to believe that God does want a friendship with us. We heard about some of these experiences in the talks thus far on retreat. Add onto that all of the hunger, thrist, homelessness, addiction, abuse, rape, misue of power, depression, mental and physical disorder, and death in the world, well… you can see the conundrum we have. So the question is, how do we make this possibility of God’s friendship concrete? Something palpable, that we can experience in our ordinary, daily lives? I’ll tell you how I see this possibility playing out – but first I need to say a little about the lives of two people especially important to this talk.
The first is my own life. My name is Mr. Mike Williams. I graduated from St. Ignatius in 2006 and have returned to the school to serve this school year as an Alumni Volunteer. I was born and raised in Shaker Heights, in the same house where my parents reside to this day. My parish and grade school were the small but mighty St. Dominic, which I attended with my younger brother and younger sister. I attended Boston College, graduating with a Philosophy degree in 2010. I began a MA in Philosophy there before taking this year off to return to SIHS. In my service as an AV, I run three Arrupe afterschool programs, help drive sophomores to their service placements, co-coordinate the Pallbearer ministry, and participate in Labre. I’ve also had the chance to explore aspects of the school, including the theology classroom and the sophomore prayer group. Finally, we AVs have excellent relationships with the Jesuits, including group and individual spiritual direction, as well as a few meals.
The second life I must speak of before proceeding is that of God. I wouldn’t be the man that I am without this divine person, and so I need to say a bit about him before getting to the nitty gritty concretes about our friendship with Him. Plus, the theme of today is, generally, “Who is God/Jesus in my life?”, so it wouldn’t hurt to say a little bit about his own life and how I most imagine and experience it. Please excuse the minor technical terms I’m going to use – I’m a systematic theology kind of guy. But I am also a human being, so these terms will be fleshed out in the concrete experiences of my life I will recount shortly.
As we’ve proposed thus far in the retreat, the bare bones version of our Christian faith is that God is person with whom you can have a relationship, a friendship. In fact, you do have a relationship with God, whether you realize it or attend to it or not. God created each and every one of us and the world we live in (through our parents, but ultimately making the stuff of our being is something beyond their power). Our primal relationship with God, a relationship that is at the core of our identity as human beings, is one of creature to Creator. We don’t need to think about that fact, or we might try to rebel against it, but that doesn’t make it untrue. But as I said before in my introduction, there’s a lot of evil in the world that God created. With all of the suffering present around us, whether others’ fault, our own fault (free will!), or nobody’s fault (catastrophe), it’s easy at times to ask the question, why would we want to have a relationship with this Creator God?
But God didn’t only create us – He also redeemed us, and the world around us, from the power of evil. But why would he do this? Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing being, infinitely perfect and happy in himself, take the time to save the world his own creatures chose to screw up through sin? Because, at his core, this Creator God is a God of love. St. John tells us this in his writings – “God is love.” And his love becomes incarnate, palpable, experiential for us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. This is what we theology types like to call the Incarnation. God Himself became a human being, just like us in all things save sin, in order to save us from evil and bring us to love & happiness through friendship with Him. And what’s even more amazing about this divine person, visible in the world as Jesus, is that he comes to save us not through some macho manly-man divine heroics, casting out evil with the flick of his wrist. No, God chooses to save the world by being born into and living in poverty, working 30 years as a carpenter, be hated by the religious authorities of his day, rejected by one of his closest friends, suffering and dying for us on the basest means of execution known in the Roman Empire. All this to save us from the evil we ourselves created through our own free will. Wow.
And, of course, there’s more. He rose from the dead to a new life unimaginably awesome to us. He appeared to the disciples. He worked more miracles amongst them. And, most pertinent to us here, he ascended into heaven. What? The Ascension? Yes, most pertinent to our talk on making God’s friendship concrete is Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven. When most of us think of the Ascension – and we all think about it all the time, right? – we get the idea of Jesus literally rising off the ground into a cloud hovering above the Apostles. Seems like Jesus is sort of retreating from us, going “back to the Father,” as He says so Himself. Yet, the Apostles are overjoyed when Jesus ascends, and are more energized than ever to do His work. This is because when Jesus ascends, He doesn’t go farther away from us – he draws even nearer, ascending not into a heavenly cloud, but into our own hearts. Because Jesus is no longer with us physically as a man, he can dwell fully within each and every one of our own hearts. He does this in fullness in the Holy Spirit He sent the Apostles at Pentecost. He does still so when two or three are gathered together in His name.
There, finally, after my long-winded explanation, we get to the point. This God of ours is a community of relationships Himself – God the Father, the Creator; God the Son, Jesus Christ the Redeemer; God the Holy Spirit, the Sanctifier. More importantly, this God who desires a loving friendship with us allows us to experience this friendship most of all “where two or three are gathered” – that is, in our relationships with other people. We experience the presence of God, his creative power, his redeeming love, his sanctifying grace, through relationships with other people. Gee Mr. Williams, could have just come out and said that in the beginning, couldn’t ya? True, but the theological and historical aspects to this ecclesial reality we live in make our discovery of God’s presence in the people around us that much richer and easier to understand. When we say that we find God in our relationships with other people, we mean it in a real way: God is present there. He said so Himself. And God doesn’t make statements lightly.
Part Two forthcoming…