As far as I know, we have no photographs of Jesus. Nor TV, nor YouTube live-streaming, nor audio-recordings. We do have lots of writings about him, but nothing written by him. He chose to live in a time and in a way where you could only meet him in person. He wants in-person contact. That’s precisely why he ascended into heaven: to be near in person to anyone who seeks him.
Over the centuries, lots of people have had their views about his person. Some have even turned him into a personage or personality; others consider him a nobody. Because none of us can really grasp the depths of another person completely, the danger is that we all reduce Jesus to what our own minds filter out.
Our faith proclaims without hesitation that Jesus is indeed a person. In fact, he is the central and defining person of all history. He is real and he is divine; he took on our humanity and redeemed it. The heart of our faith is not an idea. It’s not a doctrine. It’s not an institution. It’s not a book. It’s not a culture or ethos. It is the person of Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Mary. When Jesus prays into today’s Gospel, “Holy Father, keep those you have given me in your name which you have given me, so that they may be one like us”, what he is asking the Father to do is to keep us united in his own person.
Religious observance means little if we do not open our own person up to the person of Jesus. The whole point of it is to bring us more and more to an in-person encounter and relationship with Jesus. Only Jesus can make sense of our religion because only he can make final sense of human life. Our chief aim in life, then, has to be Jesus. He has given us his Word and his Sacraments as the principal ways to meet the real him. From our side, we need to engage with these means in a profoundly personal and committed search, person to person, heart to heart. And while we do that with the community, we can’t do it on the back of the community. It has to be done in first person, personally. Otherwise, my religion is just a bunch of tenets and practices which may have some emotional or even nostalgic meaning for me, but which will easily fade or even collapse in the face of more attractive alternatives. Without my sincere and committed search for the real Jesus, for the person he revealed himself to be, religion, Church, doctrines, rites, faith and even sacraments become facades with no content or ultimate bearing on my life.
Whereas in the personal encounter with Jesus, he reveals to me both his real self and my real self – the one his Father dreamed me to be when He first thought of me. My personal union with Jesus draws together and makes sense of all the different strands of my life. It heals and strengthens them; it calms their restlessness. If he does that for each one who comes to Him, then he does it for all together by uniting us in peace and harmony as his people. Christian Unity can only happen in the personal encounter of each and all with Christ. Indeed, Church unity, family unity and social unity will happen to the degree we come to Christ with open hearts and minds. Then, Church, religion, worship, Word and Sacraments will come alive for us. They will breathe of the living person of Christ and make us breathe with his life and love and make us convincing witnesses of his person and his Gospel in the world.
Jesus calls himself the alpha and the omega. We come from his person and return to it. He is the omega of each of us as we die. We will all have to come to his person then. He is the omega of history, when he returns in glory. Why don’t we, then, make him the omega of our every day, our every undertaking and project? Why don’t we allow the truest desire of our soul to be one with him to be the leaven of our lives? What in life can escape his eye, his love, his desire for in-person contact with each of us? The search for the person of Christ and the gradual finding of Him is what truly transforms and unites the lives of individuals, marriages, families, parishes, Churches and society.
Let us seek him earnestly with all the strength of our souls while he still may be found. Jesus, reveal yourself to me that I may know who I am and adore you!