How on earth do we meet Jesus?
That may seem like an odd question, but it is a critical one. When Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis talk about our call to be missionary disciples and emissaries of the New Evangelization, they talk about one critical event: our need for a personal encounter with Jesus.
One would think that would be a no-brainer for a long-term Catholic, especially if that Catholic has celebrated sacraments, goes to church regularly, and maybe even has had years of religious education or Catholic school and youth ministry experiences. But often we find that somehow the faith gets into the head but not the heart. We can know creeds, doctrines, and Bible stories in the way that we know chemical symbols and dates in American history. We can have religious information but process it less effectively than we note the activities of our hundreds of Facebook friends.
If we ask people who are on fire for the Good News, we find that, somewhere along the way, the person of Jesus Christ and his message became real and vital to them. They met him and meet him still. Here are some of the ways people explain their encounters.
First, they may have been moved to read the Scriptures privately, meditatively. They immersed themselves beyond a glance at the missalette. Suddenly the Lord was speaking to them in a way that no classical or popular author ever had. The Living Word came alive for them.
Second, they may have paused for reflective moments in a church or adoration chapel. There, before the Blessed Sacrament, it clicked that Christ is indeed with us all our days and that “Body and Blood, soul and divinity” describes his presence perfectly. It was no longer just a churchy formula they had heard.
Third, they may have ventured to make a parish mission or a retreat and were drawn to an awareness that the Spirit promised by the Lord is alive and well. The Holy Spirit grabbed hold of them.
Fourth, a crisis may have come, and unexpectedly someone reached out, said exactly the right thing, and got them the concrete help they needed. Lo and behold, it registered that the Lord does things through people.
Fifth, the individual may have taken on something truly sacrificial, an act of charity, and what St. Paul said dawned on them: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). And they also saw Jesus alive in the least of the brothers and sisters.
It seems that we need a mix of solitude and social interaction to get up close and personal with our Redeemer. Time, availability, and the resolve to pay attention open the doors to Christ. With a bit of Christian maturity, our encounters with the Lord then press us to open the doors for others. We call that evangelization. It’s as old as salvation history, and every minute it’s new.
And, by the way, it takes a Church — and everyone in it.
Sister Pamela Smith, SSCM, is the Secretary for Education and Faith Formation at the Diocese of Charleston. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.