Encounters with the Living Word Today
Last summer break, I was teaching catechism to a group of youngsters preparing for their first communion. After I finished my afternoon class, two teenagers approached me. They introduced themselves as "missionaries" from one of the many Christian sects in our town. We congenially talked about our respective beliefs trying as much as possible not to engage into a debate. When they are about to leave they asked me a question which remained in my mind long after we finished our conversation. One of them asked me, "Have you experienced Jesus in your life?" I was a bit stunned. Sadly, this is often a neglected question. I bet this question is rarely asked in theological and divinity schools in their pursuit for "objective" truth. Yet, we cannot underestimate the centrality of this question in our lives.
Pope Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est that "being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (Deus Caritas Est 1).
Pope Benedict XVI
In the accounts of post-resurrection appearances in the Gospels of Luke and John, there are two remarkable examples of such life changing encounters. The Gospel of Luke (Lk. 24:13-35) recounts how the two disciples on their way to Emmaus were conversing about the things that happened in Jerusalem regarding the crucifixion and death of Jesus. They were confused and frustrated with how events turned out.
As they went on their way, they encountered a stranger who explained to them the meaning of what the Messiah will have to undergo according to the Scriptures. When the two disciples reached Emmaus, they invited the stranger to stay for a while with them since night was approaching. The stranger accepted their invitation and when they were at table with him; he took the bread, blessed it, and then he broke, and gave it to the two disciples. With the breaking of the bread, their eyes were opened and they recognized that the stranger is the Lord. After this event, the two disciples hurriedly went back to Jerusalem to tell the Eleven and those with them about this encounter with the Lord.
The second story is from the Gospel of John (Jn. 20:1- 18) which relates how Mary of Magdala went to the tomb of Jesus early in the morning after the Sabbath. When she saw that it was empty she told Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved that the body of the Lord was gone. The two men rushed to the tomb. Simon Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved went inside and they saw that Mary told them the truth. After this the two male disciples went back home while Mary of Magdala stayed outside the tomb weeping. Her sadness changed into joy when the Lord, whom she has mistaken as the gardener, called her by name. It was then that she recognized her Rabbouni. With joy, she returned and proclaimed to the disciples the news of the resurrection saying "I have seen the Lord" (Jn. 20.18). She told them the story of her encounter with the Lord.
These personal encounters with Jesus by the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and of Mary Magdalene moved them to share their experiences to others. Stories are powerful vehicles by which we can share our experiences. It is a unique human tendency to tell stories, not only those that are made up but also about our life experiences, with others. In fact, common sense will tell us that only humans share stories! Stories have the power to change people's lives.
Authentic encounter with Jesus brings life transformation. To use a metaphor, just as wood in contact with fire burns so is a person in touch with Jesus changes. These transformations, however, happen in different paces. Some are dramatic and sudden while others so commonplace and slow with many variations in between. Pope Benedict XVI, talking about the Apostle Paul in a General Audience last Oct. 25,2006, said that "what counts is to place Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, so that our identity is marked essentially by the encounter, by the communion with Christ and with the Word".
It is an invitation for each Christian to recognize that our own weaknesses can become channels through which God's love flow. Many are afraid to become witnesses of Jesus because too much focus is given on the faults and stains of our lives. We think that a person can only talk about God if he or she has unwavering faith, impeccable character and certainty of beliefs. There is a tendency to forget that it is also in the struggle to become good Christians that we can experience God's message of love made real. In our frustration, despair and doubt, God also speaks.
A person's experience of God is nurtured in a community of believers who share and value the Word of God in their lives.
Stories regarding our encounters with the Word create community. Just as an encounter with the Lord moves a person to share this wonderful experience with others, those who listen to and obey the Word fructifies into a community. Pastors need to get hold of the reality of God's love in their lives so that they might share these experiences to their flocks who are in turn motivated to discern their own encounters with the Lord.
A person's experience of God is nurtured in a community of believers who share and value the Word of God in their lives. Our initial but life transforming encounters with the Lord finds sustenance through our continuous and meaningful encounters with the Word in the community and in the Eucharist. The pastors discern how the parishes and Christian communities can become venues that nourish and nurture these personal experiences of the Lord. Faith life sharing, Lectio Divina and Bible studies are examples of basic but effective ways of helping our parishes and communities become dynamic venues where the Word becomes alive.
We call our times as the Information Age where ideas and information translate into power, fame or money. With the increasing availability of the Internet even in remote places in poor countries, everyone has access to a gigantic amount of information. Nowadays, anybody who has a computer can download any information on almost any conceivable topics. Many competing voices form the minds and hearts of the people today. As Christians we were given the most important and life-giving story of God's unconditional love. It is our task to bring the living Word by proclaiming this Good News of God's love and salvation.