ECCLESIA IN AMERICA


CHAPTER I

THE ENCOUNTER WITH THE LIVING JESUS CHRIST
"We have found the Messiah" (Jn 1:41)

Encounters with the Lord in the New Testament

8. The Gospels relate many meetings between Jesus and the men and women of his day. A common feature of all these narratives is the transforming power present and manifest in these encounters with Jesus, inasmuch as they "initiate an authentic process of conversion, communion and solidarity" 11 Among the most significant is the meeting with the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4:5-42). Jesus calls her in order to quench his thirst, a thirst which was not only physical: indeed, "he who asked for a drink was thirsting for the faith of that woman".12 By saying to her "Give me a drink" (Jn 4:7) and speaking to her about living water, the Lord awakened in the Samaritan woman a question, almost a prayer for something far greater than she was capable of understanding at the time: "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst" (Jn 4:15). The Samaritan woman, even though "she does not yet understand",13 is in fact asking for the living water of which her divine visitor speaks. When Jesus reveals to her that he is indeed the Christ (cf. Jn 4:26), the Samaritan woman feels impelled to proclaim to the other townspeople that she has found the Messiah (cf. Jn 4:28-30). Similarly, the most precious fruit of the encounter between Jesus and Zacchaeus (cf. Lk 19:1-10) is the conversion of the tax collector, who becomes aware of his past unjust actions and decides to make abundant restitution " "four times as much" " to those he had cheated. Furthermore, he adopts an attitude of detachment from material goods and of charity towards the needy, which leads him to give half of his possessions to the poor.

Special mention should be made of the encounters with the Risen Jesus reported in the New Testament. Mary Magdalen meets the Risen One, and as a result overcomes her discouragement and grief at the death of the Master (cf. Jn 20:11-18). In his new Paschal glory, Jesus tells her to proclaim to the disciples that he has risen: "Go to my brethren" (Jn 20:17). For this reason, Mary Magdalen could be called "the apostle of the Apostles".14 The disciples of Emmaus, for their part, after meeting and recognizing the Risen Lord, return to Jerusalem to recount to the Apostles and the other disciples all that had happened to them (cf. Lk 24:13-35). Jesus, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Lk 24:27). Later they would recognize that their hearts were burning within them as the Lord talked to them along the road and opened the Scriptures to them (cf. Lk 24:32). There is no doubt that Saint Luke, in relating this episode, especially the decisive moment in which the two disciples recognize Jesus, makes explicit allusion to the accounts of the institution of the Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper (cf. Lk 24:30). The Evangelist, in relating what the disciples of Emmaus told the Eleven, uses an expression which had a precise Eucharistic meaning for the early Church: "He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Lk 24:35).

One of the encounters with the Risen Lord which had a decisive influence on the history of Christianity was certainly the conversion of Saul, the future Paul, the Apostle of the Gentiles, on the road to Damascus. There his life was radically changed: from being a persecutor, he became an Apostle (cf. Acts 9:3-30; 22:6-11; 26:12-18). Paul himself describes this extraordinary experience as a revelation of the Son of God "in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles" (Gal 1:16).

The Lord always respects the freedom of those he calls. There are cases where people, in encountering Jesus, close their hearts to the change of life to which the Lord is calling them. Many people in Jesus' own time saw and heard him, and yet did not open their hearts to his word. Saint John's Gospel points to sin as the reason which prevents human beings from opening themselves to the light which is Christ: "the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil" (Jn 3:19). The Gospels teach that attachment to wealth is an obstacle to accepting Christ's call to follow him fully and without reserve. Here, the attitude of the rich young man is indicative (cf. Mt 19:16-22; Mk 10:17-22; Lk 18:18-23).

Personal encounters and community encounters

9. Some of the encounters with Jesus mentioned in the Gospel are clearly personal, as, for example, when he summons someone to follow him (cf. Mt 9:9; Mk 2:13-14; Lk 5:27-28). In these cases, Jesus deals familiarly with his hearers: ""Rabbi (which means teacher), where are you staying"' . . . "Come and see" (Jn 1:38-39). But at other times the encounters are communal in nature. This is especially true of the encounters with the Apostles, which are of fundamental importance for the constitution of the Church. Indeed, the Apostles, chosen by Jesus from among the wider circle of his disciples (cf. Mk 3:13-19; Lk 6:12-16), receive special training and enjoy a closer relationship with him. To the crowds Jesus speaks in parables, while explaining to the Twelve: "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given" (Mt 13:11). They are called to be heralds of the Good News and to carry out a special mission of building up the Church by the grace of the sacraments. To this end, they receive the necessary power: Jesus confers upon them the authority to forgive sins, invoking the same authority which the Father has given him in heaven and on earth (cf. Mt 28:18). They would be the first to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 2:1-4), a gift then bestowed upon all who by virtue of the Sacraments of Initiation would become part of the Christian community (cf. Acts 2:38).

Encountering Christ in the time of the Church

10. The Church is the place where men and women, by encountering Jesus, can come to know the love of the Father, for whoever has seen Jesus has seen the Father (cf. Jn 14:9). After his Ascension into heaven, Jesus acts through the powerful agency of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete (cf. Jn 16:17), who transforms believers by giving them new life. Thus they become capable of loving with God's own love, which "has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (Rom 5:5). God's grace also enables Christians to work for the transformation of the world, in order to bring about a new civilization, which my Predecessor Paul VI appropriately called "the civilization of love".15

Indeed, "the Word of God, by taking on our human nature in all things save sin (cf. Heb 4:15), manifests the Father's plan by revealing to each human person the way to realize fully his or her vocation. Thus Jesus not only reconciles man with the Father, but also reconciles man with himself and thus reveals his true nature".16 With these words the Synod Fathers, taking up the teaching of the Second Vatican Council, reaffirmed that Jesus is the way which leads to full personal realization, culminating in the definitive and eternal encounter with God. "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (Jn 14:6). God has predestined us "to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born of many brethren" (Rom 8:29). Jesus Christ is thus the definitive answer to the question of the meaning of life, and to those fundamental questions which still trouble so many men and women on the American continent.

We encounter Jesus through Mary

11. At the birth of Jesus, the Magi came from the East to Bethlehem and "saw the child with Mary his Mother" (Mt 2:11). At the beginning of his public life, at the marriage of Cana, when the Son of God works the first of his signs, awakening faith in the disciples (cf. Jn 2:11), it is Mary who intervenes and directs the servants towards her Son in these words: "Do whatever he tells you" (Jn 2:5). In this regard I once wrote that "the Mother of Christ presents herself as the spokeswoman of her Son's will, pointing out those things which must be done so that the salvific power of the Messiah may be manifested".17 For this reason Mary is the sure path to our meeting with Christ. Devotion to the Mother of the Lord, when it is genuine, is always an impetus to a life guided by the spirit and values of the Gospel.

How can we fail to emphasize the role which belongs to the Virgin Mary in relation to the pilgrim Church in America journeying towards its encounter with the Lord" Indeed, the Most Blessed Virgin "is linked in a special way to the birth of the Church in the history ... of the peoples of America; through Mary they came to encounter the Lord".18 Throughout the continent, from the time of the first evangelization, the presence of the Mother of God has been strongly felt, thanks to the efforts of the missionaries. In their preaching, "the Gospel was proclaimed by presenting the Virgin Mary as its highest realization. From the beginning " invoked as Our Lady of Guadalupe " Mary, by her motherly and merciful figure, was a great sign of the closeness of the Father and of Jesus Christ, with whom she invites us to enter into communion".19

The appearance of Mary to the native Juan Diego on the hill of Tepeyac in 1531 had a decisive effect on evangelization.20 Its influence greatly overflows the boundaries of Mexico, spreading to the whole Continent. America, which historically has been, and still is, a melting-pot of peoples, has recognized in the mestiza face of the Virgin of Tepeyac, "in Blessed Mary of Guadalupe, an impressive example of a perfectly inculturated evangelization".21 Consequently, not only in Central and South America, but in North America as well, the Virgin of Guadalupe is venerated as Queen of all America.22

With the passage of time, pastors and faithful alike have grown increasingly conscious of the role of the Virgin Mary in the evangelization of America. In the prayer composed for the Special Assembly for America of the Synod of Bishops, Holy Mary of Guadalupe is invoked as "Patroness of all America and Star of the first and new evangelization". In view of this, I welcome with joy the proposal of the Synod Fathers that the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mother and Evangelizer of America, be celebrated throughout the continent on December 12.23 It is my heartfelt hope that she, whose intercession was responsible for strengthening the faith of the first disciples (cf. Jn 2:11), will by her maternal intercession guide the Church in America, obtaining the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as she once did for the early Church (cf. Acts 1:14), so that the new evangelization may yield a splendid flowering of Christian life.

Places of encounter with Christ

12. Trusting in the help of Mary, the Church in America desires to lead the men and women of the continent to encounter Christ. This encounter will be the starting-point of authentic conversion and of renewed communion and solidarity. Such an encounter will contribute greatly to strengthening the faith of many Catholics, helping them to mature in strong, lively and active faith.

Lest the search for Christ present in his Church become something merely abstract, we need to indicate the specific times and places in which, in the Church, it is possible to encounter him. Here the reflections of the Synod Fathers offered abundant suggestions and observations.

They pointed above all to "Sacred Scripture read in the light of Tradition, the Fathers and the Magisterium, and more deeply understood through meditation and prayer".24 A recommendation was made to promote knowledge of the Gospels, which proclaim in words easily understood by all the way Jesus lived among the people of his time. Reading these sacred texts and listening to Jesus as attentively as did the multitudes of the mount of the Beatitudes, or on the shore of the Lake of Tiberias as he preached from the boat, produces authentic fruits of conversion of heart.

A second place of encounter with Jesus is the sacred Liturgy.25 Thanks to the Second Vatican Council, we have a very rich account of the manifold presence of Christ in the Liturgy, the importance of which should lead to it being a theme of constant preaching. Christ is present in the celebrant who renews at the altar the one and only Sacrifice of the Cross; he is present in the Sacraments through which he exercises his efficacious power. When his word is proclaimed, it is he himself who speaks to us. He is also present in the community, by virtue of his promise that "where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mt 18:20). He is present "especially under the Eucharistic species".26 My Predecessor Paul VI deemed it necessary to explain the uniqueness of Christ's real presence in the Eucharist, which "is called "real' not to exclude the idea that the others are "real' too, but rather to indicate presence par excellence, because it is substantial"!27 Under the species of bread and wine, "Christ is present, whole and entire in his physical ‘reality', corporally present".28

The Scriptures and the Eucharist, places of encounter with Christ, are evoked in the story of the apparition of the Risen Jesus to the disciples of Emmaus. The Gospel text concerning the final judgment (cf. Mt 25:31-46), which states that we will be judged on our love towards the needy in whom the Lord Jesus is mysteriously present, indicates that we must not neglect a third place of encounter with Christ: "the persons, especially the poor, with whom Christ identifies himself".29 At the closing of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI recalled that "on the face of every human being, especially when marked by tears and sufferings, we can and must see the face of Christ (cf. Mt 25:40), the Son of Man".30

 

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