Encountering Jesus Is for All

When God uses others to help us encounter his presence

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Father David BonnarIn his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), Pope Francis extends an invitation. He writes, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.” The pope adds, “No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord’” (No. 3).

Indeed, the invitation to encounter Jesus is for everyone, including priests. Sometimes, even though we as priests are agents of this encounter of Jesus and others, we can dismiss our own need to encounter Jesus.

Life is lived in the ordinary. But in the ordinariness of our lives, extraordinary things happen — like God uses us as his means of encounter, and he uses others for us to be encountered with Jesus. When was the last time you encountered Christ in others? When were you moved by someone’s faith in Jesus Christ?

One day I was walking out of the church after holy Mass on my way to the rectory. For whatever reason, I looked to my left and sitting on the wall outside of the front of the church was a parishioner named Mike. He had his head bowed and appeared to be meditating. He looked up and caught my eye, and as he got up and walked closer, he said, “Father, today is a special day for me.” “Is it your birthday?” I asked. “No. Thirteen years ago today I had a heart attack and died in the ambulance. But the EMS brought me back to life. Today is my rebirth day.” With tears streaming down his face he held his phone to me and said, “My kids are all texting me and saying, ‘Happy Rebirth Day.’”

Mike then said: “Father, my life now is all about paying back. I have so much more to do and more to give.” Already through his participation in many ministries this man is giving back and living a genuine life of gratitude. Even after 13 years he remains ever appreciative of his new lease on life. I know he echoes the sentiments of the Psalmist who says, “I praise you, Lord, for you raised me up” (Ps 30:2).

Prior to that encounter with Mike, I felt the weight of the world on my heart. I was preoccupied with all kinds of worries. Having reflected on that encounter my burdens somehow became lighter. All the things that I was fretting about diminished as I encountered the faith-filled gratitude and joy of Mike for the gift of life. He clearly heeded the Gospel and gave credence to Pope Francis who in “The Joy of the Gospel” said, “The Gospel, radiant with the glory of Christ’s cross, constantly invites us to rejoice” (No. 5). Personally, I have not seen someone so happy as Mike for a long time. I wondered to myself if as a priest I radiate that same joy.

My reflection of this encounter grew even deeper as I found myself thinking about the EMS who brought Mike back to life. They were simply doing their job. On that day, however, 13 years ago, these first responders truly made a difference. They brought someone back to life. What is more, their life-saving actions along with the doctors who subsequently treated Mike made him all the more grateful for the precious gift of life, which so easily can be taken for granted. An ordinary day for these trained professionals yielded extraordinary results.

What the emergency medical personnel do every day is similar to what we do as priests. In the ordinariness of life, we respond to those who are hurting, alienated and even dying. When we act in the person of Christ, we may even bring them back to a renewed spiritual life. In word and deed, and hopefully with overwhelming joy, we preach the Gospel.

As we prepare to celebrate World Day of the Sick on Feb. 11, let us not take for granted the fact that God uses us, his priests, as healers to bring people back to life. He also places special people in our lives as signs of his presence.

FATHER DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is a pastor of 15 years in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he has served in numerous roles. To share your thoughts on this column or any others, email us at Follow and like The Priest magazine on Facebook.

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