One of the most powerful lines in St. John’s Gospel for me always has been, “You are my friends…” (John 15:14) When I was younger, I had a very close relationship with the Church. I love the Mass; I loved my parish and the priests who served there; and I really loved the lives of some saints – Damian of Molokai, Dominic Savio and others. But I have to admit that I did not have a deep personal attachment to Jesus. That had to grow through many years of seminary formation and spiritual direction. Mostly, it grew from hearing Jesus call me “friend” in spite of my sinfulness. His mercy has been overwhelming. For many today, especially young people, the friendship with Jesus happens first and only later do they develop an attachment to the Body of Jesus, his Church.
Jesus as my teacher has been an easy one. I always have loved study and school and especially the Scriptures. It has never been difficult for me to hear the voice of God, the voice of Jesus speaking in the Bible. Perhaps it is because learning about the contexts of the biblical words and really seeing the beauty, and oftentimes cleverness, of those words has been fascinating. The will of God has been clear to me all these years from those powerful words. When there has been some lack of clarity, understanding those words in the Church and in the light of the Church’s tradition always has helped. So for Jesus to tell me that he is the way, the truth and the life are givens.
“Jesus saves.” Certainly, you have seen that sign somewhere glowing in neon lights. From what or whom does he save? To me, the best picture for this is Peter trying to walk on the water toward Jesus and his sinking. He cries out, “Lord, save me!” (Matthew 14:29) That has been my experience of salvation, being lifted up from sinking into my selfishness, my sinfulness, my sense of being lost. Basically, Jesus saves me from myself. The mystery of that salvation always has been the cross and the incredible love for me shown by Jesus’ dying for me on that cross. The sacrificial love of Jesus, the Son of God, is the most saving thing of all.
To say, “Jesus is Lord,” is to say it with the gift of the Holy Spirit. (I Corinthians 12:3) This is the toughest one for me. It is easy for me to let Jesus be Lord of this or that part of my life. However, I am reminded of Francis Thompson’s beautiful poem, The Hound of Heaven:
“I fled Him down the nights and down the days…/ For though I knew His love who followed,/ Yet was I sore adread, lest having Him,/ I should have nought beside.”
I have always been afraid that Jesus would demand too much of me and so I hold back giving into his Lordship my whole life. I have a feeling this could be a struggle for me until my death. Yet, I know Jesus is Lord and I want him to be Lord, for in his lordship of me I will find freedom, I will find salvation, I will find truth and I will find the deepest friendship.
So, my sisters and brothers, especially those of you on our parish councils, what is your relationship with Jesus? How can that be deepened? Then, and most importantly, how shall we witness to that relationship so that the lost sheep and those who have not heard of Jesus may be drawn more into him who is Lord and savior and teacher and friend.
Bishop Earl Boyea is the fifth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lansing.