Recently at my seminary, one of the most interesting things has taken place. We have a new priest on staff who has had an incredible impact. For the most part, the priests on staff tend to be incredibly smart and dynamic, and yet it always happens that some priests tend to resonate with only a limited number of seminarians. It is fairly natural that not everyone gets along with everyone else. However, the new priest on staff has been completely different from this overall trend. This priest is unanimously revered and admired by everyone at the seminary.
So the question becomes, what is his secret? When discussing this with a friend, we both agreed that his strength lies in his ability to communicate love to everyone he meets. When you are with him, he communicates a deep sense of caring, but here is the important detail, his love seems unconditional. When he came to our seminary, he did not come in with an agenda, but rather he loved us and our institution as we are. Instead of critique and judgment, he had a certain gentleness which was tied to a profound appearance of inner strength. In this way, he communicated the love of Jesus Christ, that he loves us for who and what we are.
So often, our love and the time we spend with others is geared towards some agenda. In other words, even when we have good intentions and are being wholesome people, there is this little imperfection that still remains. If someone is hurting, we feel we have to take away the pain. If someone seems a little off, our attention can be a subtle disguise to try and mold them into our ideal. In a variety of ways, we fail to simply be with each other in the playful spontaneity of the Spirit that comes without an agenda or judgment.
I am convinced that as we learn to spend unscripted time with God, we also learn to spend unscripted time with each other. We open the possibility of being able to explore our interior lives with God and with neighbor without the constraints of fear and self-consciousness. It is the experience of the unconditional love of Jesus Christ that the heart yearns for, and it is this incredible gift that forms the foundation for our transformation in Christ. As much as strong words and direct confrontation are needed at times, the reality is that true growth only takes place in the vulnerability of communion with God and neighbor.
In our early growth, a certain discipline is both important and essential. Parents rightly need to correct their children, and in a variety of circumstances, people need to be held accountable for their actions. However, the deeper growth of mystical union must penetrate deeper, it must come to the place of the heart’s deepest desires. Likewise, our evangelization and our missionary outreach must speak to these deeper realities of interior transformation.
Thus, unscripted time is an essential aspect of missionary outreach, but not in the sense that our empathy is a tool to manipulate faith in others. Rather, it is precisely in our ability to model the spontaneity and freedom of the Spirit that we awaken in others the desire for God. In their interactions with us, they begin to glimpse into the possibility of a world where the heart can rest in the infinite embrace of God. That is why we must always make a palce for unscripted time with God and with others.