Have you had the encounter that will change your life?

Father Timothy Hepner

Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of the Lord/April 1

Acts 10:34a,37-43; Psalm 118:1-2,16-17,22-23; Colossians 3:1-4 or 1 Corinthians 5:6b-8; Sequence: Victimae Paschali Laudes; John 20:1-9 or Mark 16:1-7

Let’s take a test. The only right answer is the honest one. Which of these best describes your encounter with Jesus?

A) Mary Magdalene: A sudden encounter, like being hit by a two-by-four, where I knew that Jesus was present and my life took a decisive turn. B) Peter: Jesus came to me during a season — a period of weeks, months, or years — and little by little I was aware of his presence and his desire to be in my life. C) John: Jesus has always been there. His presence and voice have certainly grown, but I can’t really remember a time in which I didn’t know him. D) The Other Option: I haven’t encountered Jesus. I might know people who know him, I have said his name plenty of times, and I know facts about him, but I haven’t actually encountered him in a way in which my life took a decisive turn.

Three disciples approach the darkness of the tomb. Each encounters Jesus in a different way, and each comes away transformed. If you chose “D,” and you’re still staring into the perplexities and limitations of human life like disciples at the tomb, there’s still a chance to have the encounter that will change your life. In “Deus Caritas Est,” Pope Benedict wrote, “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.”

It is a historical fact that Jesus, killed by Roman centurions and placed in a tomb, rose from the dead and went to meet actual people like you and I: “They put him to death by hanging him on a tree. This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”

For the weeks of Easter, the Church continually presents us with varied personal accounts of Jesus’ disciples encountering him in his resurrected form. Peter and John running to the tomb, Mary Magdalene in the garden, Thomas in the upper room — all of these events really happened, but they are also examples of what can happen to you and me.

A conversion story is simple: Here’s my life, here’s where Jesus came in, and here’s how my life is different. But each one is unique, concretized, and particular to each person.

HOW ARE WE DIFFERENT?

The world sees Christianity as homogeneous and restricting, as if we Christians were always crowding into one cramped stereotypical experience like the disciples scrunched into upper room. Sometimes we enforce this image by reducing Christianity to a set of rules or abstract ideas or by speaking in Christian clichés that water down the Gospel.

But the resurrected Christ wouldn’t stay in the upper room, and he can’t be contained in anyone’s preconceptions. He broke the bonds of death in order to break into our lives and individual experiences. His resurrected feet walked on real dirt and real stones as he approached his despondent disciples and gave them encounters that would lead to their abandoning everything and risking death for him.

He really comes into the circumstances of our lives, too. No, not just our lives, but my life – the unique circumstances of me as an individual.

Because I’ve encountered Jesus, I sleep more soundly and I wake up more joyfully. I make fewer selfish decisions, and when I do make them I don’t beat myself up — I just go to Him and say, “This is what I am without your grace. Help me do better.” I forgive more quickly, I enjoy deeper friendships, I feel like life is an adventure — all because of my encounter with the resurrected Christ. Most importantly, I have hope for my own resurrection.

So what was your encounter with Jesus like? How are you different? If you can’t answer that question, what are you waiting for? Ask him!

FATHER TIMOTHY Hepner is vocation director of recruitment for the Diocese of Peoria. To learn more about vocations, go to comeandfollowme.org or follow the Office of Priestly Formation at facebook.com/followmepeoria.

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