In the first sentence of the Pope’s apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, he says, “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.” Our faith is nothing without this personal encounter with God. And how does one do such a thing? In prayer, yes. By going to church, yes. But more important than either of those things: by allowing ourselves to encounter the God in one another.
This week our friends at Loyola Press have published The Church of Mercy, a compilation of many of Pope Francis’ addresses and writings, presenting his hopeful vision for the Church. His vision continues to stress the theme of encounter. In the book he says, “Faith is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love …” As a representative of the ecclesial church—and as a disciple—Pope Francis himself has made this theme part of his ministry to the people.
In the Exploited
I want to expand on one specific quote from the book:
“Rampant capitalism has taught the logic of profit at all costs, of giving to get, of exploitation without looking at the person… and we see the results in the crisis we are experiencing! [The Church] is a place that teaches charity: it is a ‘school’ of charity, which instructs me to go and encounter every person, not for profit, but for love.”
Consider for a moment your consumer self, the one who buys and consumes. You purchase food, clothing, coffee, furniture, gifts… Have you ever considered the other human beings who touched those things? The shirt you wear now was touched by the person who made it for you. And that person’s dignity may have been compromised by a company who, instead of providing a living wage for that person’s basic needs, are exploiting them for maximum profit. In fact, the term “sweatshop” comes from the idea of sweating the maximum profit from the workers.
Pope Francis calls us to acknowledge the God—the dignity—in that person, and to love them. But not just in the sweatshop worker! In each other!
In Each Other
The other day I took a walk in a local state park and made it a point to say hi to each person I passed. Greeting a stranger is not too common in the Northeast so a few seemed a bit surprised I acknowledged them. Some were casual walkers, some had dogs with them, others were exercising, some were women, some were men, some were overweight, and some were slim. But each person, I thought, regardless of their body type, their background, or their bank balance, had dignity given to them by God. Human beings have the need to be acknowledged by another, yet we often ignore those around us. We can’t limit our encounters to disembodied ones in our phones and devices. Can we make such a bold and intentional effort to encounter those around us, and see the loved person of dignity God has made them to be?
Though I may never see those walkers again, my brief greeting and human encounter with them formed a brief relationship. When we encounter Jesus, Pope Francis would say, our lives are transformed. It’s that relationship that creates possibilities. I often wonder if the pope is thinking about the Ignatian practice of colloquy when he talks about encountering Jesus. Colloquy is simply a conversation you have with Jesus during an imaginative prayer. Colloquies can be casual, as if you’re chatting with a friend, or they can be profound and transforming as with the woman at the well.
Our encounters with Jesus may begin in prayer, but they must spill into the encounters we have with our friends, neighbours, and even strangers.
Listen to an audio version of this post…
Music by Kevin MacLeod