PALM BEACH GARDENS | Jesus said, “I have called you friends” (John 15:15). But what does that relationship look like in a practical sense? Father Albert Dello Russo, chancellor of the Diocese of Palm Beach, explored that question during a talk Oct. 2 in the Family Life Center of the Cathedral of St. Ignatius Loyola.
Invited to speak on “The Other Real Presence of Jesus” by the cathedral parish’s Women’s Guild, Father Dello Russo began by pointing out that he wasn’t referring to or minimizing the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, where the Lord resides in body, blood, soul and divinity. “I’m going to refer to that as the place where we’re extended an invitation to enter into a relationship with him that does not end when you go back to the pew, let alone walk out of the church,” he said. “I think this can be very, very powerful in terms of the way you pray and the way you speak to God, when you can have an intimate relationship with him.”
There are many ways that people relate to God: as a Father, Lord, Savior, Spirit, etc. Perhaps some relate to God as a friend because it’s easier to have a conversation with a friend, he said. For the purposes of his talk, Father Dello Russo spoke specifically about relating to the Son, Jesus, as a friend.
“He tells us to call him friend. He tells us to relate to him as friends. So, this is not something that I’m making up or just seems like a good idea. But again, a lot of people are not comfortable with it because it might even seem disrespectful,” he said.
A relationship with Jesus is one of intimacy and security, of being totally known and accepted, Father Dello Russo said. But one thing it is not is a relationship of equals. Jesus is still Lord and Savior, fully God and fully human.
“But unlike an unmerciful dictator, he uses his authority to usher his followers into greater freedom,” he said. “Contrary to most concepts of power, Jesus wielded his power through complete humility, thus inviting us into intimate fellowship with him. He humbles himself now to invite us, who are not worthy to be in a relationship with him. It’s a relationship where we can be loved completely, challenged to grow in our faith, and transformed into the exact person that he created us to be.”
Having a personal relationship with Jesus may seem strange to some people, Father Dello Russo said. After all, you can’t text Jesus or friend him on Facebook. Even though his life, death and resurrection may seem like ancient history, that’s precisely why we are able to know Jesus personally and intimately, he said. Developing a relationship with Jesus, where you are conscious of his presence all the time, “it will make you a better person, it will make you a more faith-filled Catholic, it will make you a better Christian and will help you live a better life.”
There is no better way to build a friendship with Jesus than frequently attended Mass, where the priest talks and acts “in persona Christi,” in the person of Christ, Father Dello Russo said. At key points during the liturgy, the priest is making the motions and speaking, but it is Jesus who is standing there. In Communion, we accept Jesus into our bodies in a physical and spiritual reality, he said.
Father Dello Russo recalled a former pastor who, when he walked in front of the crucifix in church, would wave to it. He was just saying hello, acknowledging Christ on the cross. Now, before Father Dello Russo goes to bed or when getting up in the morning, he says a short prayer asking Jesus to walk with him that day.
“It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out thing,” he said. “As Jesus would say, ‘Don’t babble like the pagans.’ He knows what’s in your heart. He knows what’s on your mind, but that acknowledgement, I think, goes a very long way.”
Another simple thing to do to get closer to God, and especially Jesus, is to read the Bible because, for many people, their only interaction with Scripture is hearing it read on Sundays. Read the whole Bible, then read it again, Father Dello Russo said.
“The Bible gives us everything we need, from comfort during times of hardship, to instructions on how to live our lives,” he said. “We should consider building a habit of reading a little bit of the Bible every day, even if it’s only a few minutes at lunch, a break at work, a couple of verses while you’re waiting in line to pick up the kids from school. Over time, small habits can produce big results.”
Prayer, like reading the Bible, is one of those things that commonly takes a backseat when life gets hectic, Father Dello Russo said. “Part of the reason for this is that many people are perfectionists when it comes to prayer. They want to do it at the right time in the right place when they’re feeling calm. In truth, none of those things is necessary for communicating with Jesus, and half the time they don’t even happen,” he said.
“Jesus is always happy to hear from us, whether that’s an extended solitary prayer, in adoration or in a brief expression of gratitude between errands or tasks. ‘Thank you, Lord, for letting me get to the store before it closed.’ Whatever it happens to be,” he added.
When you show love to others, by serving them as a community volunteer, going out of your way to help someone or through a small act of kindness, you connect with Jesus in a tangible way, Father Dello Russo said. “Jesus preached and lived a Gospel of service. And caring for others is arguably the single best way to embody a Christ-like spirit,” he said.
Sometimes you have to look for people to help, but there is always someone in need around you, whether a stranger, friend or family member, Father Dello Russo said. One of his favorite Bible verses is ‘Whatever you do for the least of mine, you do for me,’ from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25. When doing your act of service, remember that you’re also doing it for Jesus.
“It’s because of him, having engraved that emotion on your heart, that you’re motivated to do it in the first place,” he said. “It all begins and ends with him. Stay conscious of him, speak to him, and never be afraid to turn to him when you’re frightened or in need. Include him in your daily thoughts and plans, but especially thank him when you have a good experience or even a joyful moment of any kind.”
Friendships thrive through communication, Father Dello Russo said. By prayer and reading the Bible, we speak to God and he speaks to us, and the Eucharist moves that level of intimacy to a whole new level. What a privilege it is to know him and be known by him.
“Jesus wants us to think of ourselves as his friends, not just as servants,” he said. “We don’t have to go through any moment of this life fundamentally alone, unknown or misunderstood, because we always have our best friend with us.” n
For information on the cathedral’s Women’s Guild, a social group that serves the parish, contact President Kathy Baratela at 561-626-0891, the parish office at 561-622-2565 or email email@example.com. Visit the cathedral website at www.cathedralpb.com or connect on Facebook and Instagram.