As Christians we are often called, along with Jews and Muslims, the people of the Book. This is in reference to our sacred texts, the Torah, the Qu’ran, and the Bible. In actuality, Christians are not a people of the Book, nor is Christianity an idea, philosophy, even a theology, or series of practices. Christianity and being a Christian is about an encounter with a person. That person is Jesus the Christ.
If we do not know Jesus, then the words of our Bible just become dead letters, our philosophy and theology are just intellectual exercises, and our religious observances provide little meaning or relevance for our life. Our presence in Mass or Church can just be something we do.
This could be why for every one person who joins the Catholic Church today six to eight people are leaving. People leave for their own reasons, but the underlying cause could be that in their experience of Church they are not encountering Jesus, they are not feeling welcomed or a part of a community that cares about them, and/or maybe in their daily lives they are not building, nor are they aware of how to build and sustain a relationship with Jesus.
Each of us hunger and thirst to experience and know the living God. Each of us seek meaning, purpose, and fulfillment in our lives. We have been created to be loved and to love, we have been created to belong, to be a part of, to be in relationship. We live, crave, and desire to be in relationship with God and one another, and this is true for the atheist and the mystic alike.
In our Gospel reading from Luke today, Jesus is speaking to his disciples, those who have encountered him and said yes to following him. Jesus teaches them and us important lessons of discipleship.
One we hear or read today is that a blind person cannot lead a blind person, otherwise both will fall into the pit. Jesus is speaking about more than physical sight, but spiritual sight. We all have some level of spiritual blindness. We do not see those thoughts, behaviors, and desires within ourselves that keep us from deepening our relationship with Jesus or even those that will help us to develop and sustain a relationship with him. Jesus invites us to experience his love, to receive his healing touch, to bask in the light of his grace so to reveal to us our sin.
Jesus meets us where we are and loves us as we are. When we receive his love, we experience that he loves us, as we are, with all of our faults, mistakes, sins, wounds, and our brokenness. We then receive his healing touch when we let our guard down and lower our defenses. As we heal, we can see our sinful actions and patterns and the reality that they are apparent goods, empty promises that will leave us unfulfilled.
As we experience the love of Jesus, the knots of our sins are loosed, and we feel more comfortable to let God into all the areas of our life. Then our lives begin to change, we are transformed from the place of only focusing on our self and our own needs, and begin to be aware of the needs of others, even those who have looked down at us or hurt us with their prejudicial and abusive looks and words.
How then do we come to know, build, and sustain a relationship with Jesus?
We do so by spending time each day reading and praying God’s word. I remember reading from the Gospel of Luke 12:22 when I was about seventeen. The passage talked about not worrying about your life. I then felt God speak to me. He said that I would never win the lotto, but he would always provide work for me. My wife and I read the daily readings of the Mass each evening together and then I read a reflection that I post online each day. In this way, this is no ordinary book, but the living word of God. Through this daily practice, JoAnn and I draw closer to God and each other.
We can spend five to ten minutes a day in quiet prayer, meditating on the Gospel, sharing our concerns with Jesus, thanking him for our blessings, and just being still to be led by him. We can ask Jesus to reveal to us our sin, we can ask him to help us to remove the log in our own eye, so that we can see more clearly to help another to remove the splinter in their eye. I pray when I first get up before I head to school and this time with Jesus has provided a firm foundation for me to meet the challenges of the day.
We encounter Jesus by learning about our faith through reading and praying with the Bible, studying the Catechism and the lives of the saints, as well as other spiritual reading, videos, podcasts and the like. On my way to and from work, I listen to different podcasts that I find enriching and empowering.
My wife and I, though resisting at first because of our busy schedules and enjoying winding down in the evenings, joined a small group at church about two years ago. We have been blessed by our weekly time of fellowship, learning, and growing in our relationship with Jesus and each other.
We can also encounter Jesus in our negative thoughts. When a judgmental thought, urge to gossip, to say something that is negative arises, we can seek Jesus at the first moment this poison arises and ask him to help us to instead think and say the good things that people need to hear, things that will be instructive, empowering, and hopeful. We can do the same with our temptations.
We can encounter Jesus by allowing our hearts and minds to be open to respond when he moves us to reach out to be present to someone with our words and actions, even in simple ways such as sharing a smile, making the time to listen, or offering support or assistance in the moment of another’s need, even when it is not convenient, or the best time for an interruption.
We also encounter Jesus in the sacraments, especially the Mass, through the word proclaimed, the music, in our fellowship together, and especially, in the Eucharist, Jesus’ Body and Blood that we will receive. This is a sacred moment of encounter with Jesus and his Body coming together as one.
Each of these examples are small, practical ways that we all can encounter Jesus in our daily lives. Jesus is already reaching out to us, inviting us to be in relationship with him and his Father. This encounter and building our relationship with him is not only for ourselves but as we come to experience, develop and deepen our relationship with Jesus, as we experience his love and mercy and how his grace builds on our nature, we are to share Jesus with others.
As Jesus becomes more present in our lives, we are healed of our blindness and begin to see and share, that which is truly good, true, and beautiful. As we see our sin, and through our participation in the life of Jesus are healed so to remove the log in our eye, we can then lead others to remove the splinter in their eyes.
Jesus, help us to pray for each other, support and be present to one another in our everyday experiences, open our hearts and minds to receive the loving embrace of God our Father. And may the flame of the Holy Spirit catch fire and rise within each of us such that we may go forth and set the world on fire with God’s love.