My dear brothers and sisters,
What does it mean to encounter Jesus Christ, to encounter the one who makes the bold claim, “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21)? Those who encountered him in the synagogue “were amazed at the gracious words that came forth from his mouth,” but their amazement did not long last; only a short time later – just eight verses later - they “drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town had been built, to hurl him down headlong” (Luke 4:29).
There tend to be two responses to the encounter with Jesus Christ, though both generally begin with amazement. One response ends, as we have just seen, with a rejection of the one who calls us to “the bond of perfection” (Colossians 3:14). The other response ends with an embrace of the one who calls us to let his peace “dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:16). If it is an encounter with the same person, how can the responses be so very different, one to receive his love and one to reject it?
To encounter Jesus Christ is to be invited to a great challenge. He invites those who meet him to do everything in his name, that is, to set aside their own personal agendas and desires to embrace his will as their own (cf. Colossians 3:17). To live in the bond of perfection is to live a life of holiness, a life set apart for God; it is to live the life for which we have been created. There are many people who recognize the beauty and the truth of such a life, and there are many people who do not.
It is the mission of Great River Teens Encounter Christ to lead young people toward such an encounter with the Lord who requires a decision be made. We cannot make the decision for them, but we can help them understand what it means to live a life of faith, to strive to live under the bond of perfection.
Faith, as well as being a gift from God, “is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him.” Jesus invites them – as he does each of us – to make this fundamental choice, to follow his example or to reject it. He it is who is the true grain of wheat who falls to the ground and dies to produce much fruit for us (cf. John 12:24). Will we, in turn, allow ourselves to die, will we set aside our own ambitions and self-centeredness to produce much fruit for God and for others?
Standing before Jesus Christ we stand before the gate for the sheep, through whom whoever enters will be saved and “will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9). At the beginning of this Year of Faith, the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI reminded us that “to enter through that door is to set out on a journey that lasts a lifetime.” Each day we must ask if we have remained on that journey or if we strayed off on our own way; this journey of faith cannot be taken as though we were on autopilot, but must be done intentionally and with conviction (cf. Isaiah 53:6).
This journey begins, Benedict says, “with baptism, through which we can address God as Father, and it ends with the passage through death to eternal life, fruit of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, whose will it was, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, to draw those who believe in him into his own glory.” To set out on this journey of faith and to arrive at our true homeland, we must enter through the door of faith, through the door of Christ, and not seek to keep our feet on the path; we must be willing to allow ourselves to be swept up in his will.
Where the journey leads in between Baptism and death we cannot know, but we do know that the adventure is great and that the one who guides it “searches out the abyss and penetrates the heart; their innermost being he understands” (Sirach 42:18). Yes, he knows our weaknesses and he knows our love; he alone knows the deepest yearnings of our hearts and he alone can satisfy them. He invites us to pass through his gate, by entering into his holy wounds, to be healed, to receive forgiveness, and to have our love strengthened and our every desire fulfilled.
We have come here this evening because Great River TEC has helped us to encounter the person of Jesus Christ and has encouraged us to take up his Cross and follow in his way, striving always to enter through his narrow gate, to delve deeply into his open wounds. As we think back over the years and the many people with whom we have prayed during our TEC weekends in this chapel and throughout this building, how can we not be filled with a joyful wonder? The words of Sirach come streaming to mind: “Yet even God’s holy ones must fail in recounting the wonders of the Lord” (Sirach 42:17). How can we adequately express what the Lord has done for us through the TEC movment? Many have his graces been, “all of them differ, one from another, yet none of them has he made in vain” (Sirach 42:24).
As I think back over the twelve TEC weekends and the many Quests and Mini-TECs on which I was a candidate, a Wheatie, a resource, a member of the adult team, and the spiritual director, my heart swells with gratitude for the many blessings that have been given to me through this ecclesial movement: the reconciliation and healing, the insights and inspirations, the friendships and the laughter and the tears. Each of us has received these same or similar blessings and together have come to express our gratitude to the Lord. Truly, the wonders of the Lord are renewed every morning and we do well to bask in their warmth and to give him what thanks we can (cf. Lamentations 3:23).
For my part, I am grateful to each of you for the part that you have played in my own journey of faith. TEC, in no small way, helped me to discern the will of the Lord for my life that now unexpectedly leads me to Rome to study canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University. I never quite knew why the Lord would call me to his service as a priest – nor do I now – but many of you helped me to realize that he was calling me; your prayers and encouragements helped me to accept his call. For your many kindnesses to me I will be eternally in your debt; from the bottom of my heart, I thank you, and promise to remember you often at the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul and at the altar of the Lord.
But we have also come this evening to hold a “recruitment party,” to ask the Lord to help us discern whom among our family and friends, our neighbors, peers, and co-workers, we can invite to encounter Christ through the TEC movement. In this effort, we cannot forget that “what the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”
I urge you, then, with Saint Paul, to “let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one Body” (Colossians 3:15). His Body is the Church and his Church is nourished with his Body, with the Eucharist. Stay, then, always near his Body, both the Eucharist and the Church, and the words of the Psalmist will be fulfilled in you: “The poor shall eat and shall have their fill. They shall praise the Lord, those who seek him” (Psalm 22:27)!
If you learn to think with the mind of the Church then Christ’s peace will always dwell in you and “in all wisdom you can teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your heart to God” (Colossians 3:16). Amen.