My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Over the past several months, I have been highlighting some of our work within the diocese to promote discipleship. I have provided updates on Disciples on the Way, our discipleship seminars and, most recently, on Alpha. Starting with this column, I want to offer some reflections on the first act of discipleship: discovering Jesus. I will start by sharing my personal story of discovering Jesus.
My first awareness that Jesus was not just a doctrine but a real person who cares about me came when I was a sophomore in high school. I was attending a seminary boarding school in Victoria, Kan., and I began reading a comic book version of the life of St. Francis of Assisi and became fascinated with him. Around that same time, I learned of a young seminarian who had died several years before me during his sophomore year. As I learned more about this young man, I realized that there were striking similarities between us, including the fact that I was sleeping in the same bed he had slept in. Because of these many similarities, I became convinced that I was going to die, just like he had.
I carried this fear with me into a retreat that October and I recall going into the chapel one night to pray. As I gazed at the crucifix, I noticed St. Francis appeared in my field of vision. It was like a hologram, but very realistic and he reached down to me and said, “David, come with me.” The next thing I knew, I had been transported, spiritually, so that I was kneeling directly before the crucifix, and Francis again spoke to me, saying, “Look at him.” So I looked at Jesus and Francis continued, “David, if you had been the only person who had ever lived, Jesus would still have gone through all of that suffering just for you.”
Next thing I knew I was back in my pew, and suddenly it hit me how much I was loved by Jesus! Prior to this I knew about Jesus, but this made it all so real. As the weight of this truth sank in, I began to weep in the pew, doing my best to remain quiet so that I would not be seen or heard by my seminarian friends. Because of this experience I always say Francis introduced me to Jesus.
In his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI summarizes what it means to be a Christian: “Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but an encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.” That day over 50 years ago, I came to understand this difference, and my life has not been the same since. I am still growing in my response of love towards others and to Jesus himself. I learn day by day, through “slips, trips and falls,” but what a unique privilege it is to be called by God to know, love and serve him.
This, dear friends, is my deep desire for each one of you. Whether you know Jesus or just know about him, whether you have heard of him or do not know him at all; no matter your age, race, religious affiliation, Jesus wants to be a big part of your journey in life. He has been with you all of these years, trying to get your attention. He has provided assistance to you in tough times and sent his Holy Spirit to enlighten and encourage you over and over.
Next week, we begin the season of Lent. What a beautiful opportunity to take time and create space to discover Jesus in your life. Maybe you’ve had a powerful experience of Jesus before, but lost some of the spark of that first love, or maybe you’ve never felt an encounter of Jesus in a personal way. In either case, I encourage you to spend some time in quiet prayer, perhaps before the Blessed Sacrament, asking God to make Jesus known in a personal and powerful way in your life. God, who is always faithful, will surely not disappoint when we go to him with a sincere heart.
May God bless your journey this Lent!
Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter at @BpDavidRicken.