By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Encounter that Changes Everything

From the very beginning of our Nothing More Beautiful series in aid of the new evangelization, we have been encouraging everyone to open their hearts to a new personal encounter with Jesus Christ. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI stated in his very first encyclical (Deus Caritas Est, 1) that the Christian life springs not from intellectual assent to ideas and concepts but from a personal encounter with the Lord. Notably, the Holy Father referred to this as an encounter with an event. Something happens when we meet Jesus Christ. Life changes and is never the same.

Insight into this “event” is offered in the Scripture readings for the Third Sunday of Lent (cf. Exodus 17: 3-7; Romans 5: 1-2, 5-8; John 4: 5-42). The passage from the Gospel according to Saint John is the familiar and beautiful story of the encounter between Jesus and the woman of Samaria at the well of Jacob. Much can be, and has been, said about this passage. Here I wish to focus on the fact that Jesus knew everything about the woman’s life even before a word was spoken. By the time they had ended their conversation, she went away to the town saying, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done.”

This dimension of the narrative reminds me of the other passages in Scripture where the simple glance of the Lord penetrated to the complete truth of the person he beheld. Think of St. Peter. When he first met the Lord, Jesus said to him, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas (which is translated Peter).” (John 1:42). Jesus saw and named his true identity. Nathaniel also found himself to be known by Jesus. When the Lord saw him under a fig tree, he said, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47). Jesus looked within and saw his goodness. At other times the Scriptures tell us that the look of the Lord unveils a person’s wrongdoing as well. The Samaritan woman experienced this as Jesus spoke of her previous marriages and current cohabitation with a man not her husband. So, too, was Peter brought to a deep awareness of his betrayal of the Lord from the simple fact that the Lord looked at him (cf. Luke 22:61-62). These examples teach us that when we encounter the Lord, he brings us face to face with the truth of ourselves, a truth of which we may not have been aware, or tried to avoid or cover up.

Yet this same encounter also brings us face to face with the truth of Jesus. He is the one, St. Paul tells us in the passage from Romans, who died to save the ungodly, who gave his life for us sinners, and thus manifested the wondrous and unconditional love of God. He is the one through whom that love, the gift of the Holy Spirit, is poured into our hearts. To encounter Jesus is to encounter this love and to hear his invitation to accept his truth by the act of faith and accept the truth of ourselves as loved and wanted by God. The encounter with this love changes everything. It is “the gift of God” that comes to us as “living water” to quench fully the deep thirst in our hearts for peace and happiness.

These were wonderful readings to accompany sixteen men who visited our seminary this weekend for the annual “Come and See” discernment days. This is an opportunity for men thinking of a call to priesthood to visit the seminary and meet the formation team and seminarians. I was able to join them Sunday for Mass, followed by lunch. Impressive was the seriousness with which these men were discerning a possible call to the Lord. The readings reminded them, as they do all whose hearts remain open to the will of God, that discipleship begins with and is nourished by a deep personal encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. When one’s heart is open to the Lord’s “glance”, the truth of his full knowledge and complete love is experienced. This encounter awakens trust in the goodness of the Lord and invites one to give all to the Lord in the act of faith.

Thank you to all who prayed our novena to the Holy Spirit for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Let’s continue to pray that those the Lord is calling to these particular and beautiful forms of holiness will be open to encounter his love and respond in faith to his call.