The presence of Jesus in person in his home town synagogue was electric. St. Luke’s account of what happened when Jesus did the reading and commented upon it conveys the powerful presence Jesus had. He is self-assured, deliberate; he is strong and clear; and his words about the scripture being fulfilled by him in the hearing of the listeners were astonishing.
There is a great attractiveness about Jesus, about the way he does and says things and about the power of his message and his person. Yet, it is clothed with real humanity and gentleness. He isn’t unapproachable at all. Later, St. Luke will tell us that everyone wanted to touch Jesus because of the power of healing that came from him. The real Jesus is magnetic, exercising a strong pull on anyone who is open to him. And there is no Jesus other than the real one.
Sometimes we are attracted more by one thing about Jesus than by another, but he remains the whole Jesus. Historically, people with their own ideas about life and society have quoted Jesus to bolster their views which are maybe not always the best. But even if someone twists or distorts Jesus to suit themselves, Jesus still remains himself, his whole and true self.
The real Jesus, in all his attractiveness and power and love, wants to enter not just the synagogue, but our parish, our homes, our very selves. He wants to know and be part of every life; he wants to be known and loved and cherished by every person. He does not come to destroy or to condemn or to frighten. He once said, “make your home in me as I make mine in you.” Think of that! Being at home in Jesus, being a home for Jesus. Home, the place of peace and harmony, the place of love and acceptance, the place of laughter and joy. And if these things are absent in our own lives and homes, giving Jesus access will change that if we trust him and work with him.
At Mass it is maybe not always easy to relate personally to Jesus. We feel part of a group and the ritual and formality of the Mass can seem to impede the personal. In reality, though, at Mass we are allowing Jesus to speak to us most personally in his Word and to enter into us in the most intimate of ways in holy communion. At Mass, Jesus is forming us as his people both by entering into each of us and by drawing each of us outwards into his mystical body, the Church. Mass feeds and fertilizes the roots of our personal relationship with Jesus and the roots of the Church herself.
But he does not want it to end there. He wants to remain the heart of our life throughout the week. He wants us to bring to him all that we experience in joy and in suffering. You could say that he wants to be real for us always and everywhere, to be treated and related to and taken seriously as a real Person, a friend, a companion and, yes, a lover in the truest and noblest meaning of the word.
As you know, I went away on retreat last week. There were many other people there doing the same. The Jesuit retreat house at St. Beuno’s in Wales is busy all the year round with people of every age and walk of life passing through. And what are they doing on retreat if not letting Jesus be so real to them that they open up their lives and hearts to him exclusively for 6, 8 or even 30 days. Everyone brings him or herself, warts and all, problems and all. If you like, you become a synagogue or a church into which Jesus enters as in today’s Gospel. He enters with great joy because you have given him this time and made the effort to separate yourself from your normal daily circumstances in order to be more attentive to him.
During a retreat, Jesus enters into you with that same self-assurance and attractiveness as when he entered the Nazareth synagogue. He speaks deeply to the heart about his love for you, his plan for your life. He shows you that the words of the Gospel are being fulfilled in your life as you listen to him during prayer, meditation and contemplation. He comes in the power of the Spirit to console, heal, strengthen, renew and to challenge you to grow to greater Christian maturity.
Inevitably, because Jesus is the Light and the Holy One, a retreat often brings out more clearly your own darkness and sin. That can be both painful and scary, though not for long. The whole purpose of Jesus is to bring forgiveness and the joy of his light. Because he is the Truth he helps you discover the truth about yourself in ways that are far deeper and reassuring than before. Part of that is to throw light on how you are living, your lifestyle choices, your relationships and interaction with others. Jesus wants to be present and bring light and strength not only to your inner spiritual self, but to your whole life, to all you are, have and do. A retreat is no use if it remains a private spiritual experience without having any impact on your decisions and way of life. Grace is not just something given but something demanding action and response. It may be just one thing that you change or take on; it may be a change of attitude or a new perspective on things. But whatever it is, it will be the fruit of that real presence of the person of Jesus whom you have discovered more deeply because he has revealed himself more powerfully to your own person.
In the synagogue of Nazareth, Jesus was not just present, nor did he just have presence, but he was also most importantly very personally present to the people there. On every retreat, at every Mass, he is equally present to you and me. Welcome him with all your heart and let him extend that powerful presence into the hours and days of the week to come.