This past Lent our parish had as a common Lenten practice to read and study Pope Francis’ recent (and only) Apostolic Exhortation The Joy of the Gospel. It is a wonderful document that the Paulist Fathers are now using as a resource for our upcoming General Assembly. It bears repeated examination.
In Paragraph 3 of The Joy of the Gospel Pope Francis states: “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not mean for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.”
Well that is nice. Have you encountered Jesus Christ yet today? How about yesterday? The Pope calls us to this “unfailingly each day!” I find this easier said than done. Do we know how to encounter Jesus daily assuming we even want to do so? If you want to encounter Jesus unfailing each day, just how do you go about doing that? I don’t think that it is obvious to people in our society. So I thought I would dedicate my next several columns to reflecting on this issue and see if I can come up with a few suggestions and practices and techniques that might assist you in a “renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ” and to do that “unfailingly each day.” Wish me luck.
First of all, how does encounter happen in our busy, highly scheduled world? Someone wants to talk to me about some issue, about the Church, or about their marriage, or about parking here at St. Austin, or whatever it may be. They send me an email requesting a meeting. I email the person back with dates and times that work for me. The person responds with dates and times that work for him or her. After several such back-and-forth exchanges, we finally agree on a date and time. When that arrives the person shows up. We have our “encounter” for the specified time. Then the person leaves because they have another engagement to get to, and I have another appointment waiting for me. And this is how we often encounter one another in our hectic, highly scheduled society.
That is NOT a good way to encounter Jesus Christ. He is terrible at keeping schedules. Maybe it is His experience 2,000 years ago of a totally pre-industrial, pre-clock culture that marked time by the position of the sun, and there was always tomorrow. No hurries, no rush. Look what Jesus did when he learned His good friend Lazarus was sick. “Although Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (Jn 11:5-6). Keeping appointments just doesn’t seem to interest Jesus. So don’t expect Jesus to show up when He is scheduled. It just ain’t going to happen.
The invitation to Jesus has to be much broader and much more open. Jesus shows up when Jesus shows up, and we have to be always on the watch and ready to greet Him when He suddenly, and often unexpectedly, shows up. Frequently in the Gospels we hear injunctions to being constantly ready and prepared. See Mt 24:50, Mt 25:13, Mk 13:55, Lk 12:47 and others. Like a good Boy Scout we must constantly “Be Prepared!” Indeed, it seems Jesus rather enjoys surprising us, appearing at times we don’t expect and in ways we don’t anticipate. We have to learn to expect the unexpected when attempting to encounter Jesus. Not an easy skill to learn, and it takes a lot of practice.
Till next week, God Bless!