One of the nice things about this time of year, especially for someone like me, living in a large Jesuit community in a city where a lot of Jesuits return to visit their families, is reconnecting with friends. That happened last night. I was about to enter my room for the night when I ran into a Jesuit friend of mine. I was his vocation director back in 1987 and he is currently in special studies in the Washington, D.C. area. He's back visiting his family over the Christmas holidays. He was in one room of our community library, next to my room, and he had a book in his hands. It's a classic of modern Catholic spirituality called "This Tremendous Lover" by the Cistercian monk Fr. M. Eugene Boylan. I told him it's a great book that I'd begun reading a couple years ago and, for some reason, had put down after 300 pages with only 70 pages to go. So this morning I pulled out my copy to look at my underlinings and highlightings in order to see what exactly I liked about that book. My eyes fell upon two pages in particular and what I read amazed me because this book, first published in 1947, sounded just like Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
First John Paul, who in his Apostolic Letter "Novo Millennio Ineunte," written right after the Jubilee Year 2000, wrote that Christians need to go deeper in their relationship with Jesus. Look at what he says in #29 of that document:
We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you! It is not therefore a matter of inventing a "new programme". The programme already exists: it is the plan found in the Gospel and in the living Tradition, it is the same as ever. Ultimately, it has its centre in Christ himself, who is to be known, loved and imitated, so that in him we may live the life of the Trinity, and with him transform history until its fulfilment in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Now, compare that to Fr. Boylan at the end of a chapter entitled "Conversation with Christ:"
...we are so anxious to put the beginner in touch with our Lord as soon as possible in prayer, and urge him to try to develop a sense of continual partnership and friendship with Jesus in all the works of the day. For Christianity is not a set of rules; it is a Person--the Person we call Christ.
Then Fr. Boylan goes on with words that describe the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer and the Daily Offering in which every work and activity of the day can be united to Christ's perfect offering:
And it is in Christ that all things are to be re-established and reuinited and reconciled to the Father (Colossians 1: 19-20; Ephesians 1: 9-10). And since Christ came on earth to do the will of the Father, He can always be found where that will is being done; and the ordinary round of the day's work is part of that will, so that this personal friendship and continual search for Christ is an excellent way to restore the unity of one's life and to supernaturalize all one's work.
And how does Fr. Boylan sound like Pope Benedict? In his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, "Sacramentum Caritatis," he writes:
Christianity's new worship includes and transfigures every aspect of life: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). Christians, in all their actions, are called to offer true worship to God. Here the intrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life begins to take shape. The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transfiguration of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God (Romans 8: 29f). There is nothing authentically human – our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds – that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full. Here we can see the full human import of the radical newness brought by Christ in the Eucharist: the worship of God in our lives cannot be relegated to something private and individual, but tends by its nature to permeate every aspect of our existence. Worship pleasing to God thus becomes a new way of living our whole life, each particular moment of which is lifted up, since it is lived as part of a relationship with Christ and as an offering to God (#71).
Significantly, the Synod Fathers stated that "the Christian faithful need a fuller understanding of the relationship between the Eucharist and their daily lives. Eucharistic spirituality is not just participation in Mass and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. It embraces the whole of life." This observation is particularly insightful, given our situation today. It must be acknowledged that one of the most serious effects of the secularization just mentioned is that it has relegated the Christian faith to the margins of life as if it were irrelevant to everyday affairs. The futility of this way of living – "as if God did not exist" – is now evident to everyone. Today there is a need to rediscover that Jesus Christ is not just a private conviction or an abstract idea, but a real person, whose becoming part of human history is capable of renewing the life of every man and woman. Hence the Eucharist, as the source and summit of the Church's life and mission, must be translated into spirituality, into a life lived "according to the Spirit" (Romans 8: 4f; Galatians 5: 16, 25) (#77).
Now, here is what Fr. Boylan, on a page just before the previously quoted passage, wrote:
What has written in the earlier part of this book makes it quite clear that religion applies to every moment of our life. Christ wants to share every single action which we perform and what He cannot share is well nigh worthless. ... And, we may add, the solution of this general problem of making Catholicity a vital force in the everyday life of the laity is one of the most urgent needs of the day. It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the fate of Christendom depends upon it.
Fr. Boylan wrote this more than 60 years ago, but it shouldn't be surprising that he and our recent popes are in such agreement, for what they propose is perennial. Our lives will have significance and meaning, and our world will find the just order that can lead to lasting peace, only when we live in union with Jesus Christ.