We Encounter Our God

Eric Clayton, CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer

Eric Clayton, CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer

God’s vision can be scary. Sometimes, it’s easier to avoid encountering God. What might God ask of us? Will it be in line with what we ourselves want?

We hear Jesus’ words in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” This is Christ’s prayer on the night before he died—through prayer, he encounters God. Yet, God asks something of Jesus that could not be more difficult. And Jesus carries on.

Realizing God’s vision for humanity is not an easy thing. We see in the Garden of Gethsemane that God enters deeply into human suffering, that not even Christ himself can avoid this all-too-prevalent part of the human experience. Indeed, we see in the Garden—and perhaps we recognize in our own lives—that God is at work through suffering, that we must enter into those dark moments in order to bring to fruition God’s great dreams for us and for others.

As we look out at our world, perhaps we, too, carry on our lips that prayer of Jesus in the Garden. That’s okay. That’s an honest and intense encounter with our God, a God who asks that we live the Gospel call to mercy, justice and love no matter the cost.

But we also know that the story did not end in the Garden. It didn’t end on the cross. It didn’t even end in the tomb. Rather, God makes all things new, emerging victorious in even the darkest of hours. God calls forth from us great and wondrous things if we have the courage to encounter within ourselves those seeds of love that God has planted.

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and stories from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Continue reflecting on how you can contribute to the culture of encounter with the CRS Rice Bowl app.

This reflection was first published in CRS Rice Bowl’s Encounter Lent: Theological & Scriptural Reflections.

Going Deeper

Read about how one religious community uses restorative justice circles to help communities break free from the cycle of violence to experience hope, peace and healing.  How are you called to help realize God’s vision for humanity by working to restore or repair what is broken?

We Encounter Our Neighbors

Photo by Julian Spath/Catholic Relief Services

Photo by Julian Spath/Catholic Relief Services

Jesus’ ministry was a three-year encounter with others. He went to those on the margins, those whom society had rejected, those who themselves believed that they had sinned one too many times to be forgiven. He went to each of them with a message of love, of compassion, of mercy. And he called them back to themselves, so that they, too, saw themselves as God saw them: dignified human beings worthy of divine love.

John relates to us the story of the man born blind. Here, we see Jesus determined to encounter this man, to physically touch this individual where he was most hurting. Jesus does not allow politics, societal expectations or the gossip of others to stand in his way. Rather, he goes directly to meet the man, to work through him and to give him sight.

Society had forgotten this man, had quite literally kicked him to the curb, left to spend his days in poverty. But Jesus reminds us that no one is forgotten by God; no one should be condemned to a life of hunger, homelessness, poverty or injustice. Rather, Jesus quite radically points the finger at the accepted systems in place that deemed it okay to leave this man on the margins. And then he encounters the man in love.

But who is my neighbor, we may ask, echoing that scholar of the law who wished to test Jesus. Jesus replies with the Parable of the Good Samaritan—and it becomes quite clear that Jesus has little time for divisiveness, exclusion, or othering. Instead, we encounter those in need recognizing that it was God who encountered us first. And, indeed, it is God’s vision that we seek to realize through building a culture of encounter.

Eric ClaytonEric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and stories from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Continue reflecting on how you can contribute to the culture of encounter with the CRS Rice Bowl app.

This reflection was first published in CRS Rice Bowl’s Encounter Lent: Theological & Scriptural Reflections.

Going Deeper

Who is “kicked to the curb” in your community? Read about one Ohio parish’s efforts to encounter formerly incarcerated individuals, understand their stories and struggles, and then accompany them in advocacy to eliminate one of the major barriers they face.

This resource from WeAreSaltAndLight.org can help you create a culture of encounter in your community through one-to-one relational meetings.

Lent: A Journey of Encounter

 Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services

Photo by Karen Kasmauski for Catholic Relief Services

We Encounter Ourselves

To build a culture of encounter, we must start from within ourselves, from our personal call to discipleship. God knows our true selves, desiring that we, too, discover the person God has called us to be. Through prayer, we encounter ourselves before God; we see ourselves as God sees us. And we realize that God delights in every member of our human family because God is truly present in each of us.

Jesus reminds us, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” To love another, we must come to know our own selves, our own hurts and triumphs, our own joys and challenges. What begins as an interior encounter necessarily goes beyond ourselves, challenging us to live in solidarity with people we may never meet.  How can we hope to go to the margins, to accompany those who are most vulnerable and in need, if we haven’t properly wrestled with our own vulnerability, our own need? Only then can we recognize that each person we encounter can share with us some unique insight about our world, about ourselves and, ultimately, about our God.

We meet Jesus in the desert, a time of introspection and discernment before he begins his ministry. What has he gone there to accomplish? Luke tells us that Jesus “was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil.” There he fasts and prays—and the Enemy takes that opportunity to tempt Christ with those temptations we each encounter daily: material comfort, honor and pride.

Jesus responded by trusting in God, by emptying himself of pride and power and ultimately rejecting the invitations of the Enemy.

We, too, can better understand where we are broken and turning away from who we are called to be by following Jesus’ example and encountering ourselves through prayer and fasting. We may not go into a desert for forty days, but we can and should take the forty-day invitation of Lent as an opportunity to reorient our lives, examining how we are living in relationship with God and our neighbors.

That might mean coming to terms with troubling or disappointing truths. Can we, like Jesus, radically reject the offering of power, of influence? We all want glory, praise, a pat on the shoulder, but as Jesus turned away from the Enemy’s offering, so too must we. And then, where do we turn? We go to the margins with humility and compassion. Only by encountering ourselves can we then encounter our neighbors.

Eric ClaytonEric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services (CRS).


This Lent, USCCB is partnering with CRS to bring you reflections and stories from CRS Rice Bowl, the Lenten faith-in-action program for families and faith communities. Through CRS Rice Bowl, we hear stories from our brothers and sisters in need worldwide, and devote our Lenten prayers, fasting and gifts to change the lives of the poor. Continue reflecting on how you can contribute to the culture of encounter with the CRS Rice Bowl app.

This reflection was first published in CRS Rice Bowl’s Encounter Lent: Theological & Scriptural Reflections.

Going Deeper

Prayer can open our hearts and minds to God’s love and compassion for every person—no matter who they are. Read about this youth pro-life team, whose prayer for those on death row helps the entire community reflect on our commitment to protect all human life.

This Lent, use this Examination of Conscience in Light of Catholic Social Teaching (also en Español) to encounter God’s love and forgiveness, and to help us discern how to better love those on the margins, whom God loves.

Lent 101: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving

Eric ClaytonMy wife and I stood in our little kitchen, washing and drying our dishes. It was Ash Wednesday. We had gone to different Masses that day and were commenting on the homilies we had each heard. The priest who had celebrated the Mass at which my wife had been present had reflected on the value of fasting, on how it is something to be undertaken with joy. So often, we’re tempted to take on a fast that makes us gloomy, unpleasant people, the priest had said. When he had given up coffee one year, it became less of a fast for him and more of a penance for those around him.

Fasting is always a funny thing. Each year, my wife and I spend those last few weeks of Ordinary Time prior to Lent pouring over the different fasts we can undertake, what we will do for Lent. But that year, standing in the kitchen, dripping dishes in hand, we realized something. God is perfectly clear about the kind of fasting we’re asked to undertake. In fact, God has been clear for thousands of years—and God reminds us each and every Ash Wednesday with distinct clarity through the words of Isaiah:

Is this not, rather, the fast that I choose: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking off every yoke? Is it not sharing your bread with the hungry, bringing the afflicted and the homeless into your house; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own flesh? (58: 6-7)

Just so. The call to charity and justice is unavoidable. It is, it would seem, God’s deepest desire for our own individual fasts. Swearing off social media is good in so far as it frees me to help another. Buying one less coffee a day can be a fruitful exercise if it means that the money not spent goes instead to a worthy cause. Honing my own self-discipline is important and valuable as long as it better enables me to fulfill those words of Jesus: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

If we keep this in mind, then our Lenten practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving necessarily becomes other focused. Our prayer keeps us mindful of God at work in the world—in our lives and the lives of others—and poises us to act in line with the working of the Spirit. Our fasting becomes an exercise in self-emptying, of preventing the me-ness from preoccupying our minds; rather, it is to allow God to work within us, focusing our attention on another. And our almsgiving becomes the necessary response, the filling up and cascading over of love for neighbor, a desire to, in our self-emptied state, give of ourselves to those most in need.

Is this not the path that Jesus walked, that same path that we prayerfully consider throughout the season of Lent? Paul writes to the Philippians:

Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (2:7-8)

So, then, the challenge for each of us this Lent is to reflect on our own practice of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving and assess how our emptied selves are best put at the service of others. Bombarded by the international crisis facing us each day, I would suggest that our Lenten practice demands a global lens. How can these pillars of Lent lead us deeper into a spirituality of global solidarity? How can we give of ourselves to God’s one, human family, a family that crosses borders, cultures, and religions?

Certainly, this is not a challenge to be undertaken lightly—or completed quickly. But we can make it a goal of our Lenten journey to take a single step along the road of global solidarity. I offer, as a roadmap, CRS Rice Bowl, a program that aims to usher us further down that path, to close the gaps that separate us from our brothers and sisters around the world, to prepare in us a heart that is fertile and ready to receive and act upon the global mission of the Church. Your first stop on the journey might be crsricebowl.org or CRS Rice Bowl app, for your iOS and Android device.

But don’t let that be your last stop. Where will your prayer, fasting and almsgiving take you this Lent? Perhaps, more significantly, when these 40 days have ended, where then will you be prepared to go?

 

Eric Clayton is CRS Rice Bowl Program Officer at Catholic Relief Services