Blog & Pastor Letters

Conversations with Jesus

05-14-2023Weekly ReflectionBr. John-Marmion Villa

How familiar are we with God’s Presence in our lives … I mean, really?!?! We say that we are because that’s the right answer to the question.

Recently, I came across a story of an old man dying of cancer.

"The old man’s daughter had asked the local priest to come and pray with her father. When the priest arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows and an empty chair beside his bed. The priest assumed that the old fellow had been informed of his visit. ‘I guess you were expecting me,’ he said. ‘No, who are you?’ ‘I’m the new associate at your parish,’ the priest replied. ‘When I saw the empty chair, I figured you knew I was going to show up.’ ‘Oh yeah, the chair,’ said the bedridden man. ‘Would you mind closing the door?’ Puzzled, the priest shut the door.

‘I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter,’ said the man, ‘but all my life I have never known how to pray. At the Sunday Mass, I used to hear the pastor talk about prayer, but it always went right over my head. Finally, I said to him one day in sheer frustration, ‘I get nothing out of your homilies on prayer.’ ‘Here,’ says my pastor, ‘read this book by Hans Urs von Balthasar. He’s a Swiss theologian. It’s the best book on contemplative prayer in the twentieth century.’ ‘Well, Father,’ says the man, ‘I took the book home and tried to read it. But in the first three pages I had to look up twelve words in the dictionary. I gave the book back to my pastor, thanked him, and under my breath whispered, ‘for nothin’.’ ‘I abandoned any attempt at prayer,’ he continued, ‘until one day about four years ago my best friend said to me, ‘Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky because He promised, “I’ll be with you all days.” Then just speak to Him and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.’ ‘So, Padre, I tried it, and I’ve liked it so much that I do it a couple of hours every day. I’m careful, though. If my daughter saw me talking to an empty chair, she’d either have a nervous breakdown or send me off to the funny farm.’

The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue on the journey. Then he prayed with him, anointed him with oil, and returned to the rectory. Two nights later the daughter called to tell the priest that her daddy had died that afternoon. ‘Did he seem to die in peace?’ he asked. ‘Yes, when I left the house around two o’clock, he called me over to his bedside, told me one of his corny jokes, and kissed me on the cheek. When I got back from the store an hour later, I found him dead. But there was something strange, Father. In fact, beyond strange — kinda weird. Apparently just before Daddy died, he leaned over and rested his head on a chair beside his bed.’”

—An excerpt from: Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging (p. 106-107) by Brennan Manning

What if we were really attuned to God’s Presence in our lives … like this man in the story? What difference would it make given the realities of the world we live in? How do we even begin to be aware of it?

Let’s start with this: Jesus never goes back on his word. So, when he says in today’s Gospel, “I will come to you” and “I will love him and reveal myself to him,” we can be sure that Jesus intends to do this. This is faith. But there is a qualifying clause, “If you love me” (verse 15). IF … That’s a sobering thought. Peter says to Jesus, “You know I love you” (Jn 21:15). We might say the same. But when pressed further, Peter becomes distressed. The same should be said of us. A careful examination of our conscience might reveal that we might love Jesus, but there are also other ‘loves’ in our lives which attract us. One of my former co-workers in evangelization was fond of saying, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” It’s not that Jesus is a liar, it’s that our faith can be flimsy, easily persuaded (or justified) by the ephemeral possession, the esteemed reputation, the novel commodity, the socially acceptable position, the polarizing ideology, the unexpected opportunity, the seductive relationship, or the alluring activity. These may have some value in the short term, but they are not the main thing. The main thing is Jesus, and this lesson is what the man in our story learned even later in life.

Perhaps, we can be honest with ourselves by saying that there are many loves that occupy our hearts and minds. And from that starting point, let’s learn to have a conversation with Jesus about what — or who — the ‘main thing’ in our lives should be.