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A Farewell (to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) and a Reflection

As you may have heard on the news by now, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has died. So as we bid him farewell, I wanted to share a little bit about he influenced me.

I read a recent quote from him, which went something like this: "I do not prepare for an end, but for an encounter." If you have read much of Pope Benedict XVI's work, you might notice this theme of "encounter" with God.

He said, in his book Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, "“Christian faith is not the product of our own experiences; rather it is an event that comes to us from without. Faith is based on our meeting someone for which our capacity for experiencing things is inadequate. It is not our experience that is widened or deepened … but something happens.” What happens is an encounter, a personal encounter with someone else, a living God. Something happens. And faith is our response.

This theme of encounter is demonstrated in this week's Gospel. The shepherds go "in haste" to encounter Jesus with Mary and Joseph. While they were told about Jesus by the angels, their belief came from the encounter. "Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them." Mary is said to have "kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart."

This theme of encounter has inspired my own work with Mary, Queen of the Apostles parish (Salem, MA) and Saturday Works - inviting others to encounter God.

I think there are at least two significant ways we can encounter God today. One is the Eucharist, both at Mass and at adoration. Jesus, body, blood, soul, and divinity, is truly present to us under the appearance of the consecrated bread and wine. The other is in our neighbor. My other favorite German theologian, Karl Rahner, said, "When we love the other ... God is where we are and is looking at us through the other person." This is most apparent when we serve our neighbors most in need out of love.

I'm looking forward to hosting two small groups in the New Year. In the first, we will seek ways to "get more from" Mass. In the second, we will share about how we are encountering God in serving others. Both are really about inviting others to encounter God (in the Eucharist or in our neighbors), and then, like Mary, reflecting on these things in our hearts. I hope to imitate the Samaritan Woman, who went to her village, inviting all of them to "Come, meet someone ....", and sent them to meet Jesus. Something happened when those villagers met Jesus. I hope something happens here in Salem too.

May Pope Benedict have the joy of the eternal encounter with God.

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