Patrick O’Sullivan SJ, I Call you Friends: Friendship with Jesus in Daily Life, David Lovell Publishing, ISBN 9781863551694
In an earlier generation most books on spirituality and prayer focused on theology and method. They introduced you to a systematic treatment of prayer and the spiritual life and also prescribed authoritative methods of praying. The authorities from which they quoted were eminent Christians, most of them dead and canonised many centuries ago.
Such books set standards. They were daunting because most readers knew that by those standards they had failed and were only at the foothills of the mountain of spiritual growth. All of which, of course, was good for humility.
Treatments of spirituality and prayer today, of which Fr Patrick O’Sullivan’s book is a splendid example, are very different. They provide telly snacks compared to formal black-tie meals. They suit their readers, who have not time to digest large, systematic views of the subject, but seek small and partial illuminations that will sustain them day by day.
Writers must draw on their own experience as an authority to commend their ideas. They touch lightly on many subjects, and the authorities they quote are many and various: Christian, Buddhist, atheist, sporting, political, literary, pop culture, educational, philosophical and so on. These help lead the reader to that deeper sense of what it means to be human, which for Christians opens out to God.
The subtitle of Fr O’Sullivan’s book — Friendship with Jesus in Daily Life — suggests that its readers live in a busy world in which they struggle daily to align its diversity with the Christian focus on Jesus Christ. The stories and quotations that he offers are like the fragments of coloured glass that form rich patterns in a kaleidoscope.
The unifying pattern is composed by the great themes of the Christian life: God’s love for us, our growth in faith as gift and not as reward for effort, hanging in with prayer, the unity of body and spirit, responding to suffering, the death and rising of Jesus, the life of God as Trinity, and above all our friendship and fascination with the risen Jesus.
Fr O’Sullivan addresses all these questions in simple and easy language, accompanied by the telling stories and first class jokes for which he is so well known. Throughout, his own devotion to Jesus shines out.
From this rich fare readers will find their own food to chew over. I was particularly taken by his throwaway line that said, ‘God comes to us disguised as ourselves.’ It hints at so much more that could be said about faith, communication and attentiveness.
It suggests that, if we are to recognise God’s presence, we need to see ourselves as clothed in God’s glory as well as naked in our weakness.
It also invites us to see God’s relationship to us as like a play in which God acts playfully and invites us to play our part in the same way. To acknowledge God we need to greet ourselves with a respect and warmth that we do not really think is deserved.
Once we have entered our role we shall find ourselves attentive to all the odd people and places we come across in case God might be greeting us from behind their disreputable, unchristian and unworthy appearance.
If this is snack food, it is a rich and nourishing. We shall find bite-size pieces that will attract us. And if we chew them they will nourish us and fit us for the journey.