Throughout the Gospels we hear the words of Christ beckoning souls to come and follow Him. Tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen, rich people, poor people – no one is exempt from this call of Christ to leave all that is familiar to follow Him on an adventure that will impact every aspect of their lives. The Feast of the Conversion of St Paul is an opportunity for each of us to reflect upon our life-changing encounter with the Lord, and ask ourselves if we have met Christ, and if we have allowed that encounter to radically change our lives just like it did St Paul.
St Paul shares the story of his encounter with Christ, and he spends his life inviting others to meet Jesus; this invitation to meet Christ is extended to us as well. Paul’s conversion was not a moment of intellectual enlightenment, but rather, his conversion was an encounter with the person of Jesus Christ, a person who revealed in love and mercy the broken state of Paul’s soul; but also revealed despite that brokenness, that Paul was immensely loved by a God who bore the weight of his sins so Paul could spend eternity with that person of Love. The apostles, the prostitutes, the religious leaders that chose to follow him; all of these people encountered God personally and uniquely, and they met the Saviour of the Universe, their Lover and Redeemer.
What is meant by the term encounter? One definition of encounter is “to meet, especially unexpectedly or in conflict.”* Sometimes we can view meeting Christ as a nice, neat package, easy to fit into our lives, and easy to check off the list. However, Christ is King of the Universe, Ruler and Maker of All, His love for us is so astounding that it should leave us in humble awe of His love, and in deep recognition of our brokenness. Paul’s encounter with the Lord was not neat, tidy, or comfortable– it was dramatic. Paul’s encounter with the Lord so altered how he viewed himself and Christ, that it radically changed how he lived, both interiorly and exteriorly. The conversion of St Paul should challenge us and cause us to look at how we have responded to the grace of Christ. Have we encountered the real and living person of Jesus that it has moved us to radically change how we live our ordinary and beautiful life in abandonment to the one who saved us? I am not saying that we should sell everything, travel across the world as a vagabond, and proclaim Christ’s love on the street corner. However, I do think many of us have not met the Lord and heard his words of love to such an extent that it radically changes how we live our lives. Radically living for Christ might mean being honest with your co-worker about the fact you spent your weekend at a retreat, or, upon seeing someone crying in a store, you ask what is wrong and ask if you can pray with them. Radical living might mean opening your home to that annoying relative or choosing to bite your tongue when someone slanders you. Radical living might mean you stop trying so hard to earn God’s love and learn to sit before him in the silence of your heart, receiving and giving whispers of love from and to our Lord.
Mother Theresa often spoke of this notion of encounter, and near the end of her life, she asked her sisters to ponder their life-changing encounter with the Living God, she wrote:
“I worry some of you still have not really met Jesus—one to one—you and Jesus alone. We may spend time in chapel—but have you seen with the eyes of your soul how He looks at you with love? Do you really know the living Jesus—not from books but from being with Him in your heart? Have you heard the loving words He speaks to you? Ask for the grace, He is longing to give it. Until you can hear Jesus in the silence of your own heart, you will not be able to hear Him saying “I thirst” in the hearts of the poor. Never give up this daily intimate contact with Jesus as the real living person—not just the idea. How can we last even one day without hearing Jesus say “I love you”—impossible… He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy. When not accepted by others, even by yourself sometimes—He is the one who always accepts you. My children, you don’t have to be different for Jesus to love you. Only believe—you are precious to Him. Bring all you are suffering to His feet—only open your heart to be loved by Him as you are. He will do the rest.”**
There is great danger in thinking we have encountered the person of Jesus without stopping to ponder if we indeed know His immense love. Jesus Christ is a real, living person, madly in love with you, thirsting to be with you, thirsting to have you be with him. This love of desire for you greatly pains his heart, but it is a desire our Lord chooses to feel in the hopes that it will lead to you respond to His invitation to be in a real, living, relationship with Him. As we hear the story of St Paul’s conversion this weekend, I ask each of you to think about your encounter with our Lord. It does not need to be dramatic like St Paul’s (though sometimes it is), but it does need to be real and authentic. If you sit before the Lord and think that perhaps you have not encountered that living person, I invite you to speak to Jesus about that. It does not need to be complicated; it can be simple, tell Him you want to meet Him, and then I encourage you to sit in the silence and wait for His response. It might not happen instantly, but the person of Christ is real, and He desires to give His love to you in a way that you can receive it. I pray that like St Paul, each of you may be able to respond to the life-changing words of Christ in your life, and begin a journey with Him that will radically change how you spend your time on earth.
**Gaitley, Michael E. 33 Days to Morning Glory: a Do-It-Yourself Retreat in Preparation for Marian Consecration. Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 2014 pg. 70-72