At the beginning of Lent, I suggested you think about the Jesus of Accompaniment and try to emulate his example to deepen your relationship with our loving Creator. The Jesus of Accompaniment is the Jesus who is with people in suffering and in joy. That is why we pray and celebrate that Jesus during those moments of pain or happiness. We acknowledge his presence and comfort; we hope the grace of those moments will sustain us in the challenges ahead. I am deeply aware of this as my siblings and I stand at the bedside of our dying sister these days. The Jesus of Accompaniment is there!
Two other considerations of Jesus as the Person of God’s Son might be of help for you to consider as well. In her book, Rediscovering Jesus, Elizabeth Johnson wrote movingly of The Jesus Above and The Jesus Below. This is not a duality of thinking (which Johnson would oppose), nor a bifurcation of Jesus into two persons. Johnson seems to have come to this explanation through the study of theologian Karl Rahner, SJ.
Essentially, The Jesus Above is the Jesus of doctrine. He is found in the teachings of the Church and the writings of theologians and saints. This Jesus is nuanced in the dense and tendentious teaching on the Eucharist, miracles, sacraments, and scripture. He is teased out of translations of Aramaic, Greek, Latin. He is formalized in prayers like the Creed, and the liturgy, and the formats accompanying the sacraments. This Jesus is part of our Magisterium, the teaching part of the Church. Obviously, this Jesus must be given the approval of the Church for he is structured in firm teaching so no one can be misled by heresy or false teaching. Rahner may have called this Jesus The Jesus Above because he is, indeed, ‘heady stuff’.
On the other hand, The Jesus Below is the human, personal Jesus. He got the dirt of his travels between his toes as he walked our Earth, ate our food, befriended our neighbors. This Jesus loved every part of creation and laced his teaching with sparrows, sheep, oxen, seeds, trees, fish, stars, and so on. He had dinner with sinners and invited tax collectors for discussions. He had a special interest in the poor and the sick and the seekers and the confused around him. He welcomed those who were lost under the rules of self-righteousness and had just plain given up on God.
The Jesus Above is found on paper, between the covers of books, in documents of the Church. He is debated by scholars and rightfully so. The Jesus Below is found in the rugged rawness of daily life, in human beings. This Jesus takes a personal interest in each one of us, our aspirations, our fears, our dreams. He is invoked during our illnesses and he is welcomed to our celebrations just as he was in Galilee thousands of years ago.
While The Jesus Above is found in scholarship, The Jesus Below is found in corporal works of mercy, in saints like Vincent de Paul, Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa, the organizer of the local food pantry, the home health care nurse making her rounds, the parish Eucharistic minister to the sick. The reality is that we need both The Jesus Above and The Jesus Below.
Yes, we need to reflect on Jesus in the scriptures and look for ways to live his ministry now in our own lives. We should read reputable scholars and writers who explain the theology of Christ in ways we can understand. Most important, we need to practice the Jesus we meet in scriptures and prayer. We cannot stay focused on The Jesus Above or The Jesus Below exclusively. We need both to live the Christian witness he has called us to live. For this reason, I suggest:
- Search out a mentor or spiritual director to help guide you in the quest for Jesus in your life.
- Read commendable books and authors (I’m giving only a few here) and make an effort to discuss them with someone who is also interested in your quest.
- Take some time everyday to read the Gospel of Luke and pray over what you have read. Ask the spirit for guidance.
- Write in your journal the efforts you have made and what you have learned and applied.
You will have a fruitful Lent if you do some of these suggestions. The basic question to ask is: Am I experiencing both The Jesus Above and The Jesus Below as I determine who Jesus is for me?
Discovering Jesus by Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ
Jesus by James Martin, SJ
The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis
Catching up With Jesus by Diarmuid O’Murchu, MSC
A spiritual director might have other reading material to recommend, but remember, you want to become more deeply acquainted with Jesus, the Jesus of Accompaniment.
To all my readers and Anonymous Angels, I pray with you for a meaningful Lent leading to a magnificent sunrise in your faith.