Just a few short weeks ago, I returned from Convo 2016 held within the Eastern Diocese in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was truly a wonderful time to spend five days with the clergy, youth and chaperones, who were all dedicated to getting to know Jesus better and prepared to spend time with each other in Christian fellowship. The theme for Convo this year was “I AM,” referring to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as the great “I AM.” The presentations during the week and the themes for the Masses celebrated were concerned with getting to know Jesus in the various roles that He refers to in the Gospel of John. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells His followers and us that, “I am the Bread of Life,” “I am the Light of the World,” “I am the Door,” “I am the Resurrection and the Life,” “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” “I am the True Vine,” and “I am the Good Shepherd.”
During the week of Convo, the youth of the Church, and all of us who were gathered there, spent some time delving into exactly what these words mean, both at the time they were spoken two thousand years ago and also what they mean for us today. Through all of this we begin to see that Jesus is there for us, in exactly the way we need Him at that moment. These words of strong faith can be a support and comfort to us in all that we must go through in our daily lives. When we find ourselves hungering for something that we just cannot understand, or as Scripture tells us when we hunger and thirst for holiness, it is then that we know that Jesus is the “Bread of Life,” the sustenance that fulfills our lives. When we are lost, not sure which way to turn, be this in our personal lives, in our work lives, or in our dealing with others, we often feel that we are in the dark. It is at this point that we turn to our Lord; Jesus will show us the way because He is the “Light of the World.”
Knowing that our daily lives can often be places of spiritual danger, where we encounter those who would draw us away from the faith and love of Jesus, here Jesus tells us that He is the “Door.” He is the One Who encloses us in His loving and care-filled arms to keep us secure. When we are confronted with loss in our lives, especially the loss of a loved one from within our family circle, it is here that Jesus tells us “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” He reminds us that He has passed through death and has risen from the dead. Because of this, if we are united with Him, then we too will be raised to eternal life in Christ.
When we desire to reach out and make a difference in the lives of others or when we want to connect with others in our religious lives, we know that Jesus is the “True Vine.” We, as branches, must be grounded in the Vine if we are to bring forth good fruit; and apart from this Vine, apart from Jesus, all is meaningless. Likewise we know, in this regard, that Jesus is “The Way and the Truth and Life.” He is the way to God and eternal life.
And, in fact, this brings me to what I have been focusing on ever since I have returned from Convo. Upon returning from this youth event, I am always quite renewed and regenerated. It is truly invigorating to see so many members of the Church, both the youth and adults, laity and clergy, who love our Lord Jesus and love His people. As you can imagine, much of what a bishop needs to do in the management of the ongoing life of the Church is not all that uplifting, but the time spent at Convo reminds me that I must always try to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus throughout all that I do if I am to be truly reverent and renewed.
This week during Holy Mass on Sunday I was reminded of the attitude that I must have, and hopefully each of us will have, in our encounters with Jesus. In the letter to the Hebrews we read, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” (Heb 12:1-2a)
Convo reminds me that I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Not just the well-known individuals in the Old and New Testaments, but also the members of the Church that I know today: the members of the clergy who inspire me by their faith and dedication to serving the Church and her people, those who give of their time and effort in making sure that others can experience the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ through the programs of the Church, and especially the youth who so love Jesus and wholeheartedly help and guide each other in coming to know and love our Lord as well. All of you are surrounded by this cloud of witnesses as well, if only we have eyes to see the reality that is occurring within our church and within our parishes.
The second point is that we must “rid ourselves of every burden and sin and persevere in running the race.” When we look at this together with the “I Am” statements of Jesus, oftentimes our sins are in ways that we deny that Jesus fulfills these roles within our lives. When we go off on our own, going our own way like a lost sheep, then we are denying that Jesus is the Good Shepherd for us. When we seek to be satisfied by goals that are selfish and self-serving, then we are in some ways denying that Jesus is the Bread of Life, the One Who truly sustains us. We must rid ourselves of these sins so that we can better focus on the race that lies in front of us, that is our life in the pursuit of being people of love and reverence for God.
Lastly this portion of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that we must live “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” During the last presentation of Convo, I spoke to those assembled about the question of our Lord to His disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15) Simon Peter gave the answer, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:16) While this answer is certainly one of the strongest professions of faith within all of the New Testament, we still need to ask what does it mean for us today. It really must mean that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. He is our everything and therefore we must put Him at the center of our lives. The letter to the Hebrews tells us to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus.” This is really the key to living lives that are both joyous and reverent. If we are at Church and our eyes are fixed on Jesus then we will want to worship Him and thank Him for all that we have. We will want to unite ourselves with Him in His Word, in the Eucharist and in the Body of Christ which is the Church. When we are off at our jobs, if we have our eyes fixed on Jesus we will want to do the best that we possibly can, knowing that through this honest work we are supporting ourselves, those we love and also the good work of the Church through our donations. If we are eating a meal, no matter how sumptuous or humble, if we have our eyes fixed on Jesus, we will want to acknowledge that Jesus gives us all that we need to sustain us and we will want to say grace to thank our Lord for His constant care and help. And of course I could go on and on reminding each of us that if we have our eyes fixed on Jesus, then we will look at life in a little different way and we will want to interact then with Jesus in a reverent way.
If we are looking to live a reverent life than what we really must be doing is “keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.” This will announce to all the world that Jesus is the leader and perfector of faith, and in fact, our everything.