Christian maturity” was the topic of one of my last this semester. As I was preparing a class on adolescent spirituality, I came across a reference to an article by David Asselin, S.J. with this title published in 1968, fifty years ago (Christian Maturity and Spiritual Discernment, in Review for Religious, 27, 581-595).
It reminded me of Fr. Asselin, a tall distinguished looking man, who, when I met him in the late 1960’s, was gaunt and scarred from recent surgery for a malignant brain tumor. At the time he was spiritual father for the seminarians at Regis College. He was one of the Canadian pioneers who revitalized both the knowledge of and practice of the individually guided Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. He made his contribution primarily through his talks, spiritual direction and retreats. He died of cancer in 1972.
What struck me about Father Asselin’s article was its applicability today. Authors like Chap Clark (Hurt, 2011) and Andrew Root (Faith Formation in a Secular Age, 2017) insist on the need for Christians to foster an intimate personal relationship with God in the spiritual direction and accompaniment of adolescents and young adults. A personal relationship with Jesus they see as the most important and effective means to help spiritual growth and maturity.
The first step, according to Asselin, is “to know Him as a friend does a friend, as a son his father, a wife, her husband.” This requires an “openness to being moved by God”. Reflection on one’s life opens the person to “experiences interior to oneself in prayer and in all life’s situations”, and response to these experiences “that are discernibly from the Lord.” (p. 582)
Such openness to spiritual experience, reflection on it, and response-ability to it are basic to knowing the Lord intimately. Asselin concludes that “Mature faith-response to the Lord’s word can emerge only from personal encounter with Him”. (p. 586) Such an encounter is to be found in a conscious experience of life.
Fr. Asselin concludes his article as follows:
Growth and formation involve the development of a conscious relationship with the Lord. Lovers are those who share intimately each other’s experiences of joy and suffering and know by experience the depth and the breadth and the mystery of the unique other. The Lord has this kind of knowledge of us – a knowledge which can become the friendship of mutual love only if we dwell also in this kind of knowledge of him. (p. 592)
The invitation is still open!