Dear Father John, I want to follow Christ more closely but I don’t seem to be doing that. How can I draw closer to Christ? How can I have a better relationship with God?
One sure way to keep our holy desires strong and vibrant, in spite of roadblocks, is to understand the concept of spiritual integration: bringing every dimension of our being and personality into play in our relationship with God.
Friendship with Christ is a unique friendship, because Jesus is a unique friend. He is not only a loyal and loving companion; he is also the Lord— Creator and Redeemer of the human race, uniquely worthy of worship and obedience. Friendship with Christ grows, therefore, by allowing Christ’s companionship and lordship to touch and transform every sector of our existence: all our internal powers, which subsequently manifest themselves in all our external activities. This extension of Christ’s influence to every corner of our life is the essence of spiritual integration; we gradually integrate, more and more deeply, every facet of our person and experience into our friendship with Jesus Christ. We learn to live more and more in Jesus, and he comes to live more and more in us. This is the amazing journey toward spiritual maturity.
Life in Christ
This mysterious connection between Christ and the Christian constitutes one of the main themes of the New Testament. St. Paul especially refers to the phrase “in Christ” over and over again. Everything changes for the per- son who has come to share in Christ’s life:
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
And Jesus himself becomes the life of the one who welcomes him through faith:
I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me. (Galatians 2:19–20)
Normal friendship entails an intimate sharing between two people. As Aristotle is attributed with saying, friendship is “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” But when one of those two souls is infinite and perfect, then intimate sharing is not enough. In this case, the lesser of the two must also allow himself to be transformed and elevated by the greater. This is the case with a Christian and Christ. We must walk with Jesus through life, but we also must humbly and lovingly conform ourselves to Christ (this is what it means to “follow” Jesus Christ) in order to allow this grace-filled friendship to reach maturity. Only thus can we enter fully into Christ’s kingdom—the one kingdom where our longings for an eternally meaningful life can be fulfilled.
Guided by the Holy Spirit
We are not alone in our efforts to conform to Christ. Jesus accompanies us, and actually enables us, every step of the way, especially through the presence and action of the Holy Spirit….
Requiring Our Free Cooperation
And yet, Jesus refuses to do all the work himself. He includes us in the project, sharing the work with us. We have to choose, freely and repeatedly, to be faithful to the friendship. Otherwise, it would not be a friendship at all—we would just be pre-programmed Christian robots. But that’s not what we were created for. We were created in God’s image, to give glory to him by freely living in communion with him, in whom alone we find our lasting happiness.
And so, in this Christian adventure, in this journey toward spiritual maturity, we have a part to play. We are co-protagonists in the process of integrating every facet of our existence into our friendship with Jesus. We are co-conquerors in the battle to bring every sector of our personality and experience and activity under the infinitely wise and sure rule of Christ the Lord.
How do we do our part? How do we cooperate with Jesus to Christianize every single corner of our lives? Jesus sums up the answer with a liberating simplicity:
But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. (Matthew 6:33)
Seeking God’s kingdom first, seeking to allow Christ the Eternal King to rule and guide our lives in accordance with his wisdom, goodness, and love, seeking to abide by the Lord’s life-giving standards in all that we think, say, and do—this is every Christian’s primary task. It is the basic commitment that we make when we fall in love with God and give our hearts to him. Following through on that commitment is how we do our part in allowing God’s grace free rein to order and energize our lives on earth, and to bring us to the fullness of eternal life in heaven.