My May Column – Full Text

On a Journey

When you read this I’ll have just returned from a trip to British Columbia. My wife and I have been visiting our son and his family. We were looking forward to seeing our two grandchildren in Canada (the parents as well but really the children.) We were not looking forward to the long flights. When you are on a journey for the first time it is interesting but after the first few times you just want to get there.

What makes a journey interesting is the people you meet. I don’t like beach holidays because I’m easily bored. Lying in the sun drives me mad. I prefer to be walking around in a new place, seeing strange buildings and hearing unfamiliar accents that make you strain to make out what they are saying.

When you travel by train or boat you have the opportunity to get up and move about. You can meet your fellow passengers and chat about where they are from and where they are off to. Some people have very interesting stories about their own background, the jobs they do and the reasons for their journey.

The buildings on Vancouver Island are mostly made of wood and low rise. That gives the places a different feel from Scotland. Even Saint Elizabeth’s church along the road could be mistaken for a shop from the outside. Inside, the altar clearly defines this as a church. There are no pews but comfortable chairs fill the space. The Mass is just the same as in Scotland but the lay parishioners play a much bigger role. Lay people welcome visitors, make announcements and invite everyone to stop at a makeshift cafe at the back of the church.

Seeing how other parishes use the space prompted me to think about how we can make our parishes more inviting. At Mass we were welcomed as Scottish visitors. The next day we met a Canadian couple who recognised us from the church. In conversation we discovered the wife was from Edinburgh. We knew where she was from and she knew where we are from. A link is made and stories are shared. Our day is somehow brightened and our experience is deepened.

Going away from home takes you away from your normal routine. You don’t have the normal chores to distract you. You don’t have all your things around you and you do have plenty of time to think. I find myself thinking about the new experiences​ I’ve had on my trip and making comparisons  with my normal life and the assumptions I make.

This is dangerous territory. Life is comfortable with my assumptions. I don’t have to think everything through and justify what I’m doing. Now I’m meeting other people who have different assumptions and may see things from a different perspective than mine. Sometimes I find that my assumptions are less than perfect and I can learn from others.

In the Mass the other day we heard the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. They were depressed because Jesus had been put to death and suddenly they were leaderless. They assumed that was the end. They assumed that Jesus had been stopped in his tracks and it was all over. That was a sensible assumption. They were so convinced by this assumption that they did not recognise Jesus when he joined them on the road.

Jesus gave them a different perspective and helped them to realise that they were wrong in their assumptions. They had thought that death was the end of our lives but now realised that life goes on in a way we do not understand. The risen Christ they encountered was not immediately recognised because he was somehow different. Our life after death will be similarly different.

I always thought it was a bit strange that those disciples could not recognise Jesus. They were not just passing on the road but walking along with Him. Now if I had been on that road surely I would have recognised Jesus? Perhaps not right away but when he spoke to me I would know who he was. Then again I wonder if I would really recognise Jesus when he spoke to me? Perhaps those disciples could not recognise Jesus because they assumed that he was gone for ever. Would I assume that I might meet Jesus on my journey? It never occurs to me that Jesus might meet me today.

Just like those disciples I assume that he has gone to Heaven and I will not be meeting him any time soon. That shows just how well I listened to what Jesus said. He promised to be with us for all time. I really should be expecting to meet Jesus on my way. Maybe I have and didn’t recognise him.

I think back to yesterday. Did I meet anyone who might have been Jesus? There was the bus driver, the girl in the coffee shop, the book shop assistant. Could any of them be Jesus? Perhaps he was one of the beggars on the street? If so, which one was he? I suppose he was the one I gave some change to. He did say ‘Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me.’

Now I’m thinking that if we can encounter Jesus in the people we meet I must change how I go about my day. I can’t wander around as if I’m among strangers but realise that Jesus is there to meet me in the people I encounter. More importantly, they will encounter Jesus in those they meet.

If they meet me do they find Jesus there? I think back to the people I met yesterday. Did the bus driver see anything in me that could have been an encounter with Jesus? Was there a smile, something in the way I thanked him or anything that could have, in a small way added to his day? In other words do I assume that I have nothing to contribute to those I meet or am I aware that as a Christian I must be Jesus to those I meet? Not just in the sign of peace at Mass but I must bring a sign of peace to everyone always.

Just think. Can you imagine how it would be if we met Jesus in everyone we encountered? How different the world would be if all our meetings were positive, life enhancing experiences. Just think how you and I could change the world if we really took Jesus’s teachings to heart. We just need to dump the assumption that we are only one, powerless person who can’t make a difference. We need to realise that we are all parts of the ‘body of Christ’ and together we have the task of bringing about the Kingdom here on Earth.

We are all, in a small way, Jesus. When you look in the mirror tomorrow morning just say ‘Good morning Jesus’ how are you going to change the world today?

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