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THURSDAY HOMILY: We Are Invited Into an Encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ

By Deacon Keith Fournier
October 31st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Today we are gathered in the presence of the same Jesus Christ. He is as truly present as He was in those dusty streets on the way to Jerusalem - for those whose eyes are opened by living faith. The same Holy Spirit which transformed the Apostle Paul has been given to you and me. The same Jesus whom Paul encountered, will soon come to us in the Holy Eucharist and make His home within us. The key is our response to the invitation.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Both readings at Mass pick up where we left off yesterday. In the Gospel from Luke (Luke 13:31-35) we meet Jesus continuing his journey to Jerusalem. Told by some Pharisees that Herod seeks to kill him, He is not distracted. He sends a dismissive message back to his adversary whom he compares to a fox, a small, weak animal who uses cunning because he lacks any real power.

Then, he opens his heart and weeps over Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling!  Many for whom Jesus came, failed to recognize Him in the day of His visitation.

Our first reading was written by a man who initially failed to recognize Him.Yet, the Rabbi named Saul finally encountered the Risen Lord.  He had been complicit in the martyrdom of the first deacon, Stephen. Afterward he breathed 'murderous threats' against the believers. Seeking to bring them back in chains he set off on a journey to Damascus in hot pursuit. But, the Risen Lord had other plans for this man who became St. Paul. 

On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" He said, "Who are you, sir?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." (Acts 9:1-20) Saul heard Jesus ask a question which changed his life, "Why do you persecute me?"

As far as we can tell through either Biblical or historic evidence, Saul never met Jesus during His earthly ministry. Yet, because Jesus the Head is inseparably joined to His Body, the Church, Jesus was persecuted by Saul when His disciples were persecuted by Saul. In that encounter, Saul became a witness to the Resurrection, a prerequisite to being an apostle.

The encounter opened his eyes, enabling him to recognize Jesus Christ in all of the visitations which would follow in his life of service - no matter how difficult and trying some of them would seem. It compelled him to spread the Gospel and plant the Church throughout the known world. The man, who had once persecuted the Way, became the Apostle who walked with Jesus along that Way - and invited others to do the same. 

That encounter set him on the path to becoming a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), a new man who was able to write this extraordinary letter of instruction to the Christians living in Rome. (Romans 8:31b-39) The excerpt we heard reveals the power of living faith to change everything. That kind of living faith is fueled by the presence of the Holy Spirit in a man or a woman. St. Paul reminded those Christians in Rome and he reminds us:

If God is for us, who can be against us? He did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him? Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?

As it is written: For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord
. (Romans 8:31b-39)

Today we are gathered in the presence of the same Jesus Christ. He is as truly present as He was in those dusty streets on the way to Jerusalem - for those whose eyes are opened by living faith. The same Holy Spirit which transformed the Apostle Paul has been given to you and me. The same Jesus whom Paul encountered, will soon come to us in the Holy Eucharist and make His home within us. The key is our response to the invitation.

The word encounter is used often by Pope Francis. It is a key, a lens, what theologians call a hermeneutic, to understanding this Pope, his way of sharing the Gospel and his way of incarnating the Gospel in his witness of life. He reminds us regularly that Christianity is about an ongoing encounter with the Risen Jesus Christ.

This word encounter also explains his ecclesiology, or theology of the Church. The Church is the place of encounter. It is not some-thing but Some-One, the Body of the Risen Jesus. Jesus is the head of His Body and the head and the Body cannot be separated. Through our participation in the mission of the Church we participate in His continuing redemptive mission.

The Risen Jesus always comes to encounter us - in prayer, word, sacrament, one another, the poor, suffering, struggle - you name it. In all of these we can encounter Jesus, even if initially hidden, if we open our hearts to His Mercy and Love. Pope Francis also invites us, living now in Jesus Christ, to encounter one another - and the whole world which Jesus loves. To live a way of encounter.

This spirituality of encounter is a beautiful spirituality, a profound theology, and a treasure for this barren age. It comes at a moment when the whole Church - and the world into which she is called - desperately needs this spirituality of encounter more than anything else. I believe it will be seen as one of the treasures of this papacy.  

In explaining the emphasis Pope Francis places on encounter, some observers point to his relationship with the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation whose founder, Fr. Luigi Giussani, used the word encounter at the heart of the spirituality of that movement. He properly insisted that Christianity, at its heart, is an encounter with Jesus Christ.

In his first encyclical letter, the Light of Faith  - which Francis acknowledged was written with Pope Emeritus Benedict -  we find the word encounter woven throughout the text. That is because Pope Benedict also emphasized the centrality of an encounter with Jesus. He regularly taught that Christianity is not some-thing, but an encounter with Some-One, the One who lives no more to die and who is encountered through living faith. In the Light of Faith, we read:

"Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us." (Light of Faith, #4)

Today, we are invited into an encounter with the Risen Jesus.  Will we fail to respond as did some in Jerusalem? Or will we follow the pattern of the Apostle Paul? The choice is ours.

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