REV. JOSÉ MARIO O. MANDÍA
The Wise Men “departed to their own country by another way” (Matthew 2:12).
Following the Church Fathers, Pope Benedict XVI pointed out the symbolic meaning of this passage: after the Magi had seen and adored and offered their gifts to the Child Jesus, they took another path, their life changed course. Contact with Jesus, the Messiah, was a life-changing experience for them. And so it should be for us. If one claims to know Jesus Christ, to pray to Him, to receive Him in the Sacraments and does not become a better person, a more faithful friend, a more loving brother or sister, a more caring father or mother, a more affectionate husband or wife, then perhaps his devotion is all just a show or a sentimental exercise.
The apostles are a proof of the transforming contact with Jesus. Their own mothers would have been surprised to see them transformed from quarrelsome brutes to well-mannered gentlemen, from proud and ambitious recruits to humble servants, from impulsive characters to prudent leaders, from cowardly weaklings to brave martyrs.
Take John, for example. Once a certain Samaritan village refused to receive Jesus, he and his brother James told Jesus, “’Lord, do you want us to bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?’ But he turned and rebuked them.” (Luke 9:54-55) Doesn’t that happen to you and me as well – wanting God to punish someone right away for a misdeed? Yet when we read John’s letters, written in his old age, there is “love” written all over it. “Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:18) What a contrast! I am sure John himself was surprised at this change. How great is the transforming power of Jesus! Why is this? Let me propose three explanations.
Jesus is the TRUTH. He is the light. Light reveals many things: the good we have received from God, and the evil that lurks in our heart. Contact with Jesus reveals us to ourselves. Faith helps us discover who we are. As Saint John Paul II said, “Christ knows ‘what is in man’. He alone knows it. So often today man does not know what is within him, in the depths of his mind and heart. So often he is uncertain about the meaning of his life on this earth. He is assailed by doubt, a doubt which turns into despair. We ask you therefore, we beg you with humility and trust, let Christ speak to man. He alone has words of life, yes, of eternal life.” (Inaugural Homily, 22 October 1978)
Jesus is the WAY. He shows us better alternatives. We feel more comfortable doing things our way, but he challenges us. Pope Benedict reminded us, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness!”
Jesus is the LIFE. He gives strength. He aids us in our weakness. How? Through the Sacraments. The Sacraments are the conduits of the grace that Jesus has won for us. A serious Catholic makes frequent use of these Sacraments (especially Reconciliation and the Eucharist). If I say I have faith and I don’t go to the Sacraments, I am lying. I have become a Christian because I am a sinner, and I believe that Jesus Christ has the power to make a saint of me. He has made this possible by instituting the Sacraments. Without them, I am not capable of change. Even if I tried with all my might, with my own strength, I will exhaust myself in vain.
Let me end with passages from our last three Popes.
SAINT JOHN PAUL II. “I address the youth of today, and I say to them: Let yourselves be seduced by the Eternal One, repeating the words of the ancient prophet: “You duped me, O Lord … you were too strong for me and you triumphed” (Jeremiah 20:7).
“Let yourselves be charmed by Christ, the Infinite who appeared among you in visible and imitable form. Let yourselves be attracted by his example, which has changed the history of the world and directed it toward an exhilarating goal. Let yourselves be loved by the love of the Holy Spirit, who wishes to turn you away from worldly things to begin in you the life of the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and true holiness (cf. Ephesians 4:24).
“Fall in love with Jesus Christ, to live his very life, so that our world may have life in the light of the Gospel.” (Message for 29th World Day of Vocations, 1 November 1991)
BENEDICT XVI. “To all of you I appeal: Open wide your hearts to God! Let yourselves be surprised by Christ! Let him have ‘the right of free speech’ during these days!
“Open the doors of your freedom to his merciful love! Share your joys and pains with Christ, and let him enlighten your minds with his light and touch your hearts with his grace.
“In these days blessed with sharing and joy, may you have a liberating experience of the Church as the place where God’s merciful love reaches out to all people. In the Church and through the Church you will meet Christ, who is waiting for you.” (20th World Youth Day, Cologne, 18 August 2005)
FRANCIS. “[T]hose who know Jesus, who meet him personally, remain fascinated, attracted by so much goodness, so much truth, so much beauty, and all in great humility and simplicity. Look for Jesus, encounter Jesus. This is the great treasure!
“How many people, how many saints, reading the Gospel with an open heart, have been so struck by Jesus, converted to Him. Think of St. Francis of Assisi. He was already a Christian, but ‘milk-and-water’ [insipid]. When he read the Gospel, in a decisive moment of his youth, he met Jesus, and found the Kingdom of God, and then all his dreams of earthly glory vanished. The Gospel makes one know the real, living Jesus. He addresses your heart and changes your life. So yes, leave everything. You can actually change your way of life, or continue to do what you did before, but you are another, you are born again. You find that you are given meaning, flavor, light to everything, even to hardships, even to suffering, even to death. Read the Gospel, read the Gospel. We’ve said this before, remember? Read a passage of the Gospel every day. Also carry a small copy of the Gospel with us, in your pocket, in your handbag – have one at hand, anyway. And there, reading a passage, we find Jesus.” (Angelus, 27 July 2014)
(O Clarim, 23 January 2015)