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It was one of those chance meetings: the kind that can't be planned; the kind that can't be anticipated or prepared for; the kind that is pure gift. I didn't know her, and am unlikely to see her much in the future. Our lives have little, if anything, in common. But the conversation we had last Saturday was completely graced. It was, at least for me, an experience of God's presence.
Maybe it's because what I said to her was something I really needed to be reminded of myself. That happens a lot. Or maybe it was because for once I wasn't in a rush. I didn't have to be somewhere else, or with someone else. I could actually afford to be fully present to the person standing in front of me, present enough to really listen and genuinely respond. Whatever the reason, something wonderful happened. I encountered Jesus Christ.
That's what it must have been like for the first disciples when they saw the Risen Lord. Through locked doors, on lonely roads, and along pebbly shores, Jesus came to them where they were. His identity was not always readily apparent. It was known only when the full force of his presence was felt. The disciples knew the presence of Christ when they were fully present to him. That is how encounter works. Two (or more) people are present to each other, and in that presence, they experience the one who promised to be with us always.
I wish these encounters would happen more often. If they did, I'd be a better person. I'd also be a better Christian. I can't help thinking that I must be missing a lot of opportunities to encounter Jesus into others on a daily basis. I am too concerned about what I just left or what is next to listen, to be attentive enough to connect to another human being on that level. Of course that also means that I'm keeping others from encountering Christ when they meet me.
In a world of 24/7 availability, vibrating phones, text messages, overfilled calendars, and multitasking, the art of encounter -- and the time and space needed for it -- are being lost. It's no wonder so many people can't seem to find God, or have trouble believing that he even exists. When we're too busy to be with each other, there is little chance that we'll recognize that God has all along been with us. It's not surprising that fewer Catholics than ever experience the real presence of Jesus in Holy Eucharist. Not when most of us are finding it difficult to experience the real presence of the person standing next to us.
The Risen Lord is here. Jesus isn't somewhere--or everywhere--else. Like the grief-stricken Mary Magdalene, we may suppose him to be the gardener. Like the distraught disciples on the road, we may think he is just a stranger walking in the same direction. Like those in the storm-tossed boat, we may wonder if we are seeing a ghost. Like Thomas the Apostle, we may discount what others have seen as a figment of their imaginations. On a daily basis, we are likely to suppose that the person we just greeted and pushed past without a second thought was merely that. But if we could stop doing long enough to be, we might well encounter much more than we expected and discover that the two great commandments are really just one. We can love God, and neighbor, and self all at once, because it is possible to encounter all of them in any one of them.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.