Recently, a friend asked about how to “grow in the love of Jesus.” It’s an interesting question, because “the love of Jesus” can mean either (1) love directed at Jesus or (2) the kind of love Jesus gave. I think 2 is the best way to 1, but I also think it’s helpful to meditate in a way that is similar to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
It seems to me that it’s especially helpful to first become familiar with Jesus as he is actually presented in the gospels, rather than relying solely on what theologians and preachers have said about Jesus. As one studies Jesus and the way he behaves in the gospels, seeing how very human he was, one can meditate on what it would be like to sit and talk with him, to dine with him, to walk and work with him as his contemporaries did. These sorts of meditations can be done as a merely analytical observer, but one can also respond emotionally as one would in actuality. Who wouldn’t feel great compassion and sorrow for the agony Jesus felt in Gethsamane and on the cross? Who wouldn’t speak to him with those feelings, trying to comfort him with a gentle touch and let him know he is not as alone as his sleeping disciples would make it seem? Beyond these scripture-based meditations, we can also imagine him with us in moments of our own lives, supporting us, counseling us, having compassion for us. In meditating upon Jesus in this way, we cannot continue to regard him as some angelic judge far removed from humanity, but increasingly he becomes known as a real human being who understands what it’s like to be tempted, to doubt, to distrust, to fear, to falter, and to forgive. We better understand the love he gave to others, and we feel kinship with him and a more immediate sense of his presence in our lives. All of these things contribute to growing in the love of Jesus in every sense.