Leaning on the Lord

I must not look like a Jim.

For many years, casual acquaintances have consistently called me by other masculine J-names—especially John. I have been John to people who barely know me and to people who should certainly know better.

Then, several years ago, a priest friend advised me to reflect upon the young apostle John, who sits close enough to Jesus to lean against His breast (c.f. John 13:23-24). A year or two later, a different friend told me, “You are closer to Jesus than you think—leaned right against His chest, close to His Sacred Heart.” From that time forward, he purposely addresses me as John and reminds me of this connection to the youngest apostle frequently.

These two independent references to the same Gospel passage confirmed in me my spiritual proximity to St. John, and our Lord and His mother, at the Last Supper and at the foot of the Cross. It’s a beautiful blessing—but it’s also complicated, especially as a man.

I am close to my dad. I remember as a child and a younger teen stretching out to watch TV and doze on the same couch with him—and I remember, as a young man on an ill-fated elk hunt, suffering altitude sickness and shivering uncontrollably until he wrapped his arms and sleeping bag around me for a hour or more to warm me and still my convulsing body.

Dad is the man I love most in this world, but expressing these intimate moments is difficult, because as men, we don’t generally share such physical closeness publicly.

So what would it take for me, a grown man, to rest my head against the breast of Jesus in a room full of other men?

Two Wednesdays ago, in the Adoration Chapel, I tried to imagine it, to put it in context and make it make sense.  The muffled sounds of the church and the presence of the women adoring with me in the chapel slowly faded, and I felt alone with the Lord.

His presence was not only that of a man, but light and warmth, spirit and breath, strength and peace. He was more than the earthly experiences of manhood, brotherhood, or fatherhood to which I can compare Him. More than the physical closeness, care, and protection of my dad; the spiritual connection and joy of my friends here in this community. Jesus is more.

Perhaps John reclined against Him due to the immense pull—the gravity—of His Sacred Heart, relentlessly drawing him. Perhaps intimacy with Christ is as natural and effortless as physics.

It is the spiritual vulnerability of this thought that can make me uncomfortable. Men and women alike are drawn to the Man who knows us better than our fathers and mothers, our spouses, and even ourselves. We are naked in His sight—but take heart: It is the spiritual nakedness of an infant, and in that there is no shame.

Lord, I am a child in Your eyes, helpless and hopeless without You. I am unable to save myself. You must cleanse and clothe me. You must heal and feed me. You must fill my lungs and beat my heart. And You do. You are.

In this light, how could I not rest against Your chest, gazing up in unaffected joy, knowing your loving care—for me?

This post appeared in the Febuary 19, 2022, issue of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

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