The Gospels record two main reactions to the presence and teaching of Jesus. Many of those who heard Jesus found his words and person to be attractive, irresistible even. It is clear that what he said resonated with something very deep inside each of them. Others were unable to experience this attraction to Jesus. They resisted him, they left him and then they crucified him.
Recently I read an inspiring little book written by someone who is “wrestling with belief in today’s church”. In an early chapter he tells of a conversation he had some years ago with a protestant evangelical pastor of a large city church who commented that he always welcomes “ex-Catholics” to his congregation because they know an enormous amount about Jesus but have never met him. Of course the comment was made cynically and with humour, but it caused me to put down the book and now, two days later, I am still a bit haunted by the thought.
It is easy for our parish committees to spend all their time and energy on more “practical” matters. But what could be more practical, urgent and essential than falling in love with one who brings joy and purpose to human life.
If all parish committees have as their prime purpose to lead parishioners to a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, all their other work of maintaining buildings and managing finances takes on a life-giving and eternal purpose.
If Jesus Christ is not on our hearts and lips and in our actions in every moment life becomes exhausting and we find ourselves automatically submitting to any available noise as the authority for our lives. In the absence of God life’s “little spooky prejudices” (to quote Thomas Merton in the opening paragraph’s of The Seven Storey Mountain) take on power as the ultimate authorities for us.
Through the 1950’s and ’60’s a new, welcome and inspiring voice appeared writing books that quickly became spiritual classics. Thomas Merton powerfully challenges us to return to confidence in God as our ultimate authority. Merton’s authority was not the common moralistic and legalistic authority of his time, but after the model of Jesus, a real and lasting authority with the power to transform life.