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Paul Baumann on George Weigel

Commonweal editor Paul Baumanns review of George Weigels Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st Century Church is now available at the website of The Nation. Excerpts follow:

When President Obama was invited to give the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame in 2009, more than eighty bishops condemned the university. That a duly elected president of the United States should be regarded as a moral monster unworthy of being given a hearingespecially at a school as steeped in American patriotism as Notre Dameis bizarre. The uproar and the bitter recrimination that followed Obamas speech revealed how deeply divided and directionless the once formidably cohesive American Catholic Church has become. And if George Weigels new book is any indication of where the churchs hierarchy is headed, the divisions promise to grow deeper. Indeed, a good deal of the blame for the bishops belligerent public posture can be laid directly on the desk of the author of Evangelical Catholicism. ...According to Weigel, the evangelical Catholicism of his books title represents a necessary departure from the Counter-reformation or so-called tribal Catholicism of recent centuries. In his view, a Catholicism held together by ethnic affinities possesses neither the fervor nor the missionary commitment needed to meet the challenges of postmodernity. In place of the bricklayer bishops who built a Catholic subculture of schools, hospitals and civic associations across America, whats needed today are bishops like the late John Paul II, men who speak of their faith in compelling, adamantine and fearless ways. These bishops will be disciplinarians, unabashed in demanding doctrinal obedience from priests, women in religious orders and those in the pews. Theologians and politicians who publicly dissent from church teaching must be told that they are no longer Catholic in any meaningful sense. Catholics who do not believe everything the church teaches should leave. (It will be interesting to see how this new breed of priests and bishops responds to the leadership of the recently elected Pope Francis, who seems to take a less confrontational approach to secular culture than Weigel does.) ...Why would Weigel assume that the deep reform of the Catholic Church is relevant to the political and cultural life of most Americans? Because he thinks that, as with Poland under communist domination, Americas fate is now intimately linked to that of Catholicism. The Catholic Church is now the worlds premier institutional proponent of human rights and democracy, he claimsby which he means that the churchs social doctrine offers a principled framework for the preservation of the Wests failing democracies. As far as Weigel is concerned, no other options are available.What to make of these grandiose claims? In one sense, Weigel is repeating what the Catholic Church has always taught. Conversion is what Christianity is about, and so Catholicism, often married to Aristotelian and Thomist notions of natural law and natural rights, remains a vital force in the American political tradition. But the resources of that tradition are broader than the abstract and self-evident truths, invoked by the Declaration of Independence, on which Weigel places such emphasis. The tradition has made use of a variety of philosophical resources, including Enlightenment rationalism, civic republicanism, secular liberal rights theory and pragmatism. It is unlikely we will succeed in forging a more perfect union if we do not make use of all the political resources at our disposal.

You can read the whole thing here. (Update: We earlier noted the inclusion of a link at the end of The Nation's online version of the review; that link has since been removed.)


Commenting Guidelines

Anne Chapman @ 9:34,I think that's a fine question. A personal relationship with Jesus can be understood in a variety of ways, of course, but I would point to three features which, pace Jim McK, have important connections to both emotions and intellect and are not simply a function of the will. 1. In a personal relationship, one's subjectivity is engaged. You have to be personally invested for it to be a personal relationship. The contours of one's life, thoughts, feelings, aspirations, and identity enter into the relationship. If I am conscious of a personal relationship, I am saying that my real self, not an idealized self or some abstract principle is what "matters" in relationship to God. 2. In a personal relationship, one takes the trouble to get to know the person of Jesus through accounts of his words and deeds in the scriptures (and other ways as well), and through active listening in prayer. A personal relationship presumes there is an "other" who wishes to communicate and share himself with you. This needn't devolve into a warm-fuzzy or "me and Jesus" feeling. It's not a thought projection. Yet, to have a personal relationship we have to want to know Jesus, not as a concept but as a real and living person, who discloses himself to us in a variety of ways. 3. A quality of the personal presence of the post-resurrection Jesus is that it is expressed in sometimes ambiguous ways. We see this repeatedly in the gospels. Although the disciples on the road to Emmaus walked and talked with him, they only recognized him "in the breaking of the bread." Mary mistakes him for the gardener, until he calls her name. It's only after pulling in the great catch of fish that they perceive who the stranger is. The resurrection appearances are full of the ambiguity of recognition. One's personal relationship with Jesus thus is not strictly analogous with other personal relationships, although it remains personal. The risen Christ can be encountered and recognized anywhere. Yet the person one encounters in all these ambiguous and non-verbal ways is continuous with the person of Jesus, who was crucified and raised up. So, actually, a personal relationship with Jesus is fostered through works of mercy ("when you did this for the least of these, you did it for me") and Eucharist ("this is my body") and in the church ("you are the body of Christ").

I would like very much to echo Ann Chapman's question: "Could someone please describe what this kind of 'personal' relationship actually is?" Benedict spoke not only of friendship with Christ but friendship with God. A "relationship" is one thing. A friendship is another. I waver often between believing what Catholics believe about Jesus andhow should I put this?believing what Jews believe. I waver often between believing what theists believe about God and being at least an agnostic, if not an atheist. I am at least willing to say it is distinctly in the realm of possibility that Jesus died quite definitively about 2000 years ago, and that it is also distinctly in the realm of possibility that God (at least the personal God of Christianity) doesn't exist. How am I to think, then, of people who claim to have a personal friendship with Christ or with God? I have to at least consider the possibility that they claim to experience friendship with nonexistent beings. At my moments of littlest faith, I would not deny that people who claim friendship with Jesus or God are not having some kind of meaningful experience (as opposed to merely fooling themselves), but I do have to wonder what it can possibly mean to claim friendship with persons who might not exist. People may believe that Jesus or God is communicating with them, but I think (or certainly hope) even the most devoutly religious person would acknowledge that no one can be certain he or she has received a communication from God or Jesus. Also, much of this talk makes me think of Mother Teresa, who went for decades with no experience of the presence of God. Could she have thought of that experience as friendship?

Thanks Frank Gibbons, but I wasn't talking about the Charismatic renewal, rather a broader trend in catechetics and worship, which is being pushed aside by concern for catechism answers and suppression of liturgical and musical creativity. Though maybe the Charismatics are considered evangelical by some, so your point is relevant in that sense.

David Nickol,your comments and Rita's passed in the cloud (or wherever these things go). I would add that "friendship" with Jesus entails both spending time with the other (hence prayer -- "where two or three are gathered ...") and putting oneself at the other's disposition ("if you love me, keep my commandments").I suggest that Mother Teresa's acute sense of the absence of Jesus was another moment in her relationship with him, and was characterized by her hope for the friend's return.

David N,That's the thing about Mother Teresa - she didn't have any *experience* of Jesus/God in those years she describes. I think that "dryness" is pretty antithetical to Ignatian spirituality.And about the possibility that people think they are having experience of God but are imagining it, Ignatius did have a system to help people "discern" if their experience was valid. Sure, it's all seems subjective, but I think this idea is a reflection of a desire to shape and control experience. The God of Ignatius can surprise people and many aren't comfortable with that.

Greg @ 5:45 on 5/17:You're misreading what I wrote. I'm describing Weigel's argument, which does in fact urge Catholics to put aside their traditional suspicions about the emphasis most evangelical Protestants place on developing an intimate personal relationship with Jesus. That's the point behind the novelty of marrying "evangelical" and "Catholicism" in the book's title. In the counter-reformation or tribal Catholicism of the last century, Weigel notes, the emphasis was more likely to be placed on being formally in communion with the church rather than on one's personal relationship with Jesus.Do I think this adoption by Catholics of an evangelical Protestant idiom is a good thing? We will know them by their fruits. (I'm not disputing that the idea of friendship with Jesus also has a Catholic pedigree.)What I do resist is Weigel's attempt to separate the sheep (those who profess to have a deep personal relationship with Jesus) from the goats (those he claims are merely in communion with the church in some legalistic sense). I'm sure Bob Imbelli would agree.I believe Bill Portier was one of the first to comment on the evangelical Catholic phenomenon. His review of Weigel's book for Commonweal is here: Bill thinks so-called liberal Catholicism (admittedly a slippery term) doesn't have the "juice" to reproduce itself. That is a concern we all share, but it is not clear to me that there is much juice at the other end of the ideological spectrum either. In any event, there is zeal and then there is zeal (see Bob Imbelli's reference to the Commonweal editorial), and I think I demonstrated in the review that Weigel's zeal is to be taken with a grain of salt.

I skimmed the first chapter. Judging by what Weigel says there, his program is a matter of allowing oneself a greater closeness with Jesus, a greater Biblical understanding, greater conformity to the magisterium, and separating the sheep from the goats. Except for the deeper friendship with Jesus and deeper understanding of the Bible, it sounds to me like the old tribalism writ large, The big questions are: does one become a better friend of Jesus by throwing out the goats and does the Bible really require greater conformity of theological thinking?

As to friendship and experience of one's friends, there are many different kinds of experience of friends. Ordinary friendship with other folks doesn't require any sort of mystical experience to be clear, sure, and precious, and neither (I would say) are all awarenesses of God's friendshp for us in any sense "mystical". Some say God sends them little signs and symbols, physical events that communicate meaning. I say, why not? And there are outside-the-ordinary, purely subjective religious experiences which come in many different kinds and levels. I'd say that a common kind is the experience of the presence of God's grace within us when we need the strength/grace to do what needs doing. There are also, it seems, a rather common sort of awareness of the presence of God within us. Then there are the extraordinary, mystical ones (in the usual sense of "mystical"). These are the awareness of the presence of God Himself within the mystic. There also seem to be experiences of the presence of God within the things of the world, especially particularly beautiful ones. What Crystal says about such experience bears repeating:"The problem that often arises is people worrying that they are making everything up, that these experiences are not real. But if you believe in God and believe in the resurrection, then youre already in supernatural territory believing that God loves you, wants to interact with you, and that the risen Jesus can and will do this, is not such a leap, after that."But for many contemporary people even the *possibility* of outside-the-natural experience is unthinkable to them. The words "soul" and "supernatural" have been banished by scientism as metaphysically impossible. This, I must repeat, is why Nagel's new book is historically so important -- it seems to be opening the door for many skeptics to the *possibility* that, yes, we might have souls where God just might talk with His creatures. I ask: why wouldn't He talk to His children?

A small note: there is a conversation--albeit not a very pervasive one--about the significance of a "personal relationship with Jesus" that is taking place in the Evangelical community. It centers, mainly, on the question of what that even means, with many people expressing relief that others are copping to what they had long felt: that it was just a big puzzle.

P.B.@3:53:"there is zeal and then there is zeal (see Bob Imbellis reference to the Commonweal editorial), and I think I demonstrated in the review that Weigels zeal is to be taken with a grain of salt."Kind of sounds like Weigel's doppelganger: there's their zeal and there's our zeal. Can we learn from one another's zeal?

Anne Chapman wrote that Weigels ideas seem mostly to reflect his desire for the church to reflect his own particular selections in the cafeteria." In other words, all Weigel, all the time. Along those same lines, Michael Sean Winters noted a recent column of Weigels which concluded,

"But, as I argue in [the book], thats precisely what orthodoxy is. . . . The 266th bishop of Rome would seem to agree." This brings to mind the comment of a monsignor who worked at the Vatican nunciature when I asked him what he thought of Weigel's biography of Pope John Paul II. "At the end of the book," my acquaintance observed, "one was left with the question: Who is that man in white standing next to George Weigel?"

Anne, "having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ" is fundie-gelical code for not having intermediaries like priests, saints, and the sacrament of private confession between the saved and the Savior. I.e., it means not being Catholic.Someone else above said that Weigel was more interested in bringing evangelicals into the Church rather than retaining "Commonweal Catholics." If so, Weigel really underestimates the extent to which most evangelicals utterly reject Catholic Holy Tradition as unBiblical, man-made rules. I enjoy one of my colleagues, a bright, hilarious, and articulate young woman, who is very gifted in evangelical apologetics. We've reached a very cordial detente about religion, and I frequently help her church group with some of its charitable activities. But I have no doubt whatever that she believes it's going to be nearly impossible for Catholics to get to heaven.

Some evangelicals can be convinced of the truths of the Catholic faith. Scott Hahn and Thomas Howard ("Evangelical is Not Enough") came over to the Catholic Church. Francis Beckwith, former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, reverted to the Catholic faith. Charles Colson, while remaining evangelical, had very warm relations with Catholics. He wrote the forward to Keith Fournier's 1990 book "Evangelical Catholics". Mike Bickle of International House of Prayer has even plugged Ralph Martin's book on Catholic mystics "The Fulfillment of All Desire". Martin has even delivered a speech on contemplative prayer to a gathering of Protestant charismatics.

"Ironically, what this call to evangelical (feeling oriented) approaches by Weigel reminded me of was CCD in the seventies- ha!"Exactly. What Weigel does not see is that he and the other neocons rejected Vatican II and now he is trying to restore Vatican II when the Evangelical Protestants show him what Vatican II wanted. It is the irony of Ironies. Ann Chapman. A relationship with Jesus is cultivated by praying/talking to him every day as often as one can. Search the NT again and pray over the words of Jesus. There is so much to invite us into a relationship. with him. David, because your faith is weak does not mean that you are right. Faith, hope and charity are leaps in which we bond with God through Jesus. Perhaps you are not seeking enough so you can find. Frank Gibbons. Your assertion that John Paul II and Benedict XVI enthusiastically supported the Charismatic movement is arrived at, I contend, on a superficial basis. What they did was take over that movement (and others) and deprived them of vitality so that they are shells of what they once were. It is similar to what the Vatican has consistently done with religious orders and congregations--Turn great movements into cheerleaders for Rome. Thus practically within many Founders lifetime, their creations were corrupted by the Empire builders. Unfortunately, the post Constantine era has produced few in Rome who preferred the Gospel over Empire. Despite flowery words.

Frank Gibbons --I have noticed other signs that some Protestants are becoming open to contemplative prayer and the possibility of mystical experience, and it's not just the ones who are starting to do Centering Prayer. Do you have any idea of why there has been such a shift in some Protestants thinking about this? I can't figure it out except as part of the current American openness to spiritual practices such as Buddhist ones, but why would those appeal to old-fashioned Protestants? Or maybe it's just the result of ecumenism?

Ann Olivier,When I was in the hospital five years ago, I was visited by a Protestant chaplain. He told me that he was reading "Revelations of Divine Love" by Julien of Norwich. We didn't talk long, and I have no idea if he was an Evangelical or not. So there is that interest in the Catholic mystical tradition among some Protestants. I eventually bought and read "Revelations of Divine Love" so I guess it was a fortuitous encounter. I forgot to mention the late John Wimber, the founder of Vineyard Movement, as someone who cooperated with Catholics in spreading the Gospel. Wimber fused elements of Pentecostalism with Evangelicalism. His goal was not to take Catholics out of the Church, but to help them put the Spirit in the Catholic Church. He even wrote a nice article on Mary in the now defunct New Covenant magazine. He was the contact between Mike Bickle and Ralph Martin. So there was some ecumenism in that situation where Bickle invited Martin to speak on contemplative prayer.Wimber and Bickle were controversial even in Pentecostal and Evangelical spheres and were accused of heresy, false prophecy, and cult-like activities. And the fact that they interacted with Catholics was further evidence for some that they were off the deep-end. There is some basis for these charges but I think they moved past their mistakes and tried to grow in their walk with Christ.

Protestants are certainly on board with mysticism - that's our shared Christian heritage and doesn't just belong to Catholics - you can find Ignatian spirituality, spiritual direction, and Ignatian retreats taught by Protestants.

TANGENT Here's a meeting of cultures that warms the heart. It's the Dalai Lama at the Super Dome getting an honorary degree from Tulane, along with jazz musicians Dr. John and Allan Toussaint, complete with second line. It was pandemonium as the Dalai Lama boogied with the students.

I haven't read Weigel's book, but I agree that the Catholic Church in the US needs to evangelize, which is another way of saying that it needs to proclaim the Good News to the culture. But the Catholic Church can only do it in ways that are Catholic. I don't think we would be very good at going door to door, ringing doorbells and inviting people to accept Jesus as their personal savior. For whatever reason, that's not really our style of spirituality.If we accept the notion that the church needs to evangelize, we face the question, 'What is to be the content of our evangelization?' Here is where we bark our shins on the difficult questions that divide Catholic from Catholic. As described here, Weigel's response seems to be, "Hey, you guys, shut up; I want MY content to be the content of our evangelization."Could the divisions within Catholicism agree on a common content of evangelization? One that doesn't become a least-common-denominator thin broth? Could someone like Weigel evangelize without making snide comments about his confreres on the left side of the room?

Jim P. =-Maybe there just can't be any successful evangelization until the divisions within the Church at least start to be healed. Rome assumes evangelization can be done, but that's because it thinks it has the right answers to the big questions. But what if the Church needs some changes in some of its teachings? Suppose the liberals are right -- that Vatican II really was only a beginning and that a number of important changes in doctrine are needed deseparately not only for those outside the Church but for those within it?Hmmm.

"Could someone like Weigel evangelize without making snide comments about his confreres on the left side of the room?"I'm so far left, I'm not even at the table anymore, but there are two things where Weigel and I might agree. One is on the saints. Why not blast this notion that the saints are intermediaries who carry our prayers because we aren't good enough. The saints are our friends in heaven who have left us a legacy of courage and example ... and are now our friends in heaven who add their prayers to ours. Two is the Catholic tradition that informs understanding of Scripture. If there are no new revelations, Catholics at least have the sense that our understanding of revelation is improving and growing. Catholics have been freed from the notion that Scripture is a science book even as many evangelicals and fundamentalists are still wasting time trying to reconcile or reject what has long been proved.This is no longer of much concern to me, but I think a third thing that most practicing Catholics would agree has to be part of any evangelization effort are the sacraments, but there are some challenges in this area. Explaining these mysteries is difficult. And so is the fact that many Protestants find them find them so exclusive as to be off-putting. Inviting non-Catholics to approach during communion for a blessing, in my view, would be a very good way to acknowledge that visitors are also children of God and that Catholics are happy to worship with them.

My guess is that progressive Catholics would prefer alliances with Obama endorsing evangelicals like Jim Wallis or Richard Cizek more than with former Anglicans in the new ordinariate. Their welcome for the latter is pretty tepid, if not hostile.

Or progressive Catholics might prefer alliances with Evangelicals like Steve Chalke and Rob Bell.

Jean Raber: Your comment about your Evangelical friend reminded me of this paragraph in an srticle on the Evangelical movement in England and of Robert Aitken in particular:

Thus it happened, in many instances, that a movement which seemed destined to give fresh life and vigour to the Established Church, and which has done much to infuse emotion and spirituality into the dry bones of High Church preaching, yet resulted, in the case of many of those who gave themselves up most unreservedly to the movement, in their coming into the Catholic Church; much to the grief of poor Mr. Aitken, whose lamentations and denunciations resembled the distress of a hen when she sees the ducklings, on whose hatching she had lavished a mothers care, taking naturally to the water. He had a great deal of the old anti-Catholic prejudice still strong in him, and he honestly believed that he was doing God service in striving to prevent people from submitting to the Catholic Church. Thus he concluded his farewell letter to Mrs. Leslie: You will be damned, I believe, eternally. I remain, yours affectionately, Robert Aitken.

From The Dublin Review (1899) 263.Gene Palumbo: Your quote from the nuntiature reminded me of the story told of a Cardinal who came to Dunwoodie to give a day of recollection. He recounted a dream in which Jesus appeared to him and began to speak to him with these words: "Your Eminence..."

"My guess is that progressive Catholics would prefer alliances with Obama endorsing evangelicals like Jim Wallis or Richard Cizek more than with former Anglicans in the new ordinariate. Their welcome for the latter is pretty tepid, if not hostile."Really? What are you seeing that makes you think that? As a former Anglican and "progressive" Catholic, I am happy about "closing the gap" between the Roman and Canterbury traditions that ought never to have occurred in the first place. Plus being able to keep the BCP = nothing but good. I feel very catholic when I use mine now.

Rita,The elements you discuss, "personally invested" and "taking time to", are choices. Certainly emotions and intellect shape those choices and are shaped by the choice, but tha language you use is the language of choice.And of course I unambiguously endorse your idea that God often communicates ambiguously. That is an important point, as the questions from David N show. Choice is only needed where there is ambiguity. I don't choose gravity when I walk, it is unambiguously there. I choose one path or another only because there are alternate paths. It is entirely possible for me to go down Center Street instead of Beech St. The certainty that comes from such choices is different from the certitude achieved by objectively considering both paths without choosing. If I take Center St I will be certain there is a supermarket nearby. If I take Beech I will know there are tree lined streets full of houses. Those certainties cannot be discovered by standing at a corner reading a map. Which is not to say I object to reading a map or otherwise trying to ascertain the objective truth of something. Sometimes a personal investment is needed.

"I have no doubt whatever that she believes its going to be nearly impossible for Catholics to get to heaven."Jean,This is probably a part of Evangelicalism that appeals to Weigel. I have no doubt whatever that he believes its going to be nearly impossible for some Catholics, whom he can point out, to get to heaven. That he and your colleague disagree on the specifics does not negate their agreement on the principles.

Assuming it is possible to have a personal relationship with Jesus or God, which I still find difficult to grasp, friendship is a very particular kind of relationship that seems an odd choice to describe that relationship. Were Jesus and the Apostles friends? It seems a stretch, even though I believe Jesus uses the word occasionally. There is perhaps something of friendship between Jesus and some of his women followers, but would we really describe Peter as a friend of Jesus, or Jesus as a friend of Peter? Do you call a friend Master, Rabbi, or Lord? Friendship seems to me reciprocal in a way that it makes the idea of friendship with a divine person problematic.

"You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you" (John 15:14&15)

You will be damned, I believe, eternally. I remain, yours affectionately, Robert Aitken.Poor Mr. Aitken. It sounds like something Trollope might have put in the mouth of Mrs. Proudie or one of the other awful evangelical types in the Barsetshire cycle.

David Nickol, I do see what you mean. I think of Jesus as the Eternal Scold: "Jean, the world is really messed up, and you are not doing enough to fix it." I've tried Ignation exercises, but every time I imagine Jesus sitting next to me, I imagine he's just pissed.The saints are my Eternal Encouragers: "OK, well, let's just see if we can get a little something done today. You could start by only complaining about half as much as you'd like to."

Jesus had close friends: Mary and Martha and Lazarus of Bethany. And in the many years he worked with his fathers and brothers in the building trades (probably at Sepphoris), he surely had friends. In the many years he attended the synagogue before beginning his public ministry, he surely had friends. Were the bride and groom at Cana his friends (or his siblings)? Etc. Was Peter his friend? He showed his sense of humor with his remark about Peter's name. When it was time to prepare for the Passover, he sent Peter and John (whom he loved) to take care of it.And when he washed the feet of his apostles as they lay at the triclinium, Peter was in the second place of honor.

Jim McK,I find your response (@ 11:19) to my comment patronizing, and I think you have missed the point. You do not need to argue the volitional aspect of entering or maintaining human relationships. These are obvious. The issue is "person" and how does one relate as "friend" to a person whom one cannot see, touch, hear, etc. Saying you have a personal friendship because you decide to is missing much of what's important here. It's not that will is unimportant. But you can "decide" in favor of a fantasy relationship, and that doesn't make it real.

"I have no doubt whatever that he believes its going to be nearly impossible for some Catholics, whom he can point out, to get to heaven. That he and your colleague disagree on the specifics does not negate their agreement on the principles."Sure, nothing bonds a certain brand of Christian, regardless of denomination, more than agreement over who's going to get theirs in hell.But will it make converts? I can't see it. Evangelicals are often much better able to articulate their theological views than Catholics. Moreover, evangelical/fundamentalist theology is, to a large extent, a response against Catholicism. Finally, evangelicals are just plain enthusiastic. I can't see Catholicism (and certainly not Catholics of the garden variety, who feel very ambivalent about some Church teachings) appealing to any enthusiastic evangelical.

"This is probably a part of Evangelicalism that appeals to Weigel. I have no doubt whatever that he believes its going to be nearly impossible for some Catholics, whom he can point out, to get to heaven."Jim McK --I fear you're right. Too bad he doesn't realize how off-putting he is at times. I read the first chapter of the book, and I was surprised -- it mostly wasn't bad. But knowing what he thinks of me, I'm not in the least bit inclined to read more. But I do think he's made some progress in his thinking. At least he admits that some things needed to change.

(John 15:14&15)Fr. Imbelli,Or Raymond E. Brown's rendering from The Gospel According to John XIII-XXI, p. 659):

And you are the ones I lovewhen you do what I command you.No longer do I call you servants,for a servant does not understand what his master is doing.Rather, I have called you my beloved,for I revealed to you everything I heard from the Father.

From the notes:

The noun that we have translated in 13-15 as "those he loves" is philos, "friend," a cognate of the frequent Johanine verb philein, "to love." The English word "friend" does not capture sufficiently the relationship of love (for we have lost the feeling that the word "friend is related to the Anglo-Saxon verb freon, "to love"). In Johannine thought Jesus is not addressing the disciples as casually as he addresses them in Luke xii:iv: "I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body"the only Synoptic use of philos for the disciples.

But I don't really think we need Raymond Brown to tell us that the use of friend in this context does not correspond to what we usually mean when we employ the word. After all, what kind of friendship is it in which one person says to another, "You are my friends if you do what I command you"? It is not the kind of thing one friend says to another. Friends don't issue commands to friends. So for me, the idea of friendship with Jesus (or God) still requires some fairly detailed explanation.

I would like to thank all of those who are commenting on this thread. I find much to think about. I also envy those of you who experience this "personal friendship" with Jesus. If it were simply a matter of choosing to be in such a relationship, I most certainly would do so! But I am very much where David Nickol finds himself. I do want to believe - for quite selfish reasons - it's very consoling to believe there is a God who loves us and is with us through hard times; but I'm afraid it's harder and harder to believe this all the time. I read and read (and even pray!) including boards like this, hoping for a spark, for some insight from somebody that would rekindle my former belief. I think many believe because they were taught belief from birth, and as they navigate through the challenges of life, believing is a great comfort. I long practiced centering prayer, at one time was a daily communicant as my schedule permitted (I really have never liked the Sunday liturgies anyway). I like simplicity and silence and maybe should try the Quakers!However, all this talk of a "personal relationship" with Jesus (who was a human being who died 2000 years ago) seems a bit like wishful thinking to me. As someone noted, there may be some kind of "relationship" between human beings and the divine, but describing it as a personal friendship seems like a redefinition of both words. Saying that Jesus "speaks" to us through certain scripture passages, through the gentle wind on our face or the might of a storm is lovely and poetic and I too have been overwhelmed at times by feelings of humility and of awe for the gifts of the divine through these kinds of experiences, even moved to tears at times. But I think that most of those who are spiritual "seekers" (including those who are not christians) experience these things - due to study and reflection and internalizing "wisdom" literature, which certainly includes the bible but also includes the work of countless others who are not Christian or Jewish, and who live their lives with awareness and mindfulness. If they believe in God or at least have some perception of a creator or the divine, they can easily "see" God (the divine presence) in the gentle breeze and the powerful storm. If they have read widely and deeply from wisdom teachers, and their minds quietly work on these ideas in the subconscious as well as the conscious mind, then they too may have "feelings" of the presence of the divine in their minds, in their consciousness, and of an internal voice providing "guidance" or reassurance or consolation. They also see the work of the divine creator in nature, in the universe, in love, in human relationships. All of these things may be experienced by those who are not christian and woud never couch these things in terms of a "personal friendship with Jesus." Although I believe in God, I don't know that there is a "personal" relationship between God and human beings, nor can I say that I feel "loved" by God in any personal way - perhaps in an abstract, intellectual definition of love, but not in terms of "personal friendship" or any other kind of personal, intimate love relationship as normally understood by human beings.Crystal, I would love to hear some concrete examples of how you have experienced Jesus's friendship through the practice of Ignatian Spirituality.

Like everything else that has to do with speaking of God, friendship also must be understood analogously, which means that there are elements of similarity and elements of dissimilarity; and one of the Lateran Councils even said that there is always more dissimilarity than similarity. I do not believe that apart from revelation one would dare to believe that friendship is possible between God and human beings, but there are in the words and deeds of Jesus and in the writings of the Apostles more than a few indications that we may, indeed, must dare to believe precisely that. On the basis of such faith it will be possible then to understand certain experiences as signs of such friendship, but it does not always nor necessarily follow that on the basis of such experiences it will be concluded that God and humans are or can be in a friendship.There is a long and rich spiritual and theological literature on charity as friendship with God. It is also clear that what is often meant by "friendship" today in our society differs from what it was taken to mean in the ancient and medieval world. See, for example, Daniel Schwartz, Aquinas on Friendship, available on-line at

OK -- so what does "friendship/friend" mean? I'd say that on the surface a friend is someone you feel comfortable with, but that doesn't tell us much. Jean gets deeper into te subject and says a friend is an "encourager". What else?How do you know a friend when you find one?

David N. -My friends and I tell each other what to do, and not do all the time. To me that is one of the great benefits of friendship -- a friend sees you as you are, loves you and doesn't hesitate to help you see the world aright and help see you yourself aright as well. One cherishes advice from friends, even when one doesn't like it :-)

Anne,I didn't grow up thinking God loved me - I wasn't brought up in any church. My grandmother was a non-church-going Christian, a Presbyterian, and the idea I got about God from her was that he was scary, distant, and mean, but I grew up to not believe in him at all, especially because all the suffering I saw around me.At one point in my life I was so lonely that I decided to join a church (Catholic) - I still didn't believe in God but I thought I could make friends, be part of a community. It didn't really work out and I eventually stopped going after a few years.A few years after that I was exposed to Ignatian spirituality and was intrigued enough to try a retreat. It was one you can take online at any time and it lasted about 30 weeks (it's here at Creighton University). A Jesuit spiritual director offered to help me with it via email. It was hard because I went into it not believing and every week all the bed feelings I had about God came up. Eventually I did start hoping and appreciating it, but still it seemed so subjective. At one point, though, I had an "experience". It was a very strong feeling - it was as if I could feel how God felt about me. No words or visuals, just feelings, and the love I felt from God for me was so strong it made me cry. It wasn't long after it happened that I started doubting it, worrying that I had made it up, but at the time when it was happening, there was no doubt at all, I just knew it because I could feel it.So now, I hang on to that - it hasn't happened again, but I practice Ignatian prayer and I do feel a sense of friendship from the Jesus I talk to and who seems to talk back to me. I don't know anything for sure but I love and I hope and maybe that is what people mean when they talk about faith?

My take on Weigel et al: hahahahahahahahah....................

My take on JPII's possible canonization: nononononononono.....................

Crystal ==Yes, knowing whether or not we have "made it up" is the big question. If we didn't have an unconscious mind that could be the source of these experiences, I wouldn't think this is a problem. On the other hand, the unconscious (at least according to Freud) is the origin of aggression and self-serving feelings, feelings which are at least sometimes the opposite of the religious ones, though religious feelings can also be self-serving ones, I guess.The metaphysical/ epistemological question is: how can we know that the Other is other than ourselves? Back to the problems of consciousness. Yes, complexity, complexity. Also sigh. And double sigh.

Ann,Yeah. I guess when people like Ignatius or Teresa of Avila or John of the Cross (or even Aquinas) had a religious experience, their worry wasn't if it was real or not but whether it had come from a good or bad place. We don't have that kind of certainty anymore, which I think is basically a good thing. Maybe then it comes down to a choice. I think Kant said we make choices about what we believe even when stuff like God's existence can't be proven - it's just too hard to live life without taking a stand, so we live as if we do believe or do not believe, even though we haven't been intellectually convinced.

Jim P said: I dont think we would be very good at going door to door, ringing doorbells and inviting people to accept Jesus as their personal savior. For whatever reason, thats not really our style of spirituality. Maybe that is one reason why LDS missionaries, who do almost exactly that, are so very successful with lukewarm to non-practicing Catholics.In the 1960s I lived in London and went almost every Sunday to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park. There were a variety of speakers on virtually on any topic, including religion. One of the most successful was the extremely erudite Methodist minister and member of the House of Lords, Donald Soper. The Catholic Truth Society, which was founded (I think) by Vincent McNabb, OP, also took on all comers and gave as good as they got. Todays US Catholic would shrink in horror from the rough and tumble of those talks.In the late 1940s and 1950s my little rural parish had an annual parish mission conducted by either Paulists or Passionists. They were highly successful (and very entertaining!) revival meetings without the tents. Granted, in those days, we Catholics werent so smugly satisfied that we knew all we needed to know about our religion .. Redemptorists sent Hecker to Europe for his formation; he then returned to America to preach missions. He also faced the personal task of integrating the Catholic culture into which he had been immersed in Europe with the Americanism in which he had been raised.22 Heckers mission band included four other American converts (Clarence Walworth, Nathaniel Hewit, Francis Baker, and George Deshon) and two European "cradle Catholics," Alexander Czvitkovicz and Bernard Hafkenscheid. Heckers enthusiasm for the work shows in letters to friends; following one of his first missions, in Loretto, Penn., he wrote to Brownson that after a slow start, the whole town eventually turned out, and many experienced dramatic conversions. "Some time[s] the scenes were such as to excite laughter," he said. The mission closed with the standard raising of the mission cross. They began inside the church at 3:30 p.m. with the rosary, then they assembled outside for the grand procession. First came the processional cross with the boys; then the men carrying a large cross 41 feet long entwined with garlands of flowers born by 60 of them; on each side of the cross was a file of soldiers with a band of music; then came 20 or 30 Franciscan brothers of the 3rd order with their cowls; then the clergy; after them the missioners in their habit, followed by the Sisters of Mercy, & then by the girls & women. The number of the procession was about 4000. We marched through the village to the site of the cross with music, and there we blessed & erected the cross in a most conspicuous place. The farewell sermon was preached at the foot of the Cross & the Papal Benediction given. The soldiers fired a salute as the finale. It was a novel scene for america [sic] . . . which never will be forgotten by those who witnessed it. The band was successful. From 1851-1858 they preached 85 missions throughout the eastern United States, from New York to Georgia, and as far west as Michigan. In town after town, thousands attended, and were revived, and received the sacraments.I doubt that what appears to be an insipid New Evangelization attempt by Catholicism will be as remotely successful and these efforts of past years.

My friends and I tell each other what to do, and not do all the time.Ann,As I said, I think of friendship as being reciprocal. You and your friends tell each other what to do. But if Jesus is your friend, surely you don't tell him what to do! And would you really say to a friend, "You are my friend if you do what I command you"? Fr. Komonchak, as usual, is helpful. Might we think of friendship with Jesus in much the same way we think of nuns being betrothed to Jesus? They are not really betrothed to Jesus. I can see these kinds of things as metaphors, or maybe even something more than metaphors, but not really literal truths. The problem is, many people speak as if they do have a personal relationship with Jesusas if he answers their questions and tells them what to do andin the case of people like Pat Robertsontells them how to run other people's lives.

Jim P - it seems some Catholics are going to go the door-to-door route.

Men and women who have advanced farther in these fields than I ever have tell us, I think, that in times of dryness, amid feelings of separation and doubt, to go back to basics. Reread the words and actions of Christ in the Gospels, and then, as he told the lawyer in Luke, go and do likewise.We know nothing about the Good Samaritan's inward spiritual condition, whether he had a close personal relationship with God or no faith at all. All it says is that he took pity on the fallen man, and that he acted. He was at that moment, without any necessary reference to the supernatural, the best natural human being he could be. When every other motive fails, that remains. And it is hard enough, too hard for the experts sometimes.In another place, Christ says that the Heavenly Father knows, better than human fathers, how to give good things to his children. Even earthly fathers, if they are wise, go easy on the sweets.