I Call You Friends: Friendship with Jesus in Daily Life by Fr Patrick O’Sullivan SJ was launched by Fr Michael Head SJ at Campion House in Kew, Vic. on Friday 13 April 2018. This is the text from Fr Head’s address.
I Call You Friends is a wonderful title. We have two meanings of the word call. One is the name of someone who could be called Gabriel or Kerry, and the second is to pick up the iPhone and communicate with someone: we call them.
In this volume, both meanings are used. I call you by the name of ‘friends’, and then that friendship leads to us communicating with Jesus.
People read books for a number of reasons, and apparently the sales of printed books have increased over the last few years. People read some books to be entertained, like a good murder mystery or humorous novel.
Others read books because they contain a lot of information, like a standard textbook or history book. Others read a book because they are seeking an education, so the volume is a way of leading people into a particular subject.
Pat’s new book is all three. It is full of humorous stories, it is full of spiritual information and it is full of guidance about how to improve our relationships with God. All this is what we need. As Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ says in his introduction, ‘When it comes to prayer, most of us need reassurance.’
At the same time, Pat trawls the world to find all sorts of things other people have said about prayer and he is fully prepared to quote from them to help us in our friendship. For example, Ruth Burrows wrote, ‘The deepest reason why so few of us are saints is because we will not let God love us.’
Let us look at some of the things Pat has to say about this. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus tells us that we must love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: we should love our neighbour as our self.
Pat points out that Jesus is not talking about two loves, but three: love of God, love of our neighbor, and love of oneself. It’s the last one that frequently gets left out. As Pat says, the three loves are only effective when they are inseparable. If one is lacking, the other two fumble around.
How do we love ourselves? One way is to be grateful, that is to be thankful for our life, for our gifts, for our blessings in our life. We want to be able to say that ‘My life is good news.’
Pat then tells about a Josephite sister who told him that as a child, when preparing for confirmation, she became very distressed that everyone was expected to take the pledge not to drink alcohol before the age of 21. Coming from an Italian family at the time, that was horrible; to live without wine.
She went to her grandmother for advice. The grandmother listened to her problem and said, ‘Darling, this is what you do. You stand with the other children, you say the words, and then you wink at God!’ What a wonderful image of God to live out of.
Pat in this book goes through about 36 chapters, each quite brief, but full of very helpful directions. One section is called ‘Forgiveness and Love’. Jesus says on the cross, ‘Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.’
Archbishop Tutu was physically abused as a child and so was his mother. He said he could never find peace until he gave forgiveness to the offender. Pat quotes a prayer found in the body of a child at Ravensbruck concentration camp. It begins: ‘O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will.’
The prayer concludes with the line, ‘And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness.’
There is so much suffering in the world at the moment, and Pat says, ‘Justice without love is legalism — the letter of the law rather than the spirit.’
Pat tells a story of a boy sent to a priest in a Jesuit school to be disciplined. The priest did not quite agree with the attitude of the teacher who had sent the boy. So he went to his desk, took out the cane, and said to the boy, ‘Put out your hand.’
The boy did and the priest placed the cane on the boy’s hand. The priest then said, ‘Give me back the cane and if anybody asks you what happened, you can tell them I gave you the cane.’
Faith without love is ideology. Hope without love is fanaticism. Forgiveness without love is manipulation. Courage without love is recklessness. Generosity without love is self-indulgent extravagance.
This chapter is the longest one in the book, as love and forgiveness are so important for living with Jesus.
With love comes the need to find a way of praying. We have to ask ourselves when we pray why are we so easily distracted. In some ways it is due to the fact that imagination flows so freely that it is very hard to rein in even when we are at prayer. Pat deals with this issue so well.
He says; ‘To quote a former colleague of mine, Frank Wallace SJ, prayer is an encounter, not a performance. It is all about God, not us. In fact, when we pray it could be appropriate to put a notice on our door: “Quiet, God at work.”’ I am sure [the book’s publisher] David Lovell could give a supply of such signs.
I really appreciated that section on focusing on prayer as, when it comes to distractions in prayer, I am an expert.
Pat also brings into his prayer program a number of other people, one being Our Lady, Mary the mother of our faith, because she is the outstanding sign of what faith in Jesus’ Resurrection could mean to us.
She is so remarkable: from Luke’s account of the nativity, to the marriage feast of Cana, to the loss of the crucifixion, to the resurrection where she so wanted him restored, and they became so close.
In prayer we are to walk with Jesus, but having Mary as company is something to be completely desired.
Pat retells a famous story of a train in France 130 years ago. An older man is saying his rosary, and a younger science student comes into the compartment and tells him to stop wasting his time. ‘Science can explain everything and you can throw the rosary out the window.’
The older man asks, ‘Maybe you can explain it to me?’ As the conversation continued, the younger student said, give me your address and I will send you the scientific information.
He then looked at the business card the man had given him: Louis Pasteur, Director, Scientific Research Institute Paris.
Pat talks a lot about people coming into our lives and people whose lives we too might accompany. He does a wonderful reflection on Mary and Joseph, but I will leave you to follow up that one.
He then gives a good meditational reflection on Ignatius, who was quite different from the usual run of saints. Ignatius is quite complex, could be both strict and flexible, which led others to have a particular type of grace.
So many contemporaries wrote about him as one who wanted to be free and at ease with himself and with others. In short, devotion to Ignatius is an acquired taste, but certainly one worth cultivating.
Pat tells the story of a seminarian who made up an Aussie Rules football team consisting of his favourite saints. Some of those included were Archangel Michael as a fierce centre half-back; John Paul II on the flank, strong in defence; Dominic as an elusive half-forward flanker; and John Vianney in the back pocket.
At the end Pat asked the seminarian why Ignatius did not get a guernsey. The seminarian gave a big smile and said, ‘Didn’t I tell you — he’s the coach.’
The book goes on to deal with a range of topics, all based in prayer — things like the early history of the church, the Mass and the paschal mystery; then working with Jesus as the light of the world, the good shepherd, and the suffering of the cross.
Some Ignatian principles, such as discernment, reflection and the role of the examen, are all there.
Patrick O’Sullivan was born in Queensland and joined the Jesuits in 1951. He taught at Riverview, and worked at university colleges, Newman in Melbourne, Thomas More in WA, and St Leo’s in Queensland.
He became rector of the scholastic community here at Campion where he had to put up with me. Later he was provincial of the Australian Province of the Jesuits and then went to Rome to be secretary of the CLC organisation.
Later, he spent some time in East Africa as pastoral assistant to JRS, and then returned to Australia, where he was for a while editor of Madonna magazine. Since then he has continued to be a director of retreats and spiritual lives and was for quite a while spiritual director of the Corpus Christi Seminary in Melbourne.
It has been said that Pat is one of the finest spiritual directors we have ever had in the province. The chapters in this book are short, straight to the point, and exceedingly helpful to those seeking aid with their prayer life.
I have been highly moved by this piece of work and now strongly recommend it to you as one of the finest spiritual guidance texts you are ever likely to have experienced.
Now I thank David Lovell for publishing, and officially launch this book on friendship with Jesus in daily life. I recommend to everyone that it become part of your daily lives too.