Friday, March 6, 2015

Encountering Jesus This Lent

Our parish is in the middle of an Encounter series for Lent. It's kind of our parish mission, but it's much more than just a few speakers. It's an encounter with Jesus meant to last the rest of our lives.

The Encounter program did begin with speakers from all over the country who brought us stories and examples of how we can encounter Jesus in our lives. Being the queen of lists, I embraced a checklist of the Daily Disciplines of a Disciple of Jesus. Are you ready for them?

1. Read Scripture

Encounter Jesus through the Word of God every day. Father Larry Richards has a saying: No Bible, no breakfast; no Bible, no bed. Where do you start? The New Testament is a good place. Just don't neglect the Old Testament, because it all ties together in a miraculous way. (That's what happens when the Holy Spirit picks up a pen, using men to do the writing.)

UPDATE:  Matthew Kelly just did a great video on reading the Bible, and if you're just getting started, here are the books he recommends you jump in with:  The Gospel of Matthew; Genesis; Psalms.

2. Prayer

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it's more than reciting "Now I lay me down to sleep" at the end of the day. It's dialogue. To hear God, you need some silence. You need to listen, so at least find a quiet spot for your prayer. One great way to pray is with Scripture, Read slowly. Read again. Take the word or words that stuck out or struck you and meditate on them. Listen. Let God get a word in. Then resolve an action for the next day.

Here's an example:  I read Luke 1. It's about Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. The couple were old and childless. Zechariah was a temple priest. This particular year, he had been chosen by lots to go into the temple and burn incense. This was a big job. They would tie a rope around the priest so they could drag him out if he died in there. He would come out and speak the name of God and give the people a blessing.

While in the temple, an angel of the Lord appeared and announced that Elizabeth would become pregnant. Great news! But Zechariah doubted. Would you have asked questions? I probably would have. As punishment for doubting, Zechariah was struck dumb. This meant that he wouldn't be able to give the blessing or pronounce God's name to all of those people who had made the trek.

What struck me was the other people waiting to hear God's name and receive a blessing. Because of Zechariah's doubts, he wouldn't be able to perform this task. For some of the faithful, this was the only time in their lives they could make it to Jerusalem. This was the only chance they would have to receive the blessing and hear God's name. Remember, back then, if you spoke the name of God, you were stoned to death. So it was a big deal.

It became clear to me that my lack of faith, my fears, affect others. Maybe God has a gift for them, and if I balk at doing my part, they won't receive that gift.

3. Living the Sacramental Life

The Sacraments are Baptism (which you only receive once), First Communion, Reconciliation, Confirmation, Holy Orders (for those who become priests), Matrimony, and Anointing of the Sick. You can receive the Eucharist every time you attend Mass, and in most areas in the United States, you can attend Mass daily. What a blessing! Reconciliation schedules vary, but you should be able to find it once per month. I go twice per month. Otherwise, those sins slip into habits. We receive grace through the Sacraments. Who couldn't use more grace? 

4. Fellowship with each other

It's not Jesus and Me; It's Jesus and Us. We are the Body of Christ, a community. Don't be an island! Part of the Encounter series is small group communities that will meet throughout Lent to share our journey as we get closer to Christ. If you can't get out of the house, there are online communities. Just don't get caught up in the anonymity of the web over live interaction.

5.  Service to Others

The majority of non-profits out there are Christian. There is a reason for this. We are Christ's hands and feet. Put them to work for Him.

6. Proclamation

You do this through word and action. First, be joyful. When people are exposed to the joy of a life in Christ, they want to know more, and that's a perfect time to introduce them to Jesus. Never be intimidated. I have found that if you bring Jesus up, more often than not, others are at least willing to listen. Quite often, they want to talk about Him themselves, but are too intimidated or shy.

Boy. If I can do all of these daily for one year, I ought to see a difference in my life, and others should see a difference in me.

Do you have any suggestions for carrying out these steps? Additional steps you would add?

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