The New Testament book entitled “Acts of the Apostles” includes marvelous sermons from St. Peter, sermons that testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead. Remember, our faith in the Lord Jesus is not reverence for a man that died a long time ago. Instead, our faith is in the Lord Jesus really and truly alive. We do not gather to honor simply the memory of the Lord Jesus as a great man of history, but to adore him as God and receive from him a share in his own divine life.
Peter and the Apostles encountered the living Lord Jesus in the body of his human nature. That body was tortured and killed, but because it was God’s Body, the means by which God in Christ revealed himself to the world, that body, God’s Body, was restored to life and radically transformed.
Our encounter with the Lord Jesus is different, but no less extraordinary. Christ reveals himself to us in the Church, particularly in the Sacraments and he makes himself most radiantly present to us in the Blessed Sacrament, which is the mystery of God in Christ’s Body and Blood given to us as source of his divine life. In our encounter with the Blessed Sacrament, it is Christ that we meet, it is Christ that we receive.
What is the proper response to such an encounter?
St. Peter tells us in his sermon for today- the proper response to an encounter with Jesus Christ is repentance.
Repentance has a moral connotation, which means we accept that we have resisted or refused the will of God by failing to observe his commandments. As the First Letter of John testifies this week, the Christian is identifiable as a person who keeps God’s commandments, and if we do not, and still claim the identity of Christian, we make ourselves liars.
But there is a deeper meaning, no less significant, to a Gospel understanding of repentance. Repentance means that in the encounter with Christ, one’s whole way of life changes. There is a fundamental re-orientation of the meaning and purpose of one’s life. Prior to repentance, we might belong to the world, or the devil- pursuing as our ultimate concern the attainment of wealth, pleasure, power or honors- or even worse- we belong only to ourselves, pursuing as our ultimate concern our own ego-driven projects and plans.
In this sad, ego-centric There is little room for God, or anyone else in our lives, because our lives are simply about what we determine to be valuable or important. In this disposition the human soul languishes in self-centeredness. This self centeredness goes so far as to insist that the individual will determine for themselves the ultimate meaning of not only his or her life, but that of the universe itself. If God exists, he exists only as a means to the accomplishment of my own ends.
The only way out of this kind of soul killing dead end is repentance.
Last week, I mentioned how Pope Francis experienced his own encounter with Christ that compelled him to repent when as a young man he met the living Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This experience changed his life. In the Holy Father’s own words: “The truth is that someone was waiting for me. He had been waiting for me for some time. After making my confession I felt that something had changed. I was not the same. I had heard a voice, a call”.
The “someone” waiting for the young Jorge Bergolio, was the Lord Jesus, living and present in the Sacraments of his Church. This encounter changed Jorge Bergolio’s life, and without that encounter, and the repentance it engendered, there would never have been a Pope Francis.
The encounter with Christ necessitates repentance, a willingness to change, a willingness to conform one’s life to the commandments of God, a willingness to admit what one has done or failed to do. Without repentance, the encounter with Jesus Christ becomes a source of frustration and resistance, rather than an opportunity for a new way of life.
Because of a willingness to repent, one moves from the cramped, narrow outlook of self-centeredness to the generous vista of self-gift.
Consider all this if and when you present yourself to receive the Church’s Sacraments, particularly the Blessed Sacrament. If the experience seems merely habitual, lifeless, lacking, ask yourself if it might be that a lack of repentance is keeping Christ at a distance and frustrating his attempts to reach out to you. It need not be that way. Repentance makes you receptive to the encounter with the living, divine Christ.
Repent. Let the encounter with the living Christ change your life.
Christ’s Gospel for today is a recapitulation of everything that I have just told you- that Christ makes himself known to you- you encounter him- in the Sacraments- particularly in the Blessed Sacrament (in the breaking of the bread).
And also, the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is a real event that happens in the very real body of the Lord Jesus. The resurrection is not a symbol or idea or feeling. The resurrection of the Lord Jesus was not a hallucination, but an encounter with the living Christ.
The Gospel makes this clear to us by testifying that the Risen Lord Jesus revealed himself in a real body, still bearing the marks of his crucifixion and still capable of as mundane an act as eating food.
And also, that our faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus invites us to change, to become different and who we become are witnesses to the Lord Jesus- we know who the Lord Jesus is and where people can encounter him.
We who make an act of faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus know that God in Jesus Christ is living and present in his Church and that we can encounter and receive him in the Sacraments of his Church.
We do not find in the Church mere symbols of Christ, but the Lord himself. We do not hear in the Scriptures tales from long ago, but the unfolding of God’s plan, the plan by which he revealed himself to the world. We do not receive in the Sacraments mere ideas or feelings about Christ, but his living and divine presence.
Pope Benedict once made the very important observation that Christian faith is public, not private. If Christian faith were merely a private matter there would be no need for witnesses. Witnesses give testimony, public testimony. Witnesses tell others what they know and what they believe.
We are the witnesses to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. We know who he is (and who he is not). We know where the Lord Jesus is and where people can find him.
That information is not just for our personal, private edification- it is the best of all possible good news that God in Christ wants us to make sure that the whole world knows about and hears.
That’s our mission. That’s what it means to be Christ’s witnesses!