In a recent introduction to the new Directory for Catechesis I was struck by “Faith is really an encounter with a person and that Christianity is not a religion of the past, but an event of the present.”
I also wrote, “Jesus’ disciples experienced a transforming awareness of being loved… and ran to tell others about it!” Yes, that encounter gave them a taste of being loved by him.” This awareness might have been what he said to them, or It might have been what he did for them. However the disciples experienced him, their encounter with Jesus transformed them.
I suspect most of us at some point have wished that we could have had that kind of experience with Jesus. I suspect however, that we sometimes fool ourselves. We think we would have immediately recognized his look of love or been moved by his words. Yet, we fail to realize that we often are like the innkeeper at Bethlehem, like Jesus neighbors as he was growing up, or like the pious people who could not imagine anything good coming out of Bethlehem. The list goes on of how many people did not recognize him and therefore were not transformed in meeting him.
When I have placed myself in their shoes, I have to ask myself whether I would have reacted differently. The Jesus they encountered was not the Jesus they expected. So, seeing, they did not see, and hearing they did not hear. Their expectations rendered them deaf. So I wonder. Do my expectations of how I encounter Jesus today get in the way of my recognizing him today?
Yet, from the very beginning of scripture, we see God surprising people. Think of the variety of situations in which people encountered God.
- Walking in a garden
- Seeing a burning bush
- A still small voice in the middle of the night
- Mending their nets after a day’s work
- Climbing a tree to get a better view of some commotion
- A banquet in a rich person’s house
- An annual ritual meal
- Walking along the road to Emmaus… or Damascus
- Walking along a beach seeing someone cooking
- And, of course, angels at Bethlehem and the Annunciation
The list is almost endless. When I think of their various encounters with God, I realize that their experience of God was in the midst of their ordinary activity.
Then I think of St. Vincent and how he began to see God in the struggling people in the countryside and then later in the villages and cities of France. He began to read the scripture with new eyes, not as edifying stories about the past but seeing the parallels right before his eyes. Reading the scripture through the lens of his daily experience Vincent began to see the many ways Christ was calling him to continue the mission of bringing the good news of salvation. His experience of the suffering Christ of his day transformed him.
Later Frederic Ozanam heard God speaking in a most unlikely source, an atheist who asked him what Christians were doing for the poor and suffering of his day. I think of Sr. Rosalie Rendu who discovered that she never prayed as well as when she was walking the streets of a Paris slum.
The point… God does not come to us in the way we want God to come. God comes to us in the ordinariness of our daily lives… if we open our eyes to see and hear, especially the cries of the poor… we will see God.
Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk