Life is a journey. Every journey has a destination. What is your life’s destination? Is it a nice home, a warm climate, a nice neighborhood? Is it to achieve success, security, fame, or wealth? Is it perhaps to find and love a spouse, and raise a family? Today’s feast of the Epiphany, shows us our true destination. Like the Magi from the east, we are called to journey until we find Christ, come to worship Him as Lord and Savior, and offer Him our gifts (our time, talent, and treasure, that is, our entire lives).
For every journey, there must be a guide, or a map. The Magi followed the Star of Bethlehem. What is your guide in life? The world offers many lights to guide our journey, but not all lead to Christ. The light that leads to Christ is the Church, especially the Scriptures, teachings, and our ancestors. They all point the way to Christ, but these are not the destination, they are the map. The destination is Christ in whom we can have a life changing ENCOUNTER with the Living God, with Jesus Christ who is truly RISEN. I believe there is a difference between one who is following the map but has not yet found the destination, compared to one who has encountered Christ face to face, in a way that has transformed them. The encounter brings a freedom and a joy that radiates, and SHINES! It brings a response like we see the Magi had in today’s Gospel (Mt 2:1-12) of bending the knee, adoring Christ as Lord, and offering Him our gifts, all we are and have. I encourage all to pray for that encounter, to open their hearts to, “The love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit” (Rm 5:5).
But our life’s journey does not end with this life changing encounter with Christ. The encounter causes us, like the Magi in verse 2:12, to “Not to return to Herod” but to “Take another way.” The encounter is the beginning of a new direction in life. Just as Christ was born into our world as a child, and grew to maturity until He gave His life completely in love for us on the cross, so we too, with Christ as our guide, grow in spiritual maturity and capacity to love through life, until our death. Just as Christ called, walked with, and taught, his twelve disciples, He walks with us, teaches us, and forms us to be more like Him throughout our life’s journey. As we continue to walk and mature with Jesus through life, we are not alone. Not only do we have Him as our companion, but if we look left and right, we see others walking with Him just as we are attempting to do. These are our brothers and sisters in Christ, the Church, and they are given to us to support us on our journey, and we are given to them to support them. We have many choices of who in life will be our support. Not all people we meet will help us on our life journey with Christ. We must choose wisely and with purpose.
Our journey is not only for ourselves. Just as it was the light of a star that led us to Christ, we are called to be a light (or a star) for others. Many in our world are lost, and have not yet sought to follow Jesus. We are called to evangelize, and help others encounter Christ. Mature disciples must evangelize. When I say this to people in our pews, they are often intimidated. They ask, ‘Who am I to preach?’ Evangelization, is different than being a preacher (although preachers are important). Jesus did not begin his public ministry until he was thirty. He only ministered for three years. During that time, his main focus was walking with and mentoring his twelve disciples. Then after his resurrection, He sent eleven disciples (less Judas Iscariot) to “Make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19). Let us look more closely at those numbers. Say that it took Jesus three years to make 11 disciples. (It is certain that He made more, including the many woman who were with Him.) If these eleven disciples each made eleven more disciples in the following three years, there would then exist 121 disciples after six years. If in turn, each of these formed eleven more disciples in three years, there would now exist 3,121 disciples after nine years. If we continue in this manner, the growth of the Church would be amazing! There would be over 2 billion disciples in less than 30 years! (Today there are only about 2 billion Christians. One can see that our work as a Church is a bit behind schedule!)
So, the role of evangelizing is to be a guide, that is a star for others. It is not so much as to preach to great multitudes, as it is to walk closely with a few persons. It is to help those we encounter in our life find a life changing encounter with Christ, and to walk with them as they grow in knowledge of the scriptures, teachings of the Church, receive the sacraments, live morally and using their gifts and talents to serve God. If we were a guide to just one person over the next three years, and then that person in turn guided one other person over the next three years, and this continued, look at what a difference this could make. The one person we began with would become two in the sixth year, four in the ninth year, etc., until after 30 years there would be over 1,000 disciples of Christ! Imagine in your Church, if there were even ten people who were committed to be this type of a guide for others. That Church would grow by 10,000 disciples in less than one generation!
Last week I was at a Student Leadership Conference (SLS18) for the FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) Ministry, with over 8,000 college students who participate in their campus’s ministry. The conference was teaching them to evangelize in this manner. One of the speakers was the actor Jim Caviezel who played Jesus in “The Pasion of Christ.” He shared that during the five months of filming, he was allowed by God to experience some of the sufferings of Christ during His crucifixion. In the filming of the movie, Jim Caviezel was accidentally scourged, separated his shoulder, was struck by lightning, and suffered hypothermia. Jim looked out at the audience and urged the young crowd to give their lives to Jesus who suffered and died so that they might have salvation, and to proclaim that message to others. It struck me, that if we only partially realized what Christ has done for us, we’d be much more committed to work to proclaim the Gospel to others, so that Christ’s sacrifice would not be in vain. Let us not only follow Christ, and allow him to change our lives, but may we also lead others to him, and share in His ministry, thus in our own lives, “Make up what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ” (Col 1:24). That is, to proclaim him to the world in our times.
Our life is a journey to find Christ, to become transformed into His likeness by His grace, then guide others on the same journey. The Franciscan Brotherhood has been formed by God to help brothers travel together on this journey. Come and learn more about Franciscan Life at our next Come and See experience on February 16-18, 2018 in central California. Contact Fr. Paul to register.