Monday, September 30, 2013

Encounter, Encounter, Encounter

During the past months, any number of comparisons have been made between Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.  I suppose this is natural.  But, it seems very little has been made about what I think would be the most obvious similarity between the teaching of both pontiffs.  Repeatedly, Pope Benedict and Pope Francis have emphasized that Christianity must be the result of and the proclamation of a true encounter with Jesus Christ.
In the media, significant emphasis has been placed upon stylistic differences between the two men and in speculation concerning external matters of governance, but this stuff is truly uninteresting.  But, it is safe.  Pope Francis says in an interview that we shouldn't focus exclusively on a few moral issues.  As a result, everybody talks about . . . a few moral issues! Pundits and those who oppose Catholic moral teachings immediately tried to turn what the Pope said into a sensationalized fairy tale that the Pope was changing the moral teachings of the Church.  In response to this, faithful Catholics allowed themselves to get dragged into these conversations.  In part, I think we do this because it is safer and more comfortable to debate moral issues, internal Church politics, and stylistic differences than it is to say, "Jesus is Lord."

But, Pope Francis and his predecessor have been speaking the language of "encounter."  They want to lead Catholics to live from a profound encounter with the person of Jesus Christ and to draw others
into this profound encounter.  They are calling us to be instruments of the encounter with Christ.  This is at the heart of making disciples.  But, it is safer to speak about whether the Pope is going to make monsignors than it is to live the encounter with Christ and share the joy of the encounter.

Among the things that have really struck me about the young people whom I've encountered at the Newman House Catholic Center at Boston University is their attachment to the encounter with Christ.  When I was their age, although a faithful Catholic, I was more interested in winning debates than winning souls!  Debating moral issues was on the same level as debating whether we should have designated hitters or not.  The goal really was not to win somebody to Christ, but rather to decimate their argument.  This is not the case with those whom I meet here.  They see Christianity not firstly as a "moral code," but rather as an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ.  When they engage others in conversations, they want to share the joy of this encounter.  This does not make them weak on defending the teachings of the Church.  Instead, it makes them more convincing.  They are not reduced to being merely guards of a moral code.  Instead, they are witnesses to a living friendship with Jesus Christ.  Certainly, the moral teachings of the Church need to be defended and promoted, but sometimes (like I did when I was young), these moral teachings detached from a friendship with Christ appear to many as pure ideology.  But, when we see someone living the joy of the encounter with Christ, this is truly attractive!  

Pope Francis, like his predecessor, is not calling for our surrender on moral issues.  Instead, he is calling us to do the one thing that will be most effective in evangelizing the culture: Living and proclaiming the encounter with Christ.  It is the encounter with Christ that changes everything.  It is the encounter with Christ that transforms sinners into saints.  It is the encounter with Christ that changes hearts.  It is the encounter with Christ that brings new life.  It is the encounter with Christ that mends the broken, heals the sick, and casts out the demons.  It is the encounter with Christ that enables those who were dead to become alive again.  Really, the only thing that the Church has to offer the world is Christ.  Pope Francis reminded us recently that the encounter with Christ happens in and through the Church.  Instead of a calling us to surrender, Pope Francis (like Pope Benedict) is calling us to take up again our most effective tool . . . the joy of the encounter with Christ.

I am grateful to find myself surrounded by young people who have encountered Christ and are living the joy of that encounter.

"Many people perceive Christianity as something institutional -- rather than as an encounter with Christ -- which explains why they don't see it as a source of joy." Pope Benedict XVI

"The Church is not an association that wishes to promote a certain cause. It is not about a cause. It is about the person of Jesus Christ." Pope Benedict XVI

"The evangelization of the person and of human communities depends totally on this encounter with Jesus Christ." Pope Benedict XVI

"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.” Pope Benedict XVI

"For each one of you, as for the apostles, the encounter with the divine Teacher who calls you friends may be the beginning of an extraordinary venture: that of becoming apostles among your contemporaries to lead them to live their own experience of friendship with God, made Man, with God who has made himself my friend." Pope Benedict XVI

“The challenge is to rediscover, through the means of social communication as well as by personal contact, the beauty that is at the heart of our existence and our journey, the beauty of faith and of the encounter with Christ." Pope Francis

"We must always have the courage and the joy of proposing, with respect, an encounter with Christ, and being heralds of his Gospel. Jesus came amongst us to show us the way of salvation and he entrusted to us the mission to make it known to all to the ends of the earth." Pope Francis

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Father. I just stumbled across this article, and it closely reflects my own personal journey, as well as the way I feel about both popes.