An Invitation to Encounter Christ in the Lives of our Brothers
Imagine how those earliest Christians would have told their story of their encounter with Christ? In the Gospel of John, Andrew and his companion set out to follow Jesus after John the Baptist said of the Christ, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (John 1:36). Philip was probably personally summoned by Christ. Nathaniel was invited by Philip, but was a scholar and a skeptic. How would these earliest disciples retell their relationship with Jesus Christ? How differently would they have recounted their first experiences of the same man? The disciples did not know they were to enter into the lived reality of the paschal mystery. I, for one, certainly did not know what that meant when I entered religious life and I assume that could be said for most of my confrères (again, another topic for future reflection).
What if the rich young man in Luke were to sorrowfully return to Christ after selling all that he had and giving to the poor realizing that the affirmation he desired from Christ was not the challenge he received and needed? What if he never returned and continued to walk away? The Gospels do not tell us. How would he tell his experience of Christ in his life compared to that of Zacchaeus, the tax collector who literally jumped at the chance to part with his worldly possessions and to host the Messiah in his home? Many of us came to community willingly and full of zeal at a young age. Others arrived after the twists and turns of life. I think most of us find ourselves confront by the call to Jesus and wish to respond as Zacchaeus did but feel more inclined to walk away in sorrow as the rich young man. Like the earliest ones to follow Jesus, we too are conflicted, broken and skeptical. Like the first to answer the call of Christ to “come and see,” none of us could have known what a life in Christ lived in common would hold in store. We do come to Christ because “he himself understood [human nature] well” (John 2:24) and the members of our communities, as fellow humans, do too.
All we can do is to daily call upon each other to “come and see” what Christ has done in me and then to mission one another, as John the Baptist had done, by saying “go and follow Him.” We grow in unity not only through fraternal correction but through fraternal invitation. It is not just the correction and inviting that must take place, but it is through our acceptance and critical reflection upon the corrections given to us by others and through our humble acceptance of the invitations of our brothers that we grow to love God and our neighbor.
I can stand in one place all my life wondering why the world is not conforming to me. Why is it that no one else is experience Christ and his Church the way I am? Why is it that his or her image of Jesus is so different than mine? Or I could set out to discover and encounter the Christ who has beckoned to each of my brothers. I can look at their lives, hear it in their voices, and experience it in their joys and sorrows. I can see how Christ has touched them, healed them, challenged them. I myself can challenge them too through my own encounter with God as long as I am willing to accept their challenge in return. It is in this way that I can come to know and encounter Christ in a new and deeper ways each day. I can respond to that invitation to “come and see” and witness that sliver of Christ that has managed to speak to and through my brothers. From there I can say “Behold, the lamb of God” in my own life in light of what I have heard and seen while recognizing that what I have heard and seen is but a fragment of of Christ with whom we grow in ever deeper relationship.
This does not just happen in the context of “God talk” but through a shared life. Often it is not I who see the movement in God in my life, but my brother. It is by the constant prodding of “where is God in that?” that we can give to one another. That may not even need to be said, but to live together in community, and to live that well, will bring such thoughts to the surface. We could say we perform a “lectio divina” of our own life as individuals and our life in common.
Does this mean I accept or believe all that I see and hear? Of course not. My own life in Christ is a vision unto itself. Does this mean I am claiming relativism? No. Does it mean I follow paths far beyond the guide posts of the Church? No. I am also, however, not filled with such hubris as to discern the legitimacy of the encounter my brother has had with Christ. I am called to love and respect those with whom I live. A wise Norbertine once recounted to me a famous saying, “be kind to your brothers for we are all facing great battles.” It does mean I continue to be open and listen to the grace of Christ Jesus present in those around me as it manifests in their lives.