A Renewed Personal Encounter with Jesus

In his Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, Pope Francis appeals to all of us to give ourselves to a "renewed personal encounter" with Jesus:

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. 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” [Paul VI, Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete in Domino] The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. [3]

There are four elements to this invitation: 1) it is a renewal, 2) which is personal, 3) which is an encounter, 4) and it with with Jesus.

How is my relationship with Jesus now?

For many of us, it is not easy to describe our relationship with Jesus. We might find it easier to describe our relationship with God, in general. We might even acknowledge, that though we celebrate Mass each weekend (or perhaps, daily), receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus in an intimate communion with him, we don't feel or experience a day to day conversational, personal relationship with him.

Asking for the grace of a renewed personal encounter with Jesus

The first grace is a desire - something stirring within us - which is open to this deeper encounter. As Pope Francis says that it can start with an "openness" to letting Jesus encounter me. "Waiting for us with open arms" is a quite comforting image. We can't let our having been away or distant or pre-occupied, or even having been selfish or deeply sinful get in the way of this renewal. The first part of the joy we can long for is the experience - perhaps for the first time in our lives - of being loved mercifully, with compassion and with open arms.

So, with that desire, we simply ask for it. We can start by saying it out loud in some private place:

"Dear Jesus, let me begin a renewed personal encounter with you."

As the days go by, we will find more and more specific ways of talking with Jesus and asking for this grace in ways that opens our hearts more and more.

"Jesus, let me experience your presence with me today. Let me know your love, your patience, your comforting peace. I am so grateful you have forgiven me. I want to walk through my day today feeling grateful that you've given me a fresh start."

"Lord, Jesus, want to invite you into more and more places in my life today. I want to let you into my worries and my fears. Instead of just asking you to fix everything in my life, or to change other people, I just want to enjoy your friendship, your accompanying me, your presence with me today."

"Dear Jesus, you know what weighs on me the most today. As I reveal my heart to you, I start to understand my own heart's restlessness I'm so sorry for how complex my heart is. As you comfort and heal my heart, its wounds and pains, I am growing in a sense of how personally you love me. I'm touched by the personal affection you have with me. I'm becoming more at ease with you, at the same time as I'm becoming more comfortable with myself being in relationship with you."

Developing a habit of encounter "unfailingly each day."

Every relationship which grows in depth grows through several stages. Our relationship with Jesus is no different. We first get to know and fall in love with someone by spending time with him or her. We may think we know Jesus well enough, but this "renewed personal encounter" will involved renewing what I know about Jesus. The daily gospels are a good place to start. Each day, I can get a snapshot of what Jesus said and did. The Jesus with whom I want to grow in a greater friendship today is the same person who talked with sinners, who wasn't afraid of embracing marginal people or poor people. The Jesus who was passionate in defending those people, against the attacks of the religious people of his day, has the same passionate compassion for me today. Gradually, I can develop a renewed attraction and affection for Jesus.

The more attracted I am to Jesus' style, the more I will want to tell him that. And, in our ongoing, brief conversations at various points in the day, I will make the connections between what I'm drawn to in Jesus and what is going on in my life.

"Dear Jesus, I really love your amazing tender ways. I feel so harsh in comparison today. I snapped at my spouse this morning, before the day really started. Not much tenderness there. I'm already felt sorry for myself and felt jealous and angry at two people today. Not much like your ready openness to be stopped and drawn into a difficult situation, with such freedom. I'm growing in the desire to imitate you, even today, Jesus. So, help me be more conscious of how I can do that this afternoon."

"My dear friend, Jesus, as I'm driving home from work, I'm so happy to just turn the radio off and to talk with you about my day. Wow. It was packed. I feel good about parts of it. You know the parts were I choose work over people, or chose what was best for me over working with others. So, now as I get closer to home, let me shift gears and enter my home, with my heart connected with yours. I know how I can tend to treat my family. And, I use my crazy day as an excuse to do that. Let me leave the day behind and come home with a desire to be more like you in my availability, my patience and my giving myself to be a healer and a consoler in my family. Thanks for your friendship. I feel that you are at my side and I'm not doing all this alone. I simply couldn't experience this renewal of our relationship without your grace."

Letting a daily personal encounter grow into a deeper relationship which transforms my life.

Once we get into the habit of having these very ordinary, but personal conversations with Jesus, we will find ourselves enjoying them very much and that with them will come several powerful graces. The first is what Francis calls joy which is itself evangelical. That is, when we are joyful at the loving relationship we have with Jesus - who became one of us and died for our sins and was raised to set us free from sin and death - it shows. The easiest "good news" to believe in is when we see it in the lives of others. As we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our lives become more attractive and inspiring. And, the more we are with Jesus in this day to day encounter, the more we become like Jesus. We care much less about being like everyone else in the world. We care about the people he cares about. We hear the cry of the poor. We give ourselves in loving others and even to working together with other friends of Jesus in dismantling unjust social structures.

Not just "saying prayers" but praying which becomes a personal encounter

When speaking to the youth in Brazil, Pope Francis said:

"Father, are you asking us all to pray? I ask you all … but reply in the silence of your heart, not aloud: do I pray? Do I speak with Jesus, or am I frightened of silence? Do I allow the Holy Spirit to speak in my heart? Do I ask Jesus: what do you want me to do, what do you want from my life? This is training. Ask Jesus, speak to Jesus, and if you make a mistake in your life, if you should fall, if you should do something wrong, don’t be afraid. Jesus, look at what I have done, what must I now do? Speak continually with Jesus, in the good times and in the bad, when you do right, and when you do wrong. Do not fear him! This is prayer. And through this, you train yourselves in dialogue with Jesus, in this path of being missionary disciples. By the sacraments, which make his life grow within us and conform us to Christ. By loving one another, learning to listen, to understand, to forgive, to be accepting and to help others, everybody, with no one excluded or ostracized."

In one of his daily homilies, talking about the Mary and Martha story, about how Mary chose the better part, Pope Francis said:

And the Lord tells us: the first task in life is this: prayer. But not the prayer of words, like a parrot; but the prayer, the heart: gazing on the Lord, hearing the Lord, asking the Lord.

A number of times, the Holy Father reminds us that praying is not simply saying words. It involves a personal encounter. We can ask for that grace and practice it. It is the encounter Jesus wants to give us and, if we ask for it, and open the door, he will surely help us and meet us with open arms.


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