It is very helpful to look back at our own experiences of encountering Christ. It is often called “religious experience”. A religious experience can be seen in some instances.
For example we are surprised and feel wonder about the fact that we exist. We live. We say, “It is I who is here, not anybody else.” Other people exist, and there are people we truly love. We are glad about their existing and living; we are grateful. But then we also have the anxiety over not-existing. For example some relationships end. Friends go. People die. We will die. Jesus is encountered and we feel that he has given us the chance for something more stable, more permanent—and this is eternal life.
Sometimes we are amazed at how we do things and we are able to accomplish certain things. We are in-charge of many things we do. Yet we also feel that we can lose control. We cannot control all the events that happen around us. Events can happen and we are not sure of what they can do to us; maybe they will lead us to living in ways we do not like. Jesus comes and we feel that even if we are not in full control of life’s flow we can have unconditional security in him. He is not going to leave us hanging.
And then we have the experience of coming face to face with our own freedom. We realize that we are responsible for many things we do. Some things we do are “bad”—we harm others, we hurt others. We feel lonely with our freedom. Jesus comes and we feel he can understand us. He is patient and guiding. We are comfortable in him—we can be accountable to him and we feel he will be at our side even when we commit faults.
Religious experience can be this—the experience that there is Someone who guarantees life in an absolute way, someone who secures us in an absolute way, someone who accompanies us in an absolute way. Did we ever see this in Jesus? How real is Christ to us?
There are moments in life when we say that we encounter Christ. Maybe we can look at our prayer life, community life. Maybe we see Christ in social situations, in the poor and the struggling. Maybe in our own personal difficulties we suddenly encounter Christ. We can look back at our younger years; there may have been moments of encounter.
The encounter with Christ is very often said to be marked by a call. Well, at least we can be thankful for the encounter because we experience being motivated. We say a deeper yes to our lives as Christians, we say a deeper yes to our faith. We have a feeling of meaningful decision making. There is Christ supporting us, accompanying us. For those of us who have accepted a clear call—such as the call to religious life—the encounter with Christ deepens the motivation.
We may have been born in Christian families and since childhood we were exposed to things Catholic. The faith has been transmitted to us by our families, teachers, catechists, priests, etc. The encounter with Christ makes us become more personal with our faith. The faith is not just an external thing; we interiorize the faith thanks to encountering Christ. Faith has a face.
The Apostles and the early Christians experienced the encounter with Jesus and they were impressed. Jesus had a very strong impact on them. Over centuries Christians have had experiences of encountering Christ. We can think of saints and martyrs. We can also think of the many ordinary and unknown Christians who, in their own simple ways, had an experience of encountering Christ. Historians note that the very early Christians moving to the East from Palestine were not doing any professional mission work, but because of the depths of their intimacy with Christ they were able to bring so many to the Christian faith. In the gospel account of John we read, “We saw his glory” (Jn1/14). The Apostles and the early Christians experienced Christ in a glorious way. They have, indeed, seen his glory.
That impact made people move and let Christ known. Christ lived in them; in their hearts. The experience of encountering Christ served as a “motor” for moving on in life—finding sense and vocation for living. Christ is who drives us all the more, living as well as we can, our faith. This is so crucial, we may not notice it.
The Church is, in fact, a community that started with a deep experience of Christ. Today we may be complex in our lives that even Church life becomes flat and routine. But let us remember that underneath the whole motivation of the Church is an encounter with Christ.
Life can be so busy we are so preoccupied by many matters. This is why we need to pause now and then; give ourselves the time to look at ourselves, at our experiences. How is Christ present in our lives? How real is he? Some saints have always proposed a review of life—an “examination of conscience”—to check now and then our experiences with Christ. Prayer life should never be abandoned.
This faith and confidence in Christ is so important because it will also guide us to living the faith and confidence of Christ. Because Christ is so real for us we want to be in his footsteps and have his faith too. So let us say: have faith in Christ is to also have the faith of Christ.
To grasp the faith of Christ let us look at his work as mediator. Christ had full confidence in his Father and he knew that as he continued with his mission his Father was not going to abandon him. The confidence of Jesus made him obey unconditionally the Father. Jesus had faith in his mission. He took it seriously even at the point of the cross. He communicated to us what came from the Father; it was a message of love symbolized by the Kingdom. Jesus had faith in us, humans, to the point of Incarnation and thus leading us to the Father. He had faith in us he became one with us—the Word became flesh. He was in solidarity with us so that in our poverty and abjection we may be made “rich” in God. This was the faith of Jesus and we internalize it.
Like Jesus we keep confidence in the Father. Like Jesus we obey the Father. Like Jesus we go on mission, fulfilling the mission of God. Like Jesus we bring ourselves close to the poor, the marginalized, the little ones of the world. Our faith is the faith of Jesus.
This is our “credentials”. If others ask us what strengthens us in vocation and mission, we can say that it is the faith of Jesus. We are not satisfied in having faith in Jesus. Because of the confidence and trust we hold on Jesus, we want to follow his footsteps and live the faith of Jesus.