The events that took place in Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago are not something far removed from us; they are events which affect us and become a lived experience in each of us. (Pope Francis, Homily for Pentecost, 2013)
What Christian has not wished to have lived at the time of Christ? Loss of indoor plumbing and ice cream aside, who can deny how wonderful it would be to have been there in person? To witness the miracles, to hear his voice, and maybe even to meet his loving gaze. Were his eyes a piercing topaz or a deep, warm brown? Did Jesus have a commanding voice, or was there something else about him that caught the attention of thousands? The Apostles had an immense blessing to have known the man from Nazareth in the flesh.
The twelve Apostles were Christ’s closest and most intimate companions during his public ministry. These men were called by name to accompany him and to carry out his mission. Beyond this inner circle, there were, moreover, the thousands who crowded about him. Reading through the Scriptures, we may then think to ourselves, “Ah! If only I could have known Christ as they had. If I could but touch the hem of his garment, then I could be truly certain in my faith and love him as I ought.”
Because we read about him, we can risk reducing Jesus to a protagonist, a character in a book. Our mind’s eye will very quickly imagine our favorite portrait or portrayal of Jesus and render a caricature instead of the true Christ. There is nothing wrong with depictions in themselves, but we must not let these ideas become surrogates for the Savior.
While we cannot, like the Apostles, see and touch his earthly body, we can still seek to know and love him through living out our faith.
Eleven of the Apostles (including Matthias) would be martyred. There are still some persons in our own time who wash their robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. St. Bartholomew, whose feast we celebrate today, was flayed alive by his torturers before being crucified upside-down. One does not endure horrific pains and cruel torture for the sake of some ancient stranger, much less for a plaster figurine.
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. (Pope Benedict XVI, God is Love, 1)
The depth of the Apostles’ faith came from their relationship with Jesus as his friends and companions. Their belief was founded on the knowledge that God had entered into a dialogue with them. Their belief could then give rise to a love that surpassed a servile fear to become a union of hearts and minds. To the Apostles and the early disciples, Jesus was not something, an aloof or anonymous object, but someone, a savior to be praised, adored, and loved with grateful affection.
Just as God does not show an abstract, theoretical, lifeless and “dead” faithfulness toward man…, but causes his truth to become real, pulsating life and flesh in terms of living history, so he cannot be satisfied with a “dead” faith as man’s response. (von Balthasar, Prayer)
Our own encounter with Jesus comes in the form of a living, breathing, walking faith. Through honest and open prayer, we can experience the Word coming to us. We learn to inquire confidently of him and to beg from him, to laugh with him and to cry before him. We can ask “why?” without questioning his Providence or petition “please” in hope of his intercession.
To grow in this virtue of prayer and to become comfortable with contemplation, we ought to do 3 primary things. First, we should seek the intercession of the Mother of God through whom the Word first came to us. She is our model for meditating on revelation. Second, we should entrust ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who will teach us how to pray and will actively form us into the likeness of the Son. Third, we turn to the Holy Scriptures, the Word of God, and especially to the Gospels. As St. Jerome says, “ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Image: Lawrence Lew, OP, St Bartholomew (used with permission)