A few weeks ago, I extended the conversation I had with the parish in December about “Encountering Jesus – in Liturgy, In Service to Others and in His Word.” Deacon Lozano writes that, “There are a multitude of ways to encounter Jesus. Thus it is important to have a focus, a plan or a program in our life that helps facilitate the encounter.” In this way, we create the conditions for the seeds of our faith to begin to germinate.
Pope Francis lays out a five-step program for opening ourselves to an encounter with Christ in his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel.
Step 1: BE OPEN. (“At least have an openness to him encountering you.” Pope Francis) This is not as simple or as easy as it might appear. Many “active “Catholics are afraid to open up wide to Christ. “What will it cost? What will he ask of me? What will he take from me that I like? Will I suffer? If so, then how much?” With this in mind, Pope Francis comforts us and encourages us to “a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ. If you’re not quite there yet, ok. At least be open to encountering him.” Try this as a prayer. “Ok Lord, this ‘being open thing” seems a bit scary. So for one week, I will try and think about being open to that encounter and see what happens.” The Holy Father writes that this leads to joy. “No one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord. The Lord does not disappoint those who take the risk.”
Step 2: DAILY COMMITMENT (“Do this unfailingly each day.” Pope Francis) A few weeks ago, I talked about the “encounter moment.” Parishioners often share stories about this encounter moment with me. They can point to a moment or a season. It might have been a liturgy, a retreat, a visit to a shrine, a difficult time in their life. After this, their faith life, their understanding of God and their relationship with Christ was different. These moments are important, but they are not the whole story. A serious life of faith is not a one-and-done experience. There is always more. We need to come to the light over and over, every day. At a minimum this involves a regular commitment to prayer and looking for places in our life where Christ appears and doing this on a daily basis.
Step 3 involves HOW YOU THINK (“No one should think this invitation is not meant for him or her.” Pope Francis). There is a significant tendency to write off our capacity to encounter Jesus because of how we think of ourselves. The Holy Father writes that, “No one should think that his invitation is not meant for him or her. We say, ‘I am just an average person. I am not very spiritual.’” Some people think that a personal relationship with Christ is only for saints. Encounters with God are only for the really holy people in the parish. Pope Francis counters this. He says that Jesus not only wants to transform our hearts, he also wants to transform our minds. We need to work on re-programming the way we think about ourselves, God, others, and life. Deacon Lozano writes that, “The way we think about ourselves, in relation to God and our capacity for encountering God, can severely limit our encounter with Jesus.”
Step 4: RISK (“The Lord does not disappoint those who take the risk.” Pope Francis). Things of value in this world involve risk. Love is one. A relationship is one. Faith is one. At the heart of faith and openness to encountering Jesus is trust. As I mentioned above, many Catholics struggle with this. This past week, in daily Mass we heard the Gospel story of the rich young man in Mark 10:17-27. Why did the rich, young man go away sad? Because following Jesus seemed to have too much risk. He would be risking everything that he owned to give to the poor and follow Christ without reservation. Now, let’s be clear, at some point, everyone encounters that fear of what it will cost to follow Christ more deeply. Yet, in Luke 8:50, Christ says, “Fear is useless; what is needed is trust.” For some of us, that takes time. It is a necessary disposition to that encounter with Christ.
Step 5: REPENTANCE (“ Now is the time to say to Jesus: ‘Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways, I have shunned your love, yet here I am to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.” Pope Francis). Pope Francis expresses the central place for encountering Jesus in our lives; mercy. The encounter of human sinfulness and divine mercy is an encounter like no other human experience. It is the greatest source of personal transformation in our lives. St. Teresa of Avila put is so well: “All we need to begin again, is to begin again.”