How do you know it’s Jesus?
There are dozens of religious experiences out there to be enjoyed. It’s a buyer’s market, and in this age of commercialism the hucksters of religion are pretty good at slapping together a neat religious experience. In the mega churches you can get a whizz bang combination of light rock music, hologram sermons from the mega preacher, a touch of self help philosophy, donuts, coffee, cool child care, and a dash of feel good inspiration.
The old time Protestant religion gives you solid Bible preaching with a splash of guilt to make you feel bad/good. They usually do a nice line in imprecations against the ungodly and worldly folk (of who you and yours are definitely not) and that will make you feel warm all over and ‘close to Jesus’. Often they throw in some apocalyptic, ‘end times’ conspiracy theory stuff which builds up the esprit de corps through a bit of excitement and fear.
Meanwhile, the main line Protestant denominations offer peace and justice for all. All are welcome there and it makes you feel good that all ethnic minorities, homosexuals and feminists can all come together under a rainbow banner to embrace one another and build a brave new world together. With this they offer some righteous indignation against all the oppressors, the rich and the ‘self righteous wicked bigoted conservatives white male patriarchal oppressors.’
All of this in the name of Jesus. But where do you encounter Christ, and how do you know it was Jesus? In addition to all the above you can throw in the charismatics with their ‘experience of renewal’ the experience of getting saved or born again and/or any number of study groups, church groups, religious communities and home groups all who invite you to ‘experience Christ’–which is code for “have the sort of religious experience I have had you’ll really like it.” Lest I be accused of cynicism, I am not really down on all these sorts of groups. I’m actually in favor of a religious marketplace. The only question I want to ask is, “Err, how do I know I’m getting the real thing?”
C.S.Lewis once commented about a form of religious experience that it might make him feel good, but then he could get much the same feeling from having had a rather good dinner.
The Catholic Church offers plenty of ‘religious experiences’ but we also rest those experiences on the objective experience of Christ in five ways, and these five ways are not only taught in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but in the gospel itself.
The first way is through the community of believers. Jesus said, “Where two or three are gathered in my name there I am in the midst of them.” Good. So I experience Christ therefore within and through the church. It is in my fellow believers and in our worship together that Christ is known. My own personal subjective experience must be validated by the corporate reality of Christ in the Church.
The third way is joined with the first two. We know Christ in the person of the priest. He said to his apostles, “Those who hear you hear me, and those who hear me hear the one who sent me.” and “As the Father has sent me I am sending you.” By direct commission Christ not only sends the apostles, but is present in and through them through the miracle of ordination and apostolic succession. “Whaat!” I hear you gasp “I am to see Christ in old Father Layabout who has a drink problem?” That’s right. “I am to see Christ in Father Volcanic who blows his top at every little problem?” Uh huh. It’s a mystery, but there it is. Most of all, of course, we see Christ when that frail and human priest is celebrating Mass, hearing confessions and doing what only a priest can do.
The fourth way is through the sacred Scriptures. “The Word was made flesh.” We therefore come to know Christ through the study of Scripture and the hearing of the word of God. Here is another “mystery of Godliness” that God speaks to me through meditating on his Word.
The final way is in the face of the poor. Do you you want to experience the mystery of an encounter with Christ? Do you want to know that it really is Jesus? Then see his face in the face of the poor. Don’t just write a check to your favorite charity. Get out and meet them and you will meet Christ. He said that too didn’t he? “Inasmuch as you did this for the least of my brethren you did it for me.”
These are the five faces of Christ. You might as well forget about the rest of that piffle. The best all that other stuff can do is lead you to the five faces of Christ. The worst it can do is distract you away from the five faces of Christ because you will have mistaken a poor counterfeit for the real thing.