[“Ecce Agnus Dei” by Dieric Bouts the Elder, 1462-64]
“What are you looking for?” How often have we heard this question? It may be as trivial as store clerk asking us what item we are looking for. However, when Jesus asks Andrew and the other disciple of St. John the Baptist, “What are you looking for?” they both knew that Jesus was asking the BIG question. It is the question that springs from the very core of our being. It is the essential question which defines both who we are, and what our life is all about. The greatest philosophers and religious leaders throughout history have proposed different answers to this central question of humanity: What is the meaning of life?
Only Jesus the Christ has given us the complete answer, and He gives it in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus is about 30 years old at the time, and He knows that the time has come for Him to leave behind His simple life as a carpenter in Nazareth and take up His public ministry of preaching to the crowds, to reveal Man to himself, and to proclaim the Kingdom of God. He knows that He is going to have to find and train apostles — which means “those who are sent” — to continue to make His presence known throughout the world and throughout time.
So where does one go to find apostles? Jesus goes to His cousin, “the voice crying out in the wilderness,” John the Baptist who has been preparing his own disciples to recognize and welcome the Messiah. So, as Jesus walks along the bank of the Jordan River, John the Baptist points at Him and tells two of his disciples that HE IS THE ONE, the Lamb of God, the Messiah. John and Andrew can barely believe their ears! They had not closed off their hearts, but listened to their need, their desire for a happiness not possible in this world. Their openness of heart lead them to John the Baptist, for they recognized an echo of the Word in that Voice. Now how their hearts must have been pounding as John points to Jesus and exclaims, “That’s Him! He is the One that I have been speaking about.” Andrew and John need to check out this new Rabbi, Jesus.
Jesus hears them approaching, and turning, looks them in the eye and asks, “What are you looking for?” It is the key question, the one that burns at the very center of their hearts. They reply, “Teacher, where are you staying?” Without realizing it, they have given the perfect answer: “Jesus, we are looking for YOU; we want to stay with you, we want to share life with you.” With a smile Jesus invites them to “Come and see.” Jesus invites them to walk with Him, to follow Him, to be His companions — and that is Christ’s answer to the question of life’s meaning.
The meaning of life is not a thing to be possessed, or an abstract doctrine to be understood. The meaning of life is a relationship to be lived out. It is a personal friendship with Jesus Christ.
Since the meaning of life is a relationship, it means that it does not depend just on us. It also depends on God’s willingness to offer us His friendship. Today’s readings reminds us that God is not only willing, but developing that friendship with us is His deepest desire as well!
Notice how personal God’s call to Samuel is. It is so real, so human, so personalized, that Samuel keeps thinking that it is Eli, the elderly priest, who is calling him. Keep in mind that Eli is someone who knows Samuel, someone Samuel knows, as a close companion in life. The fact that Samuel was able to confuse God’s voice with Eli’s shows just how personal and intimate God’s offer of friendship was. God knows Samuel, through and through, and calls out to him NOT from far away, but from very near.
That is how God calls each one of us, too. In fact, God know us even better than we know ourselves. St. Augustine said it this way, God is “nearer than my nearest self.”
In today’s gospel reading, when Jesus meets Simon, Andrew’s brother — the future leader of the Twelve Apostles and the whole Church — Jesus gives him a new name. Giving a person a new name was a way of calling a person to the fullness of their identity, and in this case, to fulfill the mission he was created for. That is how God relates to each one of us — at least, that is how He wants to relate to each of us.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses this truth wonderfully when it says, “. . . at every time and in every place, God draws close to man [#1] . . . . God never ceases to draw man to himself [#27].” On the one hand, God is always coming close to us, and on the other hand He is always drawing us closer to Him. This is Christ: a personal, interested, attentive, loving King who wants to befriend all His subjects.
Understanding Christianity as a personal relationship with Christ Jesus helps everything else fall into place. For example, all the Catholic practices and ceremonies that we live in our prayers, liturgy, and sacraments can no longer be considered just empty rituals — as they appear to so many Catholic critics and superficial Catholics. Instead, they show up in their true identity, as family traditions. Every family has traditions, and far from sterilizing family life, then ennoble and personalize it. Our Catholic traditions link us not only to Christ our Lord and closest friend, but also to all our sisters and brothers who have followed Christ throughout the centuries. We are connected to them by these “family traditions” like the Mass, confession, the Rosary, traditional prayers, music, art and architecture.
Also, when we see Christianity as being mainly about our saving friendship with Jesus Christ, the Church’s moral teaching no longer appears like a list of random rules. Rather, we see it as wise guidance offered by someone who knows and loves us. Some critics of the Church accuse Christianity of belittling the body. They claim that our commitment to morality, self-mastery, and faithfulness goes against what is natural, and takes the fun out of life. These critics say, “Why not just enjoy life and stop being so uptight?”
The truth is that God Himself designed and created every aspect of human life, including our bodies, so He knows better than anyone else how to live life to the full. St. Paul reminds us of that in today’s Second Reading, when he writes, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit… Glorify God in your body!”
Jesus knows this, and because He is a faithful friend, He reminds us of it through the moral teaching of the Church, which protects our dignity as children of God and keeps us on the path of wisdom and everlasting wellness.
As we worship Jesus today in this holy Mass, let us thank Him for those teachings, and renew our friendship with Him by promising to always do our best to follow them by following Him.