One can learn to play the piano by oneself, but one cannot deny the obvious value of a knowledgeable teacher if one really wishes to excel. Books don’t talk back to us – a teacher very often will, and this makes all the difference. In some respects, the teacher is like a coach, spurring the athlete to run more efficiently. “Wake up!” “Pay attention!” Though the coach cannot do the running for the runner, the runner achieves his best when the coach does his job. So it is with us – if we are open and unthreatened enough to listen and hear.
…Certainly there will always be those who teach us skills and provide us with facts, but here we are speaking of a relationship in which someone can point out something about ourselves that we are blind to, who is experienced enough in life to see where we are going and to provide firm, effective guidance in the wilderness. Sometimes what they tell us will pierce us to the heart. We think of the arrogant monk who never listened or took to heart anything his abba taught him. One day, in the midst of a crisis of faith, he went to the abba and said, “Abba, give me a word.” The abba replied, “No.” The brother, shocked, retorted, “Why not?” The abba looked at him calmly. “‘No’ is not good enough?” And the brother repented.
(The Monks of New Skete, In the Spirit of Happiness, p. 54 & 55)
Jesus Himself had a relationship with His disciples – He taught them, he modeled behavior to them. But He never wrote any kind of manual for them to cover every contingency they might encounter. At the Ascension, Jesus doesn’t drop a book from heaven answering all questions or giving rules for every occasion. Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world and live the Gospel and proclaim the Gospel through their own lives. He never told them to write a book and hand out directions to people.
Jesus taught us to love which requires us to enter into every situation and every relationship with a heart united to His. Some mistakenly think Christianity is just some information that is to be handed on from one generation to the next, unsullied by those receiving it. But that isn’t what Jesus taught – for ultimately the faith is lived in the heart and is founded on the blood of the martyrs. It is messy. It is not law but wisdom and love. The Gospel has to be lived in new situations and requires us to constantly and continually interacted with, like salt on food. The faith is not meant to be kept pure and pristine in a salt shaker.