Last week I attempted to unpack what it means to be Intentional and why this word was picked to describe our project. This week I would like to convey reasons that the word Encounter was used and how it fits into our vision.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “encounter” to mean “to meet someone without expecting or intending to”. Our project’s intent is to arrange this unexpected meeting between you and Christ.
Pope Francis continually speaks about an encounter with Jesus and the life altering experience that this has on people. In fact, I believe he gives us one of the best synthesis of the Gospel when he said
“Knowing Jesus is the best gift that anyone can ever receive. That we have encountered Him is the best thing that has happened in our lives. And making Him known by our deeds and words is our greatest joy.” – Pope Francis.
For many though, this message is foreign and mysterious. While poetic or altruistic sounding, often it just doesn’t resonate with our experience. First we must be sure to do the intellectual work to be able to conclude that Jesus actually existed and that Christianity is not just a compilation of life hacks for the nice guy.
Jim Warner Wallace, who was a cold case Detective and also an atheist, took this question head on. In his pursuit of truth he decided to apply the methods he used to corroborate and solve cold cases to the case of Jesus. You can check out his journey here.
When we find ourselves in this position of suspended belief or are over run by distractions that hamstring our ability to think about the big questions, we can settle into a state of luke-warmness. Our outlook on a real encounter with Christ can seem distant and we appear more like indifferent spectators. The executioners who crucified Jesus fit into this category, wholly unaffected by the One who could be heard blessing instead of cursing from the Cross. However, Pope Francis continues to remind us that this encounter, this unexpected meeting, is possible; “an encounter with Jesus overcomes our indifference.” – Pope Francis.
I’d like to discuss four places where we can encounter Jesus: the Holy Eucharist, Scripture, the Poor and Suffering, and in our Common Prayer.
I am the Bread of Life (John 6:48).
Jesus said “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53). These words from Jesus were not figurative and it cost Him many disciples as they left after not coming to grips with what this meant.
The early Church Fathers and even Martin Luther, the first Protestant, believed in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. If this is true, and perhaps we just don’t have the eyes to see it, then Jesus truly seeks an encounter with us in the Eucharist.
I have encountered this truth through my 5 year old son, Dominic, who is profoundly affected with physical disabilities. God has given my wife and I front row seats to witness the consolation of being able to see our son encounter the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.
Dominic is typically very limited in the ways he can express himself (he is unable to talk) or move his body purposefully and he has profound visual impairment. However, since he was a baby, when he could only see shadows, he is different when encountering Our Lord in the Eucharist. While seated in front of the Eucharist and especially during the Consecration, his normally impaired vision becomes purposefully fixed on someone that no one else can see and he throws his arms up intentionally and smiles from ear to ear. He makes forced sounds through his trach of delight and excitement. Once he even rolled towards the altar. He couldn’t roll at this point.
Lately though, as his vision has improved and his metal status has matured a bit, he sobs during Mass. This began with only sobbing only during Holy Communion (every Sunday without fail) and has progressed recently to sobbing during the entirety of the Mass. He sometimes is so wild with sorrow emergency medical measures must be taken such as last week when his trach needed to be changed and oxygen applied throughout Mass. When Mass ends, he stops. Just like that.
Years ago the diocese made a video about Dominic to share with others about his vocation for their annual pro-life banquet, you can watch it here.
“If we did not have the adorable Eucharist here below, Jesus our God-with-us, this earth would be much too sad, this life too hard, and time too long. We must be grateful to the divine goodness for having left us this hidden Jesus, this pillar of cloud and fire in this desert,” – St. Peter Julian Eymard
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ” – St. Jerome
Scripture is the next sure place where we can have an encounter with Christ. The Bible is inspired and God breaths through each word of the text and wants us to meet Him there if we have the ears to hear. I’ve often been confused and overwhelmed by the Bible. Most books that we pick up are read from front to back and convey a story that is chronological and fluid. The Bible, however, can feel disjointed and laborious to comb through. While learning more about Scripture you will find that it is in fact the greatest story ever told and builds on itself to its climax in which Christ offers Himself for you and me in order that we be eternally happy.
In order to make a little more sense of things, the books in the Bible can be viewed more like a Sunday newspaper. There are various inspired genres and literary tools used to convey the truth in the Bible. So using the analogy, we wouldn’t read the sports section of the newspaper in the same way that we read the business section or the editorials for that matter. We are able to place these different styles of writing into their context in order to draw from them the message that is being sent. So it is with Sacred Scripture. If we just open a page to any random place, we can and will encounter God, but it can be more helpful to know where that fits in the narrative story that God has scripted and the context behind the style in which it is written. I highly recommend Jeff Cavin’s Bible Study titled “The Great Adventure, A Journey Through the Bible”.
If you desire to have an encounter with Christ, then it is imperative that we sit with Scripture and soak it in. If we don’t, then we inevitably come up with our own image of who God is, and will miss what He has to say to you, by name, each time that you open it.
Poor and Suffering
“Seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor.” – St. Teresa of Calcutta
Another place where we can encounter the Living God, is in the poor and those who are suffering. Jesus said “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35-36). St. Teresa of Calcutta is a prime example of a person who having encountered Jesus in the Eucharist daily, went out to seek Him in the poor and suffering.
While this can sound a little over the top, “great he wants me to be like Mother Teresa”, there are people who are suffering all around us…loved ones, family members, co-workers. We don’t have to look far or move to Calcutta India to find the poor and suffering in order to encounter Christ in them.
I want to share the story of a family who I am blessed to be friends with who have suffered tremendously this year but God has been acting and moving in their lives like reading straight out of the Acts of the Apostles. When given the choice of despair and brokenness or hope and joy, they choose the latter. Find out about the Lustig family journey here.
When things are going well and we are swept away by the pleasures and distractions of this world it is tough to hear Him, but when suffering comes our way, and it is coming, God shouts in order to have an encounter with us.
“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20)
God tells us that He is seeking that unexpected meeting when we gather to pray. Praying simply is a dialogue with God. Whether the prayer is something recited or spontaneous, we are lifting up our hearts to God and building a relationship with Him. The most obvious place to start gathering for prayer is in your own family and marriage. Learning to pray together, out loud, as a couple and a family demonstrates our need for Him and is a concrete place where He dwells.
In order to begin a deep prayer life it is helpful to know what to say. Sort of like having an awkward silence on a first date after the initial introductions, prayer can be tough…and it’s not always intuitive. Here are some helpful ways that you can begin praying with your wife and as a family.
· Blessing and Adoration – Humble acknowledgment of we are creatures of the Holy Creator.
· Petition – Asking for pardon and for our needs both spiritually and materially.
· Intercession – Asking on behalf of the other which even extends to one’s enemies.
· Thanksgiving – Giving thanks for every event and gift bestowed on us.
Hopefully you can see that an encounters with God is truly possible and can bring the greatest joy to our lives. At Intentional Encounter we want to create opportunities for you to encounter Him and to taste and see the joy and peace which flows from it. By using an incremental and intentional process where you order yourself physically and become trained in the art of suffering and discipline, we believe you will begin to be open to that unexpected meeting, an encounter with Christ.