The Word Among Us

September 2013 Issue

The Call to Communion

How to Develop the Heavenly Aspect of Your Spiritual Life.

The Call to Communion: How to Develop the Heavenly Aspect of Your Spiritual Life.

Have you ever seen a new father and mother with their newborn baby?

It’s a wonderful scene. The baby is the delight of their lives. They can’t take their eyes off their child. They know the baby can barely understand them, but they talk to him or her all the time. They love to hold their child and practically smother him or her with hugs and kisses. And what does the baby do? Nothing but soak it all up!

This image can help give us a sense of how much God loves us. Whether we believe it or not, he is with us all the time, constantly pouring love into our hearts. So let’s look at the heavenly aspect of our lives. Let’s focus on God’s desire to fill us with his love and his life.

A Thirst for God. The story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at the well of Sychar is one of the most memorable stories in the Gospels (John 4:1-42). The woman had been married five times and was living with another man who was not her husband. You can just imagine how she must have felt about herself after so many failed marriages. Can’t you hear her saying, “My life is a failure. I can’t seem to do anything right. Nothing ever works out for me”? But when Jesus met her, he healed her heart and revealed God’s mercy to her.

This woman must have been on a lifelong search for love; but no matter how hard she tried, something always went wrong. The harder she tried, the more she came up empty. In fact, the contrast between being empty and being filled is a major theme of this story—just as it is a major theme for life itself.

At the well, Jesus forgave this woman and healed her inner wounds. But he didn’t stop there. He also filled her with the love of God. He gave her a taste of his “living water” (John 4:10). And that is precisely what he wants to do for us.

This woman knew quite a bit about God and her faith. She knew about the differences between the Jews and the Samaritans. She knew the principles and teachings of her faith. She knew about the Israelites’ history and their faith. She even knew that a Messiah was coming. Unfortunately, all this knowledge was not enough to bring her to experience God’s presence and his love.

Jesus saw what this woman was missing. He saw that she was looking for some kind of “magic” water from him—something that would keep her from having to trudge to the well every day. What she really needed was to be filled with the living water of his Spirit. Essentially, he asked her if she was thirsty for God. And over the course of their conversation, the woman discovered that the water Jesus offered was far more satisfying. She was touched so deeply, in fact, that she told all the people in her village about Jesus and brought them to him so that they could receive his “living water” for themselves!

Break Down the Walls. This Samaritan woman was not the only person to whom Jesus offered a new beginning and a new life. He tried to open the hearts of the Pharisees who opposed him. He urged them to clean up what was inside their hearts and not just cover it up with an attractive outward appearance (Luke 11:39). He invited the rich young man to give up the wealth that had too strong a hold over him (Mark 10:17-22).

While these people turned away from Jesus, others accepted him. A blind man whom he had healed came to believe in him—to the point of calling Jesus “Lord” and openly worshipping him (John 9:35-39). Mary Magdalene and a number of other women were so moved that they followed Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem and helped fund his work as he preached and taught (Luke 8:1-3). Zacchaeus decided to give back to everyone he had defrauded and to become a champion of the poor (19:8-9).

During her encounter with Jesus, the Samaritan woman was changed forever. Like Zacchaeus, Mary Magdalene, and all the others, she was filled with love for him because she had received love from him.

As Jesus reached out to all these people, he is reaching out to us, asking us the same questions: Are you thirsty for my living water? Do you long to be filled with my love and presence? Do you want me more than everything else? The moment we say, “Yes, I am thirsty,” the barriers in our hearts crumble, and the living water flows freely.

A Friendly Encounter. Very early in the Catechism, we read, “The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 27). Deep inside all of us is a desire to know God and to love God. We all want to be as close to him and as connected to him as we are with our dearest family members. St. Teresa of Ávila once said that being in communion with God “is nothing more or less than a friendly encounter” with God. It’s nothing more or less than knowing we are loved by him and treasured by him. Teresa went on to say that the goal of this friendly encounter “is not to think much but to love much.”

The communion with the Lord that Teresa describes comes when we thirst for his presence and not just his blessings. Have you ever had the experience at Mass of feeling a sense of comfort or gratitude? Perhaps as you are going to receive Communion, you feel a sense of love or peace come over you. It just happens—it’s not because of something you thought or did. Well, that feeling is what happens when God pours his love into you. You aren’t “thinking much.” You are “loving much.” You are simply enjoying God’s presence.

If Teresa of Ávila were here, she would encourage us to let God show us his love every time we come to pray. She would say that no matter who you are and no matter what you have done—good and bad—God still loves you. He loves you just as much as he loved the woman at the well. He loves you far more than any parent loves his or her newborn child.

Rest and Receive. So how can we cultivate this relationship of communion with the Lord? How can we come to a point of “loving much” in our daily lives?

It begins with prayer. Try to find thirty minutes a day to seek this friendly encounter with God, and you will be filled. Come to him simply and humbly. Try to lay aside your agendas, your needs, and your petitions, and just rest in his presence. Quiet your heart so that you can sense his love. Perhaps you could sing some uplifting songs from church. Or maybe just play a CD of praise and worship music. You may want to meditate on a short passage of Scripture. Or maybe you can dwell on one or two words that describe God, words like “merciful,” “compassionate,” “just,” or “gracious.”

As you do this, remember that it doesn’t all depend on your actions. Jesus, the king of the universe, wants to be with you. He loves you and is committed to filling you with his love.

Even if you fall asleep in the middle of your prayer, God will still bless you. St. Thérèse of Lisieux once said that she too would fall asleep while she was praying. But it didn’t bother her. She felt very safe because she knew she was resting in the arms of her heavenly Father.

So no matter what happens as you seek to develop this heavenly aspect of your life, relax. Try your best, and know that God is blessing you more deeply than you can recognize.