The Friendship of Jesus
I cannot see how anyone could live as a Christian and not feel the need for the constant friendship of Jesus….
St. Josemaria Escriva
Christ is Passing By, no. 154
I wonder what Philip was expecting to see when he made this request on behalf of all the Apostles: “Show us the Father and that will be enough for us” (Jn 14:8). What did he expect Jesus to show them? It follows on the heels of St Thomas’ similar question: “Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Both apostles want to see something concrete: a vision of God, a paved road.
Jesus could itemize every point of their future down to the last detail: what trials they would encounter, the successes they would enjoy, ending with how each of them would die. But He does not provide that information. What Philip and Thomas get in answer to their questions is the same human face of Jesus telling them to look and follow more closely. No visions or maps or timetables provided.
It is this lack that makes us “feel the need for the constant friendship of Jesus.” It is our blessed uncertainty, even insecurity, that makes us remain in Him, stay united to Him as branches to the vine. A healthy shortage of self-confidence might be the crucial bond between the Lord and ourselves.
If this Last Supper conversation points to a problem we all face—i.e., wanting to see clear signs of God’s presence here and now, wanting a printed itinerary in hand—then it also offers this unexpected solution: Friendship.
Whatever we may want, Jesus wants our friendship and trust. Strange how easy it is to forget that!
You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (Jn 15:14-15)
It can happen that we desire clarity and security to protect ourselves from the demands of our relationship with the Lord: attentive listening, prayerful discernment, and a loving, generous response. From Abraham to the Apostles to ourselves, the desire to follow a path that makes sense to us is ever present.
Jesus cautions us, just as He cautioned the Apostles, that we go too easily for the practical—what works, what’s efficient. In some ways, we might prefer mechanical, brainless activity instead of the give-and-take of friendship. But Christian life and apostolate function on no other terms than the interpersonal:
I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (Jn 15:5)
St Josemaria begs ‘forgiveness for his insistence,’ but still insists: “the instrument, the means, must not be made into an end” otherwise union with God becomes impossible (cf. Furrow, 502-503). Any time we veer off into self-reliance or dependence upon the effectiveness of the means, the branch’s union with the vine thins. God doesn’t need state-of-the-art anything to build up His kingdom. He first needs living stones: humble souls keenly aware of their dependence upon the Foundation of Christ, and upon the interconnecting support of fellow disciples.
A frame of mind that mainly concerns itself with survival, with just getting the job done, begins to see everything in its path as one of two things: merely as a help or a hindrance, instead of as providence, instead of the effect of Someone’s personal love for them. That narrow focus can lead us far astray from friendship. Things appear convenient or inconvenient, but not providential.
Jesus saw all his life as a revelation of … love. As he said to one of his disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (Christ is Passing By, no. 115)
And so we should see the unfolding our lives as the mysterious unfolding of His love for us.
Right now, each of us probably has unanswered questions, like the apostles. The more personal the question, the more the answer might decide our next choice, the more urgency we feel. “Lord, how long? Lord, why? Lord, when? Lord, how?”
But where are we looking for answers?
Saint Philip is just inches away from the Lord. He leans over to Him and says, with eyes full of expectation, “Lord, show us the Father.” Can you imagine? And without breaking eye contact Jesus leans over and says to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and still you do not know me? To see me is to see the Father.” Aren’t we like that right now? So close, and yet maybe blind to the answer staring us in the face?
At times we can get so anxious and preoccupied that we can barely pray or even think straight. And Jesus looks at us and asks: Where are you looking? You want solutions. You want everything fixed right now. You want clarity and security. I want your friendship. You see the effects of my love in your life, the mercies you’ve received, but where is your trust?
Philip is looking Jesus in the face. He is looking the God-Man in the eye and saying: Show God to me. Let me see God. I want to see God. And the Lord is blunt with Him: I have been so close to you for so long, and yet you’re missing the point. You’ve experienced my mercy and seen your whole life change in ways that are unmistakably supernatural and real, and yet you’re begging to see what is already before you.
Often we want a compelling experience that will change us—a special experience of God that will overcome our bad habits, make us joyful all the time, charitable to all, heroic in sacrifice. If we could see God’s providence more clearly, we think we would be more trusting, more at peace, more faithful. Is it true?
God also wants joy, charity, and generosity for and from us. But He first wants something even more basic: He wants us to want Him first, and then all these other things will be added unto us. They are the by-products of friendship with Jesus. Relationships aren’t forced. They develop.
He is our friend, the Friend: “I have called you friends,” he says. And he is the one who took the first step, because he loved us first. Still, he does not impose his love —he offers it. He shows it with the clearest possible sign: “Greater love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (Christ is Passing By, no. 93)
Our human demand for assurance or reassurance meets with divine resistance until we come to see the Friend already and always before us, revealing His love for us by the assurance of His presence.
Father John Henry Hanson, O. Praem., is a Norbertine priest of St Michael’s Abbey in Silverado, California. He entered the community in 1995, earned his STB and Masters in Theology at the Pontifical University of St Thomas (Angelicum) in Rome, and was ordained to the priesthood in 2006. Currently, he is a formator in his community’s seminary, preaches retreats, is chaplain to several communities of women religious, serves Armenian rite Catholics at the Cathedral of St Gregory the Illuminator in Glendale, California, and is author of Praying from the Depths of the Psalms (Scepter Publishers 2019). He and his community are cooperators of Opus Dei.