There’s probably no other Gospel passage that impacted me more deeply in my life than this one we just heard [you can read it here]. I can still picture the day, being a sophomore in high school, picking up a book on vocations and opening it and seeing this scripture there by itself. I had never really done what is called “lexio divina” – which is a form of reading scripture, meditating on it and communicating with God – before then… I didn’t even know what that was to be honest. I didn’t know a lot of things. But at that pivotal point in every young persons life – where there’s that movement from being a child to a young adult, when it’s the start of making decisions for yourself, becoming more and more independent, in retrospect, I recognize how important this scripture passage was for me.
Because there’s three key things that Jesus talks about in this short passage: Joy; Love; Friendship. Those are pretty universal desires – with countless theories on how to achieve them, how to experience them. Especially in High School – trying to be popular, to be respected or admired, to be be recognized – even those individuals who seem the least interested in those pursuits (like the class clown) are actively in search of them, they just go about that in negative ways.
I remember just sitting with these words and going back to them over and over and over during those years and felt Jesus speaking directly to me…
-He’s saying all this – so that His Joy might be in me – and that I could experience fullness, complete Joy.
– The totality, the definitive nature of his declaring that there is No greater love – than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. That the key to experiencing love is in being selfless, sacrificial.
– That Jesus considers me His friend… and that He lays down His life on the cross not just in this general “for all humanity” sort of way that people are nameless and faceless to Him – but that He considers me a friend, He has done that for me…
It’s not overstating things, this really shaped and directed my life. By that point I knew I felt drawn to priesthood, but wasn’t quite sure why. I always liked Mass (which was rare for people my age), always felt at home at Church – had a lot of experience with the externals of things there so there was a curiosity. But as I was getting older and thinking about college and this question was still there, wasn’t going away: am I really even thinking about becoming a priest ? (this was before I truly understood the idea of being “called”) The idea of not having a wife and kids, the reality of giving up a lot of freedoms was starting to register for me a lot more. So did my fears, my doubts thinking there was no way I could do those and many other things.
Having Jesus call me His friend – though – me? Cut through the defeatist thoughts, the self-doubt… Hearing Him speak into my deepest thoughts and desires – for Joy for Love and calling me to follow Him and His path was something that I grew to trust in the more I prayed with it. I realized that in the view of the world, in the view of many of people closest to me, that this might not make sense, but I felt greater confidence as time went by.
I share all this as my own testimony about what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus — because that’s what this passage really helped bring about for me… It’s probably 30 years since I first really read these words – it’s almost 21 years of being a priest, and I can still read these words of scripture, and hear His voice, His call – and there’s still a newness to it. Initially I had a narrow vision of seeing this solely speaking to the call to priesthood. But it wasn’t like Ordination day I had it all together – that it was the fulfillment of these promises. If anything, it was more like Jesus what have you done??? Where are we going???? What am I supposed to do??? Questions that still come up more often than I imagined. But each time, it opens me to new revelations, new experiences, new layers of Joy, Love and Friendship with Jesus. There’s this awesome awareness of seeing the greater depth and fulfillment to these realities and the joyful anticipation that I have only scratched the surface of them- that you experience when you have this personal relationship with Jesus: a Joy, a love, a friendship like none other.