By Canon Gerry Conroy
People become friends for different reasons; perhaps it is shared interests, or a similar outlook on life. Whatever it can be, a true friendship has to involve something of these otherwise there will always be a hint of antipathy running through the friendship.
When Christ says of his flock that, ‘I know them and they know me’ I think he is speaking of that friendship that comes from a shared vision of life and what it is about. He is speaking of a knowing that comes from a deep union that can only come because people share a vision and a passion about something. They understand one another because they look on things in the same way, they understand things in the same way, the feel about things in the same way. But Christ goes on to say that this same unity arising from a shared vision and passion also exists between Christ and his Father. There is a unity between God and him and those who are members of his flock, a unity that comes from them sharing the same vision and passion. This time however Jesus makes clear to us what is shared: it is the love he has for us. Everything Jesus does, he does as Son, in other words God approves of what he does, because it is a reflection of what the Father thinks and wills and loves.
St John has grasped that truth and set it out for us when he says, ‘think of the love that has been lavished on us by letting us be called God’s children; and that is not enough for God, there is more to come. What St John is saying is that we too have this same mindset and passion as God, this love for what he has created, this ability to see the goodness in what is all around us.
Unfortunately, we know that such talk is probably pushing the envelope a little bit in reality; we are not quite at the stage of laying down our lives for others as Christ did, but we can see the value of what he is saying. It is more a matter of how much we are able or willing to live that same passion as God did before our self-interest kicks in.
We all have a vision of what our life is about; for some it is more instinctual for others more reflected upon. I think it needs to be reflected upon because trusting ourselves to our instincts can occasionally be like surrendering ourselves to a wild animal; we need to be able to put some restraints on ourselves and our behaviour at times, we need to allow our faith to influence our vision of what life is about.
In our society, our experience of meaning, of what is of value, is now largely all about our feelings. Our vision of what life is about is determined more and more by what we feel about something. That can sometimes lead us into making mistakes about what is right and wrong, about what is good and bad. It needs to be balanced by something else: by reason. What is right and wrong needs to make sense to our heads, not just to our hearts. Faith needs both, it needs to understand why somethings are right and why somethings are wrong. It needs to feel that too. That is faith, it is also love.
Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton. The picture is of the Dumbarton Churches Together group.