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January – February 2017

I am amazed at how some people can very well testify about their personal encounter with God, how vivid their experience of God manifesting Himself. I am happy for them but at the same time I envy them. In my lifetime I can’t remember a moment of a close encounter with God. Why can’t I feel Him? Is there something wrong with me? What must I do?

Dublin buses [Wikipedia]

In 2013 years I was traveling on a bus in my native Dublin, Ireland. There was a girl of about 16 or 17, accompanied by a little boy of about three, standing near the driver. She kept talking into her cell-phone and seemed agitated. Finally she asked passengers near her, ‘Have we come to Blanchardstown Centre yet?’ I was astonished as I had boarded the bus after it had come from there. I knew by the girl’s accent that she was from Dublin. She was lost in her own city. I figured that the boy was her brother, but possibly her son.

Immediately the passengers near her, mostly older women, and I responded and made suggestions as to how she could get to the Centre. The driver, who overheard all this, took over and said that when the bus arrived at the terminal he would put them on the first bus going to the Centre.

That was but one of many occasions when I have encountered Jesus on the bus.

Moore Street, Dublin [Wikipedia]

When I was a young priest, before I came to the Philippines, a shabbily-dressed old woman stopped me in a poor part of Dublin. I thought she was going to ask for money but she simply wanted to share how lonely she was. She kept repeating this.

That was but one of many occasions when I have encountered Jesus on the street.

Children of Hinoba-an, Negros Occidental

Here in the Philippines, on the first occasion I visited a home for girls, most of whom had suffered traumatic experiences, one of them, aged 12, approached me before the program after Mass and dinner and said in utter trust, ‘Father, you won’t laugh at me, will you?’ When she sang, it was with a truly angelic voice.

That was but one of many occasions when I have encountered Jesus in children.

Adoration of the Shepherds, Caravaggio [Web Gallery of Art]

I think that the homily of Pope Francis in St Peter’s on Christmas Night, 24 December 2016 is perhaps related to your query. Here is the last part.

That night, the shepherds understood this. They were among the marginalized of those times. Yet no one is marginalized in the sight of God, and that Christmas, they themselves were the guests. People who felt sure of themselves, self-sufficient, were at home with their possessions. It was the shepherds who ‘set out with haste’ (cf. Lk 2:16). Tonight, may we too be challenged and called by Jesus. Let us approach him with trust, starting from all those things that make us feel marginalized, from our limitations and our sins. Let us be touched by the tenderness that saves. Let us draw close to God who draws close to us. Let us pause to gaze upon the crib, and relive in our imagination the birth of Jesus: light and peace, dire poverty and rejection. With the shepherds, let us enter into the real Christmas, bringing to Jesus all that we are, our alienation, our unhealed wounds, our sins. Then, in Jesus, we will enjoy the taste of the true spirit of Christmas: the beauty of being loved by God. With Mary and Joseph, let us pause before the manger, before Jesus who is born as bread for my life. Contemplating his humble and infinite love, let us simply tell him: Thank you. Thank you because you have done all this for me. [Emphasis added]

Caravaggio catches the utter trust of Mary in the shepherds – like the trust the young girl in the home showed to me – and, indeed, the closing words of the homily of Pope Francis: Contemplating his humble and infinite love, let us simply tell him: Thank you. Thank you because you have done all this for me. The Blessed Virgin Mary was around the same age as the girl I met on the bus.

St Martin of Tours and the Beggar, El Greco

El Greco’s painting shows St Martin, still preparing for baptism, giving half of his large military cloak to a beggar. The following night Martin in his sleep saw Jesus Christ, surrounded by angels, and dressed in the half of the cloak he had given away

God sometimes reveals himself in a mystical way to certain saints such as St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross. But most of the time these same saints met Jesus in the people they encountered in the ordinary course of daily life.

There is nothing wrong with you! All you ‘must do’ is to recognize God’s presence, and his personal love for you, in the people around you, those you know and those you meet in passing.

And, of course, we meet the Risen Lord Jesus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and sacraments.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14).