“Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ” (Jn 17:3).
This is our goal, to know God. Eternal life or heaven is not only experienced when we die but through experiencing the life of Jesus we can have a foretaste of heaven now. We can experience this as the joy that rises up from within, that is not merely pleasure, which is a response from the stimulation of our senses and which dissipates once the experience ends. Nor is joy even happiness which comes from the lasting memories of these pleasurable experiences. The experience of joy is not based on external situations and stimulations, joy comes from an encounter with the living God who is present to us, closer to us than we are to ourselves.
We often first experience this joy, this closeness to God when we experience love exchanged between ourselves and another. Even a love that begins in infatuation is a drawing out of ourselves toward another. The hope is that this love matures and develops into a friendship.
This maturation happens when we spend time getting to know each other’s interests, goals, and dreams. We experience another as a person, and with time and continued trust, we begin to risk and allow our masks to be taken off. Inevitably, if relationships begin to mature, they will go through times of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and conflict. The relationship will come to a crossroads, but this does not mean that the relationship will come to an end. If the relationship devolves into abuse, dehumanization, and self-gratification alone, the relationship will need to end. But if there is a willingness to forgive, to work together, to meet each other with humility and seek mutual understanding, relationships will grow stronger and deeper.
Our first experience of developing relationships is in our families. None of us are perfect, so none of us have had perfect experiences of family life. Familial relationships develop in a similar fashion as listed above. We all go through ups and downs. The more that we can be present to one another, support one another, communicate and love one another, the more likely our familial relationships and friendships will grow.
The level most of us hope to attain is to come to a place within ourselves where we can accept and love ourselves and develop mature relationships with a core group of family and friends. Most of us could be quite happy with that. Yet, as Jesus invites and guides us to reach this point of development, he also continues to help us to strive to love beyond family, friends, and tribe. All of us are ultimately called to a universal, unconditional love that sees a sister and brotherhood in all of humanity and all of creation. This is not some utopian philosophy, but who we all are created for and desire to be from the very depths of our being.
We will not get to this place alone, or through our own will power or discipline. Apart from God, there is no way. We have seen the atrocities committed time and again in the name of God across all faith traditions. When we place self over God and others, we isolate and disconnect ourselves from the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. God is not some transcendent, impersonal force, nor is God an omnipotent, tyrannical overlord. The God of Jesus Christ is a God of love, who invites us into a relationship, and when we say yes to this invitation we experience a foretaste of heaven on earth.
Jesus, help us in our encounters today, to experience the love of God through coming to know you as we come to know each other. May we see each other as God sees us, as a unique gift that has never been nor ever will be again. Help us resist reacting to the rough edges and exterior projections of those wounded from living in a fallen world, to instead be compassionate and understanding, and to see the truth and fullness of the potential of each person as God sees in us. Jesus please help us to see each other as God sees us, to allow God to love us and others through us today, one person at a time and one encounter at a time.
Photo: Happiness for the ending of the school year or for the joy of the Holy Spirit?