Sacred scripture often teaches that many people have direct and personal experiences with God. In Genesis 12 and 28, God promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation.
In Exodus 3–4, Moses encountered God through the burning bush in the desert, and God commanded him to return to Egypt and liberate His people. In Judges 6:11–8:32, an angel of the Lord promised Gideon divine deliverance from his enemy and in 1 and 2 Kings, God appeared to kings and prophets with numerous warnings and promises.
Generally speaking, religious experiences occur in people who already believe in God. Thus, these experiences are often intended to impart reliable information or divine guidance, and are frequently accompanied by some miraculous events. Similarly, in the Gospel of Luke 9:28 –36, Jesus had a religious encounter with the Father.
Although the experience which Jesus had was of paramount significance, it was also quite non-specific. Being totally transfigured and transformed, and hearing a voice saying that you are the Son of God, while it is enormously affirming and assuring, it does not fully explain the next stage. Very little or no direction or explanation, was offered.
Hence, after the transfiguration, Jesus had to carefully and thoughtfully interpret for Himself the true meaning of this religious encounter since He probably had very little or no idea. Although it is not documented, we can certainly believe that Jesus took this particular incident very seriously.
He pondered and contemplated upon it so that He could always maintain in proper focus the will of the Father. While most of our religious encounters may not be as intense as Jesus´, the principles of how we might reflect on them remain the same.
As we celebrate the second week of Lent and begin to truly listen attentively to the voice of God, we are compelled to believe that Christianity, at its foundation, entails living the paradoxes mentioned in sacred scripture.
Thus, we ought to genuinely love our enemies and do good to those who hate us even as we continue to experience the working of God in an extraordinary way. We are also called to take up our cross every day and follow Jesus the divine Master. Moreover, we have to constantly strive to be good so that we could be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.
These commands are not optional. While they are extremely difficult to fulfil, they are quite rewarding since they offer us eternal salvation. Further, God wants us to obey them, and our various religious experiences assist us. We must be cautious, however, that these encounters must not only set us apart.
It is not enough to merely see Jesus as a moral figure or hear His voice as soothing and comforting. We ought to remember that our principal aim is not only to live a virtuous life or to have particular spiritual moments, but we are to follow Jesus single mindedly. While this is extremely difficult, it is quite rewarding.
That is why our lives are often punctuated with religious experiences. They seek to motivate, energise and encourage us along the straight and narrow path. They also assist us in trying to see the deeper meaning and value in carrying the cross in daily living, as well as living the paradoxes mentioned in sacred scripture.
Thomas Aquinas was perhaps one of the most brilliant theologians of the Church. At the end of his life, amidst all his outstanding writing, his great masterpiece, The Summa Theologica, God spoke to him saying: “‘You have written well of me Thomas, what would you have in return?’ Thomas responded quite simply, ‘Only you, O Lord’.”
Let us pray.
Dear Lord, we humbly pray that the genuine response of Thomas would become part of our daily lives. We sincerely thank You, O Lord, for the numerous religious experiences because they really speak about Your abundant graciousness and overwhelming goodness.
Father, today, more than ever, we admit our faults and failings. We do not like to carry that cross and we also do not try to love our enemies. We only want to seek great and extraordinary moments with You.
We acknowledge that it is difficult and seemingly impossible to do good to those who hate us. Thus, we live in a constant struggle: the religious experiences on one side, and the challenges of the gospel, on the other. We need to merge both this very moment so that we could inherit eternal life with You.
Father, in your graciousness, we ask You to stretch forth Your mighty hand and give us the courage and fortitude to keep both in proper perspective. Father, continue to motivate and encourage us to always try to do good.
Then, and only then, we would truly realise the fullness and significance of the religious experiences. We make this prayer through Christ our Lord. Amen.
By Fr Gabriel Julien