September 21, 2016

These past few Frassati retreats have really done a wonderful job of illuminating just what it means that Christ was human. Christ was human! God became Man to give us an example of perfect living, struggling, and dying; Jesus is the standard to which all humanity should be compared (mercifully, please), a fact which I discovered so painfully not too long ago.

The theme of this most recent retreat was "Down to Earth," prompting meditations on incarnation, humanity, humility, and how all three are intimately linked. In one of this retreat's keynote talks (Fr. James Brent) and another from a past retreat (Fr. Solanus Benfatti), a common theme emerged: Christ's gaze; or, as Fr. Brent put it, "Those Jesus Eyes."

What would it have meant to encounter Jesus, in His humanity, literally face to face? What could his gaze alone have told you? Fr. Solanus spoke from the point of view of a biblical character who had just been called, saying:

"I don't know what it was...something about the way he spoke to me like He knew me, something about the way He looked at me like nobody had ever looked at me before... I have to go with Him. I can't explain it, I don't know why, it doesn't make any sense. I have a good life here, but I just have to go. I know that I will learn more from Him about life and love than I could learn anywhere else."

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Today is the Feast of Saint Matthew, and the Gospel reading details his apparently brief and simple turn to Christ:

As Jesus passed by,
he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post.

He said to him, “Follow me.”

And he got up and followed him.
(Matt 9:9-10)

What would it mean to encounter Jesus in such a way that two words would be enough to leave his position at the customs post*, immediately, and follow Christ. What would it take in your life for a stranger to arrive at your job, tell you to follow them, and for you to actually do it? How crazy of a thought is that? How intent and deep would their gaze have to be to convey the significance of their words?

A few short hours after these talks, though I hadn't made the connection until now, I was kneeling, face to face with Jesus Christ during the Eucharistic healing procession which takes place every retreat. I realized that I was looking right into at "Those Jesus Eyes." His divine Incarnation was not a one-time event 2000 years ago, but it takes place every day, in every sacrifice of the Mass, and He comes to meet each one of us.

Jesus willed the Mass to take place so that He could see every one of us face to face, look deep into our hearts, and call us to follow him. Is it so crazy that we would actually leave the lives we know to do so?

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As the final verse of today's Gospel states, God "desires mercy, not sacrifice." The verse Jesus is referencing is from Hosea. I will use the final verses of that book as a closing prayer. Read them as if you were Israel, and cherish the hope that comes with them:

I will love them freely;

for my anger is turned away from them.

I will be like the dew for Israel:

he will blossom like the lily;

He will strike root like the Lebanon cedar,

and his shoots will go forth.

His splendor will be like the olive tree

and his fragrance like Lebanon cedar.

Again they will live in his shade;

they will raise grain,

They will blossom like the vine,

and his renown will be like the wine of Lebanon.

Ephraim! What more have I to do with idols?

I have humbled him, but I will take note of him.

I am like a verdant cypress tree.

From me fruit will be found for you!

Praised be Jesus Christ, in His humanity and in His gaze.

*For an interesting note about the position of a customs officer, follow the link to the footnote from THIS verse in Mark 2, where Levi is called from the same occupation. It adds even more "oomph" to the rest of today's Gospel.

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