This week, I had two visitors, two young Jesuit novices. When you enter the Jesuits, after a few months, they send you off with a bus ticket to some far off place, and give you only a bus ticket back and a bible, and that’s it, no money, nothing, and you are supposed to beg and pray and be with God for a month.
So these Jesuit novices were on their holy pilgrimage, one came from Toronto and the other from St. Paul, all the way here to New Mexico. They came separately, by themselves, a few days apart. I asked how they were doing, and they said they were great, hitchhiking, begging for food, sleeping outdoors, that they had gone to the monastery of “Christ in the Desert” near Abiquiu, and they each told me they were trying to be completely with God, to pray non-stop, to walk with Jesus, to be one hundred percent focused on Jesus.
They were trying to do what Jesus asks of us in the Gospel. This week and next week, we hear the last supper speech of Jesus from John’s Gospel, where Jesus says, “Remain in me,” and I thought I could talk this week about prayer and next week, about love.
“I am the true vine, God is the vine grower, you are the branches, God takes away ever branch that does not bear fruit, God is pruning you, God wants you to bear fruit, and so, remain in me as I remain in you,” Jesus says. “Those who remain in me and let my words remain in you, can ask whatever you want and it will be done for you and you will bear much fruit and become my disciples.” His whole message, his last words on the night before he is killed comes down to: “Remain in me.”
There are many things we “remain in.” We prefer to remain good citizens of America, to remain in patriotism, militarism, racism, sexism, selfishness, greed, violence, despair and sin. But Jesus wants us to put all that aside and first and foremost “remain in him.” So the question is: How do we “remain in Jesus”? I have three little suggestions.
First, we have to take time to be with Jesus every day, somehow, to go and sit with Jesus, to take quiet time with Jesus, to talk to Jesus, to give Jesus our problems, our burdens, our pains, our concerns, our worries, our fears, our health, our family, our heart and soul, and listen to Jesus, and let Jesus talk to us and hold us and guide us. This is how we remain in him, by being with him, every day and throughout our days, to put ourselves in his presence first and foremost.
So you’re saying, “Well, that sounds fine, but how do we do that?” There are all kinds of ways of praying, from the rosary and to being at Mass to going on a pilgrimage to fasting. But I encourage you to try to take 15 or 20 minutes every morning or evening, where you sit in silence and imagine being with Jesus. Imagine him sitting right there before you. What does he look like? How do you feel in his presence? If Jesus is sitting right there next to you, what would you want to say to him? What would he say to you?
Try to hear him say, “I love you, I am with you, I want you to stay with me, I want you to follow me.” I promise you if you do this, and keep doing it, if you take time with Jesus and be in his presence and talk to him and listen to him, you will not only be blessed, you will remain in Christ.
The next thing to do is to read some of the Gospel every day. Don’t read the Hebrew Bible and maybe even don’t read St. Paul. Concentrate on reading a little of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John every day, and don’t worry about not being an expert. Just take up one of the Gospels, and slowly read a few verses or a chapter a day, maybe in the morning or in the evening, and talk about what you read with your families, and see what you like, what you don’t like, what challenges you, what moves you and what inspires you. If we want to remain in Jesus, we have to know his story by heart. We have to be familiar with the Gospels.
Lastly, I hope we can remain in Jesus more and more by becoming more and more a community that remains in Jesus, a community that helps one another return to Jesus, a community that is centered and rooted in Jesus, a community of prayer, a community that lives and breathes the story of Jesus, a place where Jesus would feel at home. We have to help each other follow Jesus and be with Jesus.
If you don’t like these three options, you could also try a holy pilgrimage and go off somewhere for a month without any money and beg and pray and walk with Jesus, like the Jesuit novices!
The more we can be people of prayer, Gospel study, and community, the more we can remain in Jesus, then the more we will be able to be good productive green branches on the vine of Christ, bearing good fruit for God and really becoming disciples as Jesus desires.