I’m at a point in my seminary studies where I’m looking at Christology, namely, the branch of theology relating to the nature, role, and person of Christ. I need to confess that in my youth, I seemed to have a stronger knowing, a somehow more basic belief or even sense of who Jesus was. I’m thinking back to when I was three or four years old, and my mom taught me the song “Jesus loves me”, and just having a real knowing of who this person was I was singing about without really knowing him in the sense that I know my cousin Mike, or the mail delivery person, or the taste of toast with coffee. Somehow as I got older, that sense of connection to Jesus faded, and I can’t be sure if it’s because I drifted through a journey of discovery that lead me through a myriad of religious traditions, or if my brain literally came to the point where it was wired to deal with things a more philosophical, more adult (and I’m saying adult tongue in cheek here) way. Maybe I grew out of knowing Jesus the way I’d known him before. I don’t know if any of you can relate to this; I hope some of you can.
In a strange way, my journey as a human being who wants to be a disciple of Jesus consists of a pilgrimage of stumbling, hoping that I know who Jesus is, hoping that in my blind feeling around the road, I come to a place where Jesus stands and says “I’ve been beside you all along” or some other cliché thing.
I don’t mean to be disrespectful here. My life as a Christian in many ways is a struggle to know Jesus personally, and I often feel like He is somewhere in the distance for me.
The Sacraments of the Church then are windows for me, ways and means that in partaking, I may know Jesus better, not only through the spiritual acts and the ritual actions of the sacraments, but because these sacraments are rooted in tradition going back through time to Christians earlier than myself. When I experienced baptism, I was partaking in the sacrament that not only all of those Christians today took part in, but that Mother Theresa, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Anselm of Canterbury, St. Augustine of Hippo, the early Martyrs, the Apostles took part in. When I go to Confession, I enter a dialogue that Therese of Lisieux, St. Thomas Moore, St. John Chrysostom, entered. When the time comes for the Anointing of the Sick, be it I than am doing the anointing or the one being anointed, I am anointed with all of the faithful who were anointed, and will anoint with all of the faithful who have anointed. In the Eucharist, we are given the intimate knowledge of Jesus in His body and blood, in the sense that we partake in the moment now and then.
In a sense, all of the sacraments can be traced back and are rooted in tradition and practice which leads directly to Jesus himself.
I recall my first time receiving the Eucharist, the taste of wheat in my mouth, and wondering when I would feel closer to Jesus, when I would know and sense Jesus within me, within my life. I tasted from the chalice, tasted the wine, and wondered the same.
When would I know Jesus at the intimate level I saw people around me saying they knew Him?
In my studying of Franciscan theology, the theme of knowing Jesus through knowing, serving others was paramount to me, and is paramount to the Christology in my heart. Every sacrament involves at least one other, if not in the sense that others partake in the sacraments with us, in the sense that Christ is with us. A priest may administer the Eucharist to himself alone: he is still with Christ. I’m writing this about a month before proposing to my partner, Dan. In marriage, a deeper sense of love, commitment, fidelity, charity, leads to a deeper knowing of Christ. In my study to become a priest, I am reminded that run throughout all the sacraments is the principle of faith, and in my struggle to know Jesus I know that consistent faith brings me closer to knowing who Jesus is.
It’s been said that relationships require work, that a relationship with the Divine requires the same discipline. Prayer, meditation, reflection all bring me to a deeper place and a deeper sense of knowing not only myself, but who Jesus is. I ask you all, my siblings in Christ, to pray for me that I may know Jesus better in all things and all ways. My journey as a Catholic includes the sacraments as part of a tool kit which also includes the Divine Office, Centering Prayer, contemplative reading, quiet work in the garden, engaging with poverty, all of which combined with faith will hopefully one day lead to that encounter with Christ I as a Christian sense that I may have experienced, and long to experience again.