Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, January 08, 2021

The Friendship of Christ, Chapter 2: Interior

Previous: Erin on Chapter 1 

 Non coerceri maximo, contineri tamen a minimo, divinum est.

Not to be encompassed by the greatest, but to let oneself be encompassed by the smallest -- that is divine. 

--quoted by Ratzinger in Introduction to Christianity, pg. 146.


It's easy, when thinking about the interior nature of friendship with Christ, to focus on the hallmark of the modern Protestant concept of "accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior". And yet, this formulation is odd on its face. Think, for a moment, about the idea that Jesus is something outside of yourself that you allow in.

"Behold, I stand at the door and knock," Jesus says to each soul (Rev. 3:20), which seems to reinforce the idea of him being external. But wait! He goes on to say, "If anyone hears my voice, and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me." But we do not provide this meal to Jesus. He is the meal on the other side of the door, just as he is the door (or the true gate), and he is the house, and he is all in all. He is already in everything, and longs to be recognized. Our part in fostering this friendship is not to invite him where he is not, but to recognize and welcome him where he already is.


Benson starts his chapter by laying out the basis for our friendship with Jesus: that he is like us. He is true man, and therefore he understands, on the deepest, most personal level. Of course his humanity means that he knew happy moments and was hungry, sleepy, joyful, etc. It also means that his body was weak at times. That he shook involuntarily in fear. (Is there a more human moment in the Gospels than Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane the night before he died, awaiting the awful thing that he must do, and trembling in determination and terror, begging God for strength?) 

And what sparks this friendship is recognition. C.S. Lewis touches on this neatly in The Four Loves in his chapter on Friendship, when he speaks of the moment of "You too?" that makes two people realize that they have something real in common. Benson goes back even further to the microscopic impulse that make one person notice something special about another, the tiny detail that become a microcosm of a whole astonishing personality we long to discover. We glimpse the whole person in those infinitesimal flashes. We recognize. And we respond by revealing ourselves, sometimes instantly, sometimes cautiously.

We can recognize Jesus because he is like us. And our friendship with him, Benson points out, follows the recognizable path of human friendships. But this friendship must be based in absolute truth. "Marriage," a friend of mine says, "is often a discipline of learning to prefer a person to an idea." And friendship with Christ is the same: learning to love Him, and not just our idea of Him. It is also a superhuman friendship, and it requires a superhuman honesty, a constant stripping away of the barriers between us: both barriers that we ourselves have built, and the barriers that are the scar tissue of the damage other humans have done to us. This demand can, at times, seem almost impossible, but Benson gives a hint as to the solution:

...He [Jesus, our friend] demands from us what He Himself offers. If He strips Himself before our eyes, He claims that we should do the same. As our God He knows every fibre of the being which He has made; as our Saviour He knows every instant in the past in which we have swerved from His obedience: but, as our Friend, He waits for us to tell Him.

"He waits for us to tell Him": which is as fine a description of the Sacrament of Confession as I've ever seen, where Jesus Himself gives us the grace to give him this gift of honesty, and where he gives us the gift of healing.

(Not long ago, I experienced this process from Jesus's point of view, as it were. A child was sad and guilty, burdened with a sin which they were embarrassed to confess and yet wanted to be rid of. I sat with them as they cried, stroking their hair and waiting, encouraging them toward the moment where they could speak out loud the thing I already knew; wishing that it were easier for them and yet knowing that making a clean breast of it was the only thing that would ease them, and loving them through it. That's when I first thought of Confession in this way Benson describes, and I was delighted to see him corroborate this idea.)

And we're not alone in this slog, sometimes, toward total honesty. (Benson notes the happy aspects of friendship with Christ which make it easy and pleasant to bare our souls, but he's not going to leave it at the easy times.) Throughout history, souls have been wrestling with the cyclical nature of human loves, including human love for God, which can have volcanic explosions of joy and then cool and harden and get glassy. And this cyclical love is natural, only human, not a sign that friendship with God was a mistake in the first place. He is there to help us through the dull or painful dry times, and our friends, the saints, provide us with their own experience and questions to help us keep up our strength.  "There is not one such incident that has not been experienced by other souls before us," Benson assures. The witness of these other souls, also our friends, helps us rekindle our first love:

Yet, as time passes, and as we emerge through these crises one by one, we come more and more, to verify that conviction with which we first embraced our Friend. For this is indeed the one Friendship in which final disappointment is impossible; and He the one Friend who cannot fail. This is the one Friendship for whose sake we cannot humiliate ourselves too much, cannot expose ourselves too much, cannot give too intimate confidences or offer too great sacrifices. It is in the cause of this one Friend only and of His Friendship that the words of one of His intimates are completely justified in which he tells us that for His sake it is good to "count all things to be but loss"--"and count them as dung, that I may gain Christ."

Next: Erin on Chapter 3: The Purgative Way

1 comment:

Purificación Rodríguez said...

Good afternoon,

My name is Purificación Rodríguez and I am a translator from Murcia in Spain. I have been reading your website for a long time and it has always been a real help for me in the worst moments of my life.

I am sure that in Spain and all the Spanish-speaking countries it could also help many people with their faith in their daily lives and it would be a pleasure for me to translate all the articles that you would consider convenient. I have experience in translating Christian content since I am an occasional collaborator in a Christian television channel in Murcia (Popular TV) where I translate different texts and videos of all kinds.

Thank you very much for your attention and don't hesitate to contact me if you have questions or you are just looking for more information. My e-mail is

God bless,

Purificación Rodríguez