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Weaving Ourselves Whole: Exploring Your Life's Story

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SSND Summer Service Week

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FAITH AND CULTURE | Encountering the risen Lord

Ours is a culture that thrives on having intentional plans and outcomes. In professional settings, for instance, we have clear mission statements with corresponding metrics. And, whether we find ourselves at work or at play, the idea of spontaneity does not always sit well. Similarly, in planning our vacations, it is best to do some preparation, especially if our free time is limited.

The idea that it’s better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one, than to have an opportunity and not be prepared, rings favorably to our ears. This penchant for having well-executed strategies leaves little room for chance. Yet, there are times when we simply cannot plan or anticipate everything and everyone.

Indeed, part of life is being open to all kinds of natural and social surprises that come our way. For instance, no matter how much we plan for good weather, there is always a chance the weather will turn bad. The same is true of our social interactions; no matter how strategic we are in meeting or avoiding others, there is always the prospect of having a surprise encounter with its share of cognitive and emotional dissonance.

In most instances, when we are surprised by someone or something, we do our best to readjust our expectations, emotions and actions. Not every surprise encounter is necessarily a negative experience; some surprises can also bring new opportunities for a positive transformation in our lives.

From a faith perspective, these surprise encounters are also at play in our spiritual growth. We recall the story of Saul on the road to Damascus being surprised by the Lord in a blinding light, and he recognized just how transformative this event was for him (Acts 9:1-9). Or we can imagine how surprised Abraham and Sarah might have felt after hearing that they would be parents in their old age. And, despite their laughter, that is what took place (Genesis 17:17; 18:12). They had a son and named him Isaac (Genesis 21:1-6).

Mary’s own encounter with the angel Gabriel reveals how profoundly a person’s life can change from one moment to the next. In her young age, Mary was able to embrace the unexpected news with trust and total surrender: “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Perhaps less ideal but no less dramatic and real is Peter being surprised by Jesus’ generosity in giving him the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matt 16:19), especially after he denied knowing Jesus three times (Matthew 26: 69-75). And in Mary Magdalene’s touching encounter with the Risen Lord, we witness how tears of desolation find renewed joy, hope and mission (John 20:11-18).

Far from simply being nice stories, these faith narratives open our minds and hearts to the goodness and transformation that comes from encountering the Risen Lord. They remind us that encountering the Lord can take place in ordinary circumstances. In fact, as Jesus tells us, He is often found in those in whom we least expect: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs? Amen I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25: 44-45). May our encounter with the Risen Lord draw us ever near to those in need.

Javier Orozco is the executive director of human dignity and intercultural affairs for the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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