I was eighteen when on a chilly December morning I entered a church in Rome before going to class. A Mass was going on in the church, but I wasn’t really paying attention, as I merely wanted to have a warm place where I could wait. After few minutes, a young woman in her late twenties sat right beside me and started to talk to me. I was struck by her beautiful and pure gaze right away, even if I was trying to figure out who she was and why she would want to talk to me like this. She explained that she was a consecrated woman in the brand new community of the Apostles of the Interior Life, and that her mission was to reach out to young people and talk with them about God. Although I wasn’t ready to start a spiritual friendship with her, I was struck by the fact that this woman had seen me in that church and wanted to get to know me, a total stranger, and talk to me… and when, after few minutes, I left her, giving the impression that I wasn’t very interested in that conversation, I felt like I had missed a precious opportunity, an encounter that could have changed the course of my life… Two years later, I met her blood sister, also in the same community, in a total unrelated situation – but her sister had the same desire and intent to start a friendship with me and help me get closer to the Lord. At that point, I clearly saw how God is intentional in his desire to reach out to us and that he sends us out to do the same. This realization changed the course of my life, as I started discerning consecrated life and the call to become an Apostle of the Interior Life.
Paragraph #4 in our Rule of Life states:
“This is, therefore, the characteristic of the Apostle of the Interior Life:
She not only desires to love Christ in a particular way as a consecrated person through an intense unitive life with Him; she not only desires to love the Person of Christ and that which is closest to his heart, that is, the salvific mission entrusted to Him by his Father; but she privileges also the way by which the Savior of the world fulfilled his mission in the land of Palestine during his three years of apostolic life.
From this it follows that her apostolic model is Christ himself.”
What I love most in this paragraph is the “crescendo” that it implies that is at the heart of our Charism… as if it were a melody that starts with a mezzo-forte and reaches a fortissimo in just a few measures…
We are not “just” called to desire and cultivate an intense unitive life with Christ as a sign of our love and spousal commitment to Him, and we are not “just” called to love in a special way the same mission of redemption that God the Father entrusted to Jesus; we are also called to implement in our lives the same way Jesus lived his mission here on earth.
I have always been fascinated by this vision, by the way Jesus chose to encounter our humanity, and how present this way is in all the teachings and addresses of the Church’s Magisterium, particularly in these past few decades! These are signs that this way is not only to be lived out by few people called to a special mission, but rather is meant to be lived out by all the baptized who desire to follow the Lord.
So, what does this way look like?
If we read the Gospels, we come to see that the three years of Jesus’ apostolic life were immersed in relationships: the evangelists recall that the apostles sometimes didn’t even have time to eat, so great was the demand from the crowds for the ministry of Jesus and his apostles. The Lord established a variety of relationships with many kinds of people, from engaging the crowds through his teaching, to the one-on-one conversations he had with the Samaritan Woman and Nicodemus, to the special interaction had with each person in all of his healing encounters.
We usually assume that all these people who met Jesus in the gospels took the initiative in approaching him with their needs or questions, but from a deeper reading of the texts we realize that every encounter Jesus had was very intentional on his part. He knew that in every town, every village he would enter, he was going to meet those people who would eventually approach him. He knew their thirst for love, their hunger for a deeper life, their desires for happiness, their pain and distress.
It was he, therefore, who always took the initiative. We see this clearly in the account of the calling of the first apostles: contrary to the tradition of the time, when it was customary for the disciple to choose to follow his master, Jesus instead takes the initiative of choosing his own apostles according to his heart. We see the same attitude in a different context, when Jesus encounters the sinful woman in the gospel of Luke. Jesus boldly states that she loved more because she had been forgiven more. Although in the gospel account the actual act of forgiveness by Jesus seems to be a consequence of her gestures of love, the apparent incongruence is solved by the suggestion that the Lord had encountered her heart even before meeting her in person at the house of the Pharisee. This is a sign that his heart was in a constant, tireless search.
This intentionality, this searching for a deeper encounter, is at the heart of Jesus’ way to save each one of us. This is the unfailing way to do any kind of ministry and work of evangelization. It is the firm and unshakable belief that every human heart contains the mystery of God and no matter how dormant it may be, it can be awakened by love.
There is a beauty in every human person that calls out to be discovered and acknowledged through the very simple act of taking interest in getting to know that person. In a world that is forgetting how to interact with each other without the help of some type of “media”, the work of encountering people and showing genuine interest in them is of great value even from a simply human perspective. If we believe that this is the way Jesus has chosen to be with us, then we realize that the art of establishing relationships is making the mystery of the Trinity visible in this world.
At the beginning of this new year may the words used to describe the Lord’s life and work on earth in the Acts of the Apostles be the direction to guide our steps: “Jesus went about doing good and healing, for God was with him.” (Acts 10:38)
I will learn from Jesus how to relate to people individually by learning to speak their language and discover what moves them. For example, I will engage a coworker by asking them questions about their hobbies to find common ground. This could then lead them to ask us questions, becoming an entry point to evangelization.