Fast and Steady Spiritual Progress: Seeing Jesus in Others

Francis and Jane

To see Jesus in, behind, through, beside, and with all people. That is contemplation, but it is contemplation of a particular kind. It’s a defining characteristic of contemplation on the muddy roads of the world, because it’s definitely a contemplative thing – for it involves especially contemplative Gifts of the Holy Spirit such as Knowledge – but it is also more a “worldly” thing than a “cloistered” thing.

Francis de Sales expressed a wish that someone – or many someones – come along and develop writings on this aspect of the faith. There have been many: Charles de Foucauld, René Voillaume, Jacques Maritain, Marcel Văn. One whom, until recently, I didn’t know had worked at this was Francis’ own close friend, Saint Jane Frances de Chantal. A few short years after her friend and co-founder’s death, she was writing to her Visitation sisters about this same topic. The Visitation sisters were to be a contemplative order whose cloister walls were the limits of love itself. As a result, of course there had to be an amount of contemplation on the roads and an amount of seeing Jesus in all people and events of providence.

Saint Jane is talking about finding postulants and novices:

May these souls have such a pure, upright intention that they do not waste time worrying about created things – their friends, their appearances  their speech. Without stopping at such considerations or at any other obstacle they may meet along the way, may they go forward… seeing in all things only the sacred face of God, that is, His good pleasure.

In a kind of practical detachment lived on the roads, we “don’t stop” at the consideration of created things but “see in all things only God’s sacred face”; the meaning, I think, is clear. We know in a first step that these things have created value in themselves; but that doesn’t delay our consideration of the deeper value, what we “only” see. The infinite distance between stopping at the creature and continuing on to God’s sacred face (Live Jesus!) is emphasized. Jane also emphasizes that this is a very fast way to holiness:

This way is very narrow… but it is solid, short, simple, and sure, and soon leads the soul to its goal: total union with God. Let us follow this way faithfully. It certainly precludes multiplicity and leads us to that unity which alone is necessary.

No doubt she is emphasizing that this way of seeing Jesus in all people and things is a fast way of progress in the spiritual life. But what is the reason for such progress? She does give one, and, in my opinion, it’s very deep and explains the matter very well.

Seeing Jesus in all things “precludes multiplicity,” says Saint Jane, “and leads us to that unity which alone is necessary.” When she says “that unity which alone is necessary”, Jane is obviously referencing the Gospel “one thing necessary” (Lk 10:42). And it’s unity of life. Indeed it is. It’s unity of action and contemplation, action progressively taken up into contemplation, for God is in all things and especially in all people (Mt 25:40). To see this is to act differently – at least in intention and progressively more and more united to God, more and more transformed in him, and tending more and more towards the goal.

Seeing Jesus in others and in events is contemplation for those whose cloister walls are the limits of love itself; it leads to virtue (for she who sees Jesus more and more in people must act virtuously more and more); it leads to unity of prayer and action; it leads to simplicity of life, without duplicity and without rash stupidity either; it is a narrow way, but it is “solid, short, simple, and sure,” taking the soul rather quickly to God, for the soul wants to spend every moment with him.

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5 thoughts on “Fast and Steady Spiritual Progress: Seeing Jesus in Others

  1. A reader has contacted me to question language about ‘seeing Jesus in others’. She expressed concern that, in other contexts, such language can and has been used as a manner to get people to help (or volunteer for) the poor and the weak — almost as if it is not enough that the people suffering are human and are children of God; we need more motivation than their being human persons, some imply. Nature wouldn’t cut it, it is implied; we need grace.

    I certainly agree that if people are being taught to bypass the value in the humanity of their neighbours, that is horrifying. It is an abuse of human nature and (worse) it treats people as mere means to an end. It’s rightly horrifying. I don’t support or endorse that at all. It tears human nature away from grace. For that, there is no justification.

    The ideal is integration and unity: value the natural, the human, the personal, and also the (at least potential) presence of Christ in others. All, everything, nothing missing. The words for this in the above post are: “We know in a first step that these things have created value in themselves; but that doesn’t delay our consideration of the deeper value, what we ‘only’ see… Seeing Jesus in others and in events is contemplation for those whose cloister walls are the limits of love itself; it leads to… unity of prayer and action…”

    That integration and that unity are the goals that this blog’s theme of ‘seeing Jesus in others’ and this post in particular are aiming at. Anything less is not enough, and I will endeavour to choose language to communicate that. =)

  2. [reply to a concerned reader] Thank you for clarifying that you don’t actually mean to implicate my posts, too. As suggested, I’ll delete this thread, but I’ll add an explanatory comment of my own (below), in case anyone else has the same concerns. =)

    I may have overreacted a bit. I was horrified that I might be being implicated in treating people as a means to an end. If I spoke too strongly, for that I apologize, too.

    • Your reaction was totally understandable – no way you could know the prejudice I brought to the post. So help me here…can you talk in practical terms what exactly it means to see Christ in others? Does it in any way mean seeing them in some way less and being more aware of Christ there? (You don’t have to reply by the blog since I may be the only one around with this sort of question.) I have come to realize it is easy to recite some thought, but not be able to talk more about it, which means I can’t say I understand it deeply. And practical thoughts are the most helpful to me…

  3. This aligns with personal contemplation regarding how I love my neighbor, my imperfect neighbor. God is easy to love, through praising or negation, for God is perfect. My imperfections coupled with my neighbors impose difficulties regarding interaction. Ben your post on contemplation/action seem appropriate. It has been impressed upon me that I pose an analytical, critical mind. My tendency is to dissect my neighbor, while being kind. I am a gentleman, polite to the point of pleasantry, always willing to sacrifice for the betterment of my neighbor. I am confident I truly strive to see Christ within my neighbor, keeping matters as simple as possible, however, interiorly I am a harsh critic. I tame the tongue and hand, yet I am brutal on my neighbor in my thoughts. In all cases of love, I am cautious for I know my tendencies, the complexities of human interactions, and the fact I will easily aim the love right back at myself. Another thought: I have know self-destruction on the level of complete financial collapse and homelessness, experiencing severe despair, fear, and hopelessness. Those who saw Christ in me did not give me things, including kindness, affection, and time. Those who I am convinced saw Christ effectively and profoundly within me assisted me in restoring dignity to my life. They strengthened, scolded, screamed, cajoled, believed, and encouraged me, thus allowing a return to striving for an awareness of the love of God, to the passionate pursuit of the Cross and Eucharist.

  4. Pingback: “Contemplative in the Mud” | SOUL FOOD MINISTRIES

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