by Fr. Pat McNulty.
"Do you know Jesus as yer personal sigh-ver?"
I looked up from my book into the eyes of a lady sitting directly across the aisle from me on the bus. "I beg your pardon."
"Yer all dressed up like a revern with yer collar ’n all so ya must be a Christian. But do you know Jesus as yer personal sigh-ver?"
I realized that the faith-filled lady was asking me if I knew Jesus as my personal savior, which in her Southern Bible Belt twang sounded like "sigh-ver."
Most Roman Catholics I know, when asked that question by other believers, sort of put their hand over their mouth and cough up what is supposed to sound like "yes," but is actually a very vague "well, I think so, but I’m not sure."
And if a yes is not forthright and immediate, you are usually involved in a powerful evangelical tug for your conversion before you leave the bus.
This episode happened to me shortly before Christmas many years ago, and it often comes to mind during the Advent-Christmas season.
We who know Jesus by way of the Bible and a liturgical life by way of Word and sacrament need to learn how to speak more clearly and unashamedly, even on a bus, about the intimate relationship we do indeed have with Jesus through our feasts and liturgical seasons.
We need to realize more fully how, through them, we relate to Christ and he to us in a magnificent fashion, incident by incident, from conception to Ascension, from the Promise in the Garden of Eden to the Victory of the Lamb in the Book of Revelation.
Over and over, year by year we walk through the whole life of Jesus until the events of the Incarnation become like breathing for us, and we learn that he is not only savior but the Son of God made flesh who dwells among us now!
Fr. John McDade, SJ, in answer to a famous Protestant theologian taking issue with this Catholic sense of the Incarnation, writes that the Catholic tradition is so much at home with the presence of Christ among us that it builds cribs to celebrate his birth, paints crucifixes to remember his death, and explicitly venerates images of his saints.
Fr. McDade goes on to say that this intimate sense of being at home in the visible and saving presence of Christ flows from a different reading of the Incarnation from our Protestant brothers and sisters. (Devotion to the Sacred Heart. John McDade SJ The Way Supplement, Popular Devotions. Spring. 2001)
That different reading comes through the power of a faith nourished by the magnificent liturgical feasts surrounding Christ, his mother, the apostles, the multitude of angels and saints; a faith nourished by the words and images of Advent-Christmas-Epiphany, of Lent-Easter-Pentecost and all the Ordinary Time in-between.
Through these holy feasts and seasons we follow Jesus, the Incarnate One, from conception to birth, from childhood to adulthood, from public ministry to death and resurrection, until our personal relationship with him becomes so normal that his conception now reveals something about my conception, his birth something about my birth, his childhood something about my childhood, and his death something about my death too.
Each year through the mystery of the liturgical feasts and seasons, we walk with him personally! We are present at the miraculous conception of John the Baptist. Present at His conception where we hear His Mother speak the word that changed all of history: Fiat, let it be done! We walk with Mary and Joseph on their tedious journey to Bethlehem where Jesus is born.
There we hear angels on high and shepherds below and then witness the coming of the magi. We weep at the massacre of the Innocents and the exile into Egypt. We witness the finding in the temple and then go off with this Holy Family into the mysterious thirty hidden years in Nazareth.
And all of this we do personally with Jesus before he ever begins his public life by which most Christians speak of him as their personal Savior.
These seasonal feasts and liturgies celebrated over and over every year allow us to see that our relationship with Jesus is so vast it takes in all of the history of salvation and yet remains so modest that it fits personally into every one of our own simple, individual lives.
And all of that because the Word became flesh and dwells among us, now. Yes, we do indeed have a very different experience of a personal relationship with Christ, our Savior.
And it is so incredible that when faith-filled people ask us if we know Jesus as our personal savior, we should never cough up what is supposed to sound like "yes." In the light of all our great feasts and holy seasons, in the light of Word and Sacrament, we should be able to shout our answer from the rooftops or at least speak it quietly from a seat on a bus.
So, what did you say to the faith-filled lady on the bus, Father? My answer was as simple as her original question: "Yes, I do know Jesus as my personal Savior. But, do you know how personal your Savior Jesus really is in your everyday, ordinary life right now?"
She looked at me like I was a pagan fresh from the planet Pluto. There wasn’t much conversation after that but we did wish each other a Merry Christmas in the bus station.
At this time of the year I think fondly of her because through her faith-filled question, a Baby in a manger quietly reminded me once again just how personal he really is in my life Advent by Advent, Christmas by Christmas, feast by feast, year by year.
Do you know how personal your Savior Jesus is in your life right now?
Was that a cough or a yes?
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