How Do We Encounter Christ?

William Homan Hunt, The Light of the World (detail) (1854)
William Homan Hunt, The Light of the World (detail) (1854)

This past Sunday’s Gospel was from Luke 21, about the end of the world. If you think about it, that’s a pretty strange way to celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, the first day of the new liturgical year. We’re at the beginning of Christianity, if you will. We normally think of Christianity as starting at Christmas, but it’s before that, when Christ dwells within the womb of the Virgin Mary, that He first enters our world. And it’s this season, this preparation for Christmas, that it’s so important to preserve. And yet here we are, talking about the Second Coming. Why?

I’d propose that it’s all about encountering Christ, and making room for Him.

I mentioned recently two Advent images that I find particularly helpful for understanding what this season is all about:

  • The first is of the pregnant Virgin Mary making her way towards Bethlehem with St. Joseph. She grew and expanded because of Christ within her as she journeyed towards Christmas. We should do the same thing. Let Christ grow within your heart and soul.
  • The second is of Christ the Guest. Perhaps you will be entertaining guests this Christmas. If so, you know what has to happen beforehand. You look around to see what needs cleaning, and you prepare for your guests. Why? Because you love them. This applies to us in the spiritual life. In the Book of Revelation (Rev. 3:20), Christ says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” He’s announced that He’s coming over, and this is our time to clean up our spiritual house.

But where do we encounter Christ, and how do we respond?

In talking about encountering Christ, I’m reminded of the Twilight and Hunger Games faux-“trilogies.” Both of those were three-part series, in which the third book was turned into two separate movies. With Christ, we’ve got a “trilogy” like that. There’s an easy way to remember it, too: we encounter Christ in history, Mystery, and majesty:

  1. Christ’s arrival in history is what Christmas celebrates.
  1. Christ’s arrival in Mystery refers to the Sacraments, which the early Christians called the Mysteries. We encounter Jesus in a unique way, of course, in the Eucharist.
  1. What about Christ’s arrival in majesty? Here’s why I put “trilogy” in heavy quotations. Because we can think about this in two ways. We encounter Christ at the end of the world, at His Second Coming, when He comes to us. But that’s not how most people meet Him. Most of us go to Him at our death. But whether we’re talking about the particular or the general Judgment, we will soon see Christ in glory, just as saw Him in the past in history, and in the present in the Sacraments.

So how do we prepare for these encounters with Christ? There are three possibilities, each of which are laid out in last Sunday’s Gospel:

  1. Some will be in terror: “People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” (Luke 21:26)
  1. Some will be in apathy: “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap.” (Lk. 21:34)
  1. Some will be in joy: “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Lk. 21:28)

And we’ve seen these three reactions at every encounter with Christ. On that first Christmas, the wicked King Herod was terrified of the baby Jesus, and sought to kill Him. The innkeeper was apathetic, and couldn’t make room for Him (Lk. 2:7). And the shepherds, the wise men, and the Holy Family were joyful: the angel announcing the birth of Jesus to the shepherds told them, “I bring you tidings of great joy” (Lk. 2:10).

What about encountering Christ in the Sacraments? Do you let terror prevent you from meeting Him in Confession? Or do you approach him in the Eucharist apathetically, going through the motions while your mind and heart are somewhere else?The approach He calls us to is to prepare a little room in our hearts, and to receive this great gift of God Himself in a spirit of joy.

Finally, when you think about your own death, or when you think about the Last Judgment, how does your heart respond? In the Nicene Creed, we pray, “We look forward to the Resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.” Is that true? Are we joyously awaiting Christ’s return and the end of this world? Or does the end of the world terrify us, because we know we aren’t living as we should? Or do we simply ignore the fact that we won’t always be here, and that the world won’t always be here? Have we set our hopes and aspirations in this world, so that we don’t want to acknowledge that it will fade?

This Advent, Christ the Guest comes to us. Wake up from your slumber, clean up your spiritual house, and lift up your heads and your hearts, for your Redemption is at hand!

7 Comments

    1. This was unintentionally hysterical.

      I might be doing a lecture series this summer that might be filmed (I’m not being coy: things just aren’t all hammered out yet). But if all goes well, and someone else actually takes the trouble of uploading the video, I’d be more than happy to post it here.

      1. Tell me about it. I have been going through the book of job at my church’s Sunday school and I am a week behind in uploading a YouTube still with an mp3 in the background. Simply, time! Even when I hunt I use my nose to turn the smart phone to read. I finished a commentary on Romans in June and only uploaded up to chapter 10 on my website. Makes me feel badly that so many Catholics do not appreciate the celibate clergy more. How is a priest supposed to be a theologian, social worker, a confessor, and a family man. good luck finding the help with your project.

  1. It seems that encountering Christ can come to us in very subliminal ways, even before knowing the name of Jesus Himself. Just as St. John the Baptist jumped in the womb of Mary at the ‘visitation’ to Elizabeth, wherein the fetus St. John obviously knew not a word of a spoken language, so too, do many people encounter Christ FIRST through the experience of a very charitable act by another person.

    When someone performs a great act of charity, or great loving affection to another, it is highly impressive to the recipient of that love. It is something that even the smallest of children are sensitive to, and there might be a case to raise that even infants ‘demand’ this charity and love. Witness the crying infant at birth, and the demanding baby at feeding time. So, I think the experience of love from the earliest age is the beginning, and ADVENT, of being a Christian. And, I presume that infant baptism also can play an important part in this, do too the sacramental infusion of initial grace.

    So, I think the experience of the true love from others is impressed on souls from a very early age, and continues to impress a person at every year of life afterwards. And every act of true and holy love deepens, and makes familiar, this charity even without the person and name of Jesus being associated with it YET.

    Then as a person grows, ‘evil’ is also experienced in his, and this proposes a contrast to the love and charity experienced in the earliest ages.

    Finally, in one way or another, the name and story of Jesus is encountered. A person learns the words of Christ and also contemplates His many miracles and acts of charity for others, and these stories harken back memories of the earlier charity experienced in the past. Thus, in the Gospel message, we witness again profound love and charity but on a much higher, and impressive, level. Herein we meet the ‘lamb of God’, the ‘Good Shepherd’, ‘the God who describes Himself as ‘meek and humble of heart”… the God Who calls us not ‘servants’, but ‘friends’.

    And regarding the end times, and our deaths, are we to forget who we have loved from the beginning? Is it not this same loving God, and ‘friend’, even as is taught in the Gospel who comes ‘to prepare a place for us’ so that ‘where He is, we also shall be’?. So, all people should really study the life, words and actions of Jesus well, because then we might be one of those who rejoice when we find Him coming closer to us at our ‘end time’. And before that, we should be one of those who spread Christ’s love and affection to others, so that they too might one day come to understand, and associate, the love we have shown, with that shown by Jesus found in the holy Gospels. These preparatory acts of charity for those others, prepare them for the time they encounter the Gospel message Christ in it’s full, glorious and sacramental entirety.

  2. The Parousia has been emptied of its cataclysmic content and so a brief excerpt from Dom Geuranger’s , The Liturgical Year, might be apt here; it is from an ancient French-Roman Missal and one just does not hear such truths spoken about anymore.

    Him so severe in judgment.
    So merciful in power.

    Stop and think about who Jesus Christ is. He rose from the grave triumphant and robed in majesty. He is King of Heaven and Earth and yet the modern Shadow Church speaks of Him as though He was merely an itinerant preacher who performed a few miracles (which are HIGHLY questionable) and who, were He to suddenly appear before us, would appear as meek, mild, and humble.

    Lord have Mercy.

    Holy Writ teaches what happened to any man or woman who was blessed to have been visited by an angel – there was fear, first of all owing to the nature of the angel.

    But when it comes to Jesus, His nature has been eviscerated by the new theology and the Lil’ Licit Liturgy and so Jesus is a kind dude, a buddy,a pal

    Where once we had The Dies Irae, we now have priests robed in white canonising one and all – Ol’ Joe is in Heaven fishing with his friends – and the Catholic Cemeteries are empty the first 9 days of November because with everyone in Heaven, there is no need to go there and try and earn an Indulgence which can be applied to the poor souls in purgatory.

    The last four words are the last four words you will ever hear in a modern catholic church because universalism has destroyed the Communion of Saints.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *