By Ronnie Caballero, BCBP Makati
“Whoever has ears ought to hear.” Matthew 13:9
The images of Pope Francis preaching and the words he spoke on World Youth Day at Copacabana beach in Brazil to a crowd of 3 million are truly amazing. He says that being a good Catholic is like training to play soccer. Further he tells the youth that Jesus offers them “something more than World Cup.” The resounding delightful cheers that followed that statement hit something truly profound and deep.
Being a soccer player myself, I am aware of the fever-pitch near fanaticism that follows football especially in Brazil and South America. In fact, when we see this unfold in 2014 in Rio de Janeiro you would agree with me that it is a religion in itself. The hero worship that accompanies its stars is common. Lionel Messi, a multi-millionaire Argentine striker, has been called ‘god’ for his dazzling football skills and a long list of stars are not far behind in garnering the undivided attention of millions. It is no distant fact that the finals of the World Cup will be watched by no less than a billion televiewers worldwide.
The Pope knows this very well being a football loving Argentine himself . But he knows Jesus even better to have said that Jesus can offer MORE. The whys and hows of this have been left unsaid but the image of him preaching Jesus with the same intense energy that global football possesses is a goal worth pursuing. And the image of Jesus being loudly cheered in a stadium of 80,000 ecstatic fans is a joy to behold.
The “MORE” that Jesus offers can be found in THE opposite, in a deep quiet corner of contemplation, away from the noisy crowds and pulsating excitement.
I do not mean to second-guess the Pope. I am sure he will follow up all that he has said and done on World Youth Day 2013. But for now I would surmise that when he said that “being a good Catholic is like training to play soccer” he was referring to the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises being the Jesuit that he is. With the youth so distracted with social networking, computer games and the like it may have become passé for them to indulge in quiet solitude and contemplation. So, it is truly refreshing for the Pope to reach out to them and invite them to seek Jesus.
To experience the essence of Jesus in a deep personal relationship we should not be afraid to sail away from familiar shores and go towards the deep. “DUC IN ALTUM,” as even Blessed Pope John Paul II himself said.
It is said that we have three sets of ears. First, our physical ears which catch external sounds, language and senses; second, the ears of our minds, which capture the intellectual, rational, scientific, ephemeral and even religious matters; and thirdly, the ears of the heart that are meant to be used in that sacred space where we will sense the movements of the spirit.
It is the use of the ears of the heart where love thrives, and deep exchanges of self can be achieved, where spirit can speak to spirit. To further understand the use of these ears we need to appreciate the different levels of friendship. Francis Kong in his article “Everybody Needs a Friend” shares the following:
Clinical psychologist Dan Montgomery uses the image of “taking the elevator down” to explore what it means to reach the deeper levels of truth and trust in a relationship.
a. The intimacy elevator starts with the façade level or level of public appearances.
b. The next floor down is the acquaintance level, where we present just some of our views and opinions.
c. The third floor down is the friendship level, where we willingly experience emotional vulnerability. We share all sorts of feelings but hold back on deeper ones. If all goes well and the other person responds similarly, we may take the elevator down another floor.
d. A fourth floor down is the intimacy level. We come clean with our dark side – the memories, weaknesses, wounds and reflections that have made us who we are, but are sensitive topics to disclose to anyone.
A true friend is so rare to find and be because such a person should be wiling to pay the price of being a true friend. Perhaps the highest cost of true friendship is our most precious commodity: time. True friendship requires the willingness to sacrifice convenience and even treasure.
Who then can be the best true friend at the intimacy level? No one better than JESUS himself as Pope Francis suggests. I feel this is the floor where the Lord wants to meet us in a personal relationship and this is where contemplative prayer or the Spiritual Exercises can bring us. We need to strip away layer by layer any pretenses or false notions of who we are before God.
When we know our humble place before God then we are truly ready for the dance of intimacy: a deep, quiet, contemplative, personal friendship that spends so much time, interacts, responds, loves, complains, accepts, beholds one another, expresses many or all emotions honestly and openly, and listens, listens, listens, listens, listens, listens……. and this is the true essence of prayer — using the ears of the heart.
As a non-member attending BCBP breakfast in 1986 at the Metro Club, I could not explain the strong attraction or ‘magnetic’ pull that made me come back for more and more Wednesday breakfasts. Perhaps because the breakfast trains us to LISTEN, it opened my heart to see who was that GREAT person on the other side of the many deep personal relationships that I witnessed unfold every breakfast. What they had I wanted to have. What they had become I wanted to be. I was falling in love with Jesus and I wanted more and more of him.
After 27 years of community, service, discipleship and fellowship with Jesus through the BCBP, I unexpectedly found myself with the gift of time. I signed up for the RDL (Retreat in Daily Life) an 18 week open retreat and introduction to Ignatian Spirituality, 1 hour daily prayer, journaling and weekly spiritual direction . After completing that I felt so blessed and still hungry for the Lord. I waited and signed up for the Spiritual Exercises, a 35 week open journey into St. Ignatius’ spiritual experience, praying 1 hour daily, journaling with weekly spiritual direction. I felt like a tiny fish swimming in the wide expanse of an endless ocean that was God.
But the beauty of it all is that God meets us where we are. He is a true friend waiting in that special place and time always ready to listen, always ready to give of himself. Prayer has never been as exciting and open and intimate with true listening as important as ever.
Is he worth more than the World Cup finals? A definite yes.
Is he worth more than all the football superstars of the world put together in one stadium? A louder YES loud and clear!