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