St. Claude la Colombiere and his insight into prayer deserve to be better known.
Who would describe you as “my perfect friend”? Would it be your spouse? Perhaps your best friend of many years? You might answer: “Beloved friend, maybe, on my good days—but perfect friend? Well …”
I ask this question because I’ve been thinking about a Jesuit saint who deserves to be better known, namely, St. Claude la Colombiere. He was referred to as “my perfect friend” by our Lord himself to the visionary St. Margaret Mary Alocoque. She was a nun at a Visitation monastery, and received mystical revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. St. Claude was her spiritual director.
My heart sank when I first heard that story. I can’t imagine our Lord speaking of me as his “perfect friend”—a fact that imputes fault to me and not to our Lord. I’ve told people that if they ever have mystical experiences and hear a voice speaking of “the Jesuit Robert McTeigue, my perfect friend,” then they can be certain that the voice they’re hearing isn’t of divine origin.
What does it mean to be “perfect”?
Our Lord does desire to be able to refer to each one of us as “my perfect friend.” Sadly, he doesn’t, because he can’t; and he can’t because it’s not true. And it’s not true because we withhold our friendship from him. St. Margaret Mary’s visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus included the deepest anguish that we for whom Jesus laid down his life, refuse to return his love. Our Lord offers us his infinite love, asking in return only the love that each one of us can give. And he desires that exchange of love not for his benefit but for ours.
St. Claude understood this very well, and then lived and loved accordingly.
May the Heart of Jesus Christ be our school! Let us make our abode there. Let us study its movements and attempt to conform ours to them. Yes, O Divine Jesus, I want to live there … God is in the midst of us, or rather we are in the midst of him; wherever we are he sees us and touches us: at prayer, at work, at table, at recreation.
God is always near to us, always working on our behalf, always inviting each of us and all of us. Yet, for most of us, for most of the time, it certainly doesn’t feel as though God is actively loving us. How about St. Claude, the “perfect friend” of Jesus? Was he caught up in constant ecstasy? Not so much. He wrote:
As I feel a great attraction toward prayer I asked God, by Our Lady’s intercession, to give me the grace to go on increasing in love of this holy exercise until my death. It is the only means of purifying us, of uniting us to God, and of allowing God to unite himself to us and be glorified in us. We must pray to obtain the apostolic virtues; pray that we may use them to help others, and pray also that we may not lose them while serving others. The counsel: pray without ceasing, seems sweet to me and in no way impossible. It includes the practice of the presence of God, and with his help I resolve to follow it. We always have need of God, therefore we must always pray. The more we pray, the more we please him and the more we obtain. I do not ask for consolation in prayer; that God gives where he chooses; I am not worthy of consolation and am too weak to bear it. Extraordinary graces are not good for me; to give them to me would be like building upon sand, or pouring a precious liquid into a broken vase. I ask God to give me a solid, simple gift of prayer which will glorify him and not make me vain. It seems to me that dryness and desolation accompanied by grace are very useful to me, for then I delight in making acts of real virtue: I strive against my bad inclinations and try to be faithful to God.
These words gives me hope. St. Claude avoided the mistake about prayer that we often make. Frequently, we tell ourselves “good prayer” is good because we felt good after we prayed; likewise, prayer isn’t good if we don’t feel good after we prayed. I think that St. Claude would tell us that “Good prayer is good because we showed up to pray. We showed up at the place where God is always waiting for us—at the center of our soul.”
Showing up for prayer, for the love of God and neighbor, is the path of sanctity, by which we may become God’s perfect friend.
When I write next, I will speak of a doctrine that is commonly misunderstood. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.