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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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The Sacred Encounter

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I am troubled that our young people have an intensely truncated sense of history and reality.  They cannot imagine a world without digital phones, tablets, home computers, widescreen HD televisions, video game consoles, and the internet.  Despite tremendous access to information, their focus has narrowed and there is an almost pejorative view of the past and the historical elements of our culture and values.  Current sports figures, musical performers and media actors are idolized while true heroes are neglected or forgotten.  Figures that tout atheism will point to science as the enlightenment of the future while lamenting religion as the superstition of the past.

Given this as the problem we face with secular history and a deficient assessment of Western culture, the situation is no better when it comes to salvation history and our encounter with Christ in Scripture.  A history book or biography tells us about someone.  The Bible actually introduces us to someone.  There is an important difference but the difficulty is the same— few are opening the books.  I use the image of a book, but the issue remains even if we are talking about a lecture or the proclamation of the Word from a pulpit.  Many of our brothers and sisters are becoming comfortable with a truncated view of history and the meaning of life within our society.  They are getting their religious views from authorities fascinated by scandal but not with any dimension of sacred truth.  Those who excuse themselves from the pews and who gather dust on their bibles, have little to nothing by way of a living relationship with the Lord.

What do such people say about Jesus?  Some even question whether he existed or not.  Others suspect that he was a nice man who was wrongly put to death.  They view the sepulcher as the end of the story.  The dead stay dead.  The rest is the stuff of fairytales.  Certain secular humanists will laud Jesus as one who wanted to make a difference for the oppressed and the poor.  They define him as a well-meaning social worker or community activist.  However, if they were to look closely at Jesus, their verdict would have to change.  He told people to love their enemies and to forgive those who hurt them..  He claimed the power to forgive sins.  His assertions would even including making himself out as God.  If these non-believing critics were honest, then their assessment would be that Jesus was either a stark raving madman or and outright liar.  They have left themselves no middle ground.  The believer holds out another possibility— that Jesus is as he claims— the Son of God and the Savior of the world.

Men are born, live and die.  Every biography seeks to fill in the bits in-between.  But this pattern is broken with Jesus.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). The story of Jesus begins before he is conceived in the womb and the Word became flesh.  He would be born and soon thereafter heralded by shepherds, magi and angels.  He would live as other men had lived.  However, one day he would put the quiet life behind him and engage in three years of provocative and supernatural ministry.  He would be embraced by some and rejected by others.  He would reach out to the weak, vulnerable and denigrated.  He would forgive sins and heal bodies.  He would be betrayed, tortured and murdered.  He would die but he would refuse to stay dead.  He promises his friends a share in his victory and life.  He promises to send the Holy Spirit and that he will never abandon us.

Jesus keeps his promises.  We are not orphaned.  He comes to us in his proclaimed Word and in the administration of the sacraments.  Indeed, he is present as the mystical body of the Church.  Other historical figures come and go.  But Jesus still makes possible a real and saving encounter.  His disciples do not know Jesus as a figure locked in past history.  Rather, Jesus is really present and maintains a spiritual relationship or friendship with his own.  There are no aging bones or blackened ashes of Christ.  There are no relics as we have from the saints.  Jesus has awakened from his sleep and calls out to us.  His message is still that of love.  Indeed, if his resurrection were not real then love would be a lie and life a mere taunting respite from endless death.  We look upon crosses in our churches and appreciate that this mystery of redemption has changed all human history, sacred and secular.  Jesus dies once-and-for-all and never again, and yet this mystery holds us in suspension at Calvary where we also offer ourselves.  We come to the cross or its great sacramental exemplar the altar and we bend the knee.  While the spiritually blind are oblivious to its meaning, we know the truth.  This is the watershed event for all time.  Nothing will ever be the same again.  Flowering horizons come not merely with computers, telescopes and mathematics, but with ancient parables, heartfelt prayer and a man who was so much more on a dead tree.

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One Response

  1. Excellent!

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