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Recognizing Jesus

Reflection on the event of Arrianne Whittaker entering the Novitiate.

“This is the good news of Jesus Christ!”

Arianne, I don’t know about you, but the good news proclaimed for us just now has a different feel for me today than it did when we heard it a few days after the celebration of Easter.

Then, we’d just come through days of intense celebration of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. Surrounded by Easter lilies, spring flowers, pastel colors, we felt very confident about the good news of Jesus Christ.

As we listened – immediately after Easter – we knew that the disciples were about to experience the good news of the presence of Jesus Christ. We listened eagerly for that moment in the story when they recognize Jesus!

But, in the middle of August, in the midst of a drought, during a very hot summer, and deeply involved in the ordinariness of “ordinary time,” I am left wondering: just what is the good news proclaimed for us today?

I find my attention drawn to the words “they were restrained from recognizing him.” Maybe for those of us who have our own moments of not being able to detect the presence of Jesus in our daily lives, it’s good to know we have company.

Part of the good news for me is that others besides myself haven’t always liked the way our God chooses to “free us.” Being set free is such a process, isn’t it? Such a life-long process, such an up and down process, such an exercise in faithful discernment, attentive listening…

In praying this Scripture today, I tune in much more to how the disciples’ sorrow and disappointment hindered their ability to see the presence of Jesus in a new moment. Their expectations hadn’t been met so they couldn’t see what was real, what was true, what was right in front of their eyes!

I so get that. How many times I miss the significance of this moment because I think it will look, feel, sound, be other than what it is.

Right after Easter, Jesus’ response to the disciples lack of recognition sounded impatient. Today it strikes me as blunt if not harsh – “what little sense you have! How slow you are to believe all that the prophets have announced! Did not the Messiah have to undergo all this to enter into his glory?”

Yet, Jesus stays with them and patiently goes over – again – his life and mission. This part is definitely “good news!”

Hearing it, I know – deep, deep down – “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

Thank you for choosing this Scripture for our prayer, Arianne. It is helpful to remember together its lessons for all of us – and especially for you as you begin your canonical year.

Perhaps, you hold expectations for how you’d like or expect God to make God’s self known to you – in the events, people, study and prayer of this coming year.

Perhaps, like me, you know how hard it is to believe and act from the conviction that we will be set free by giving away our lives, by carrying the cross, by washing the feet of others and so accepting the demands of inclusive love.

Perhaps, like me, you also know it’s sometimes difficult to hear and internalize the witness of others “in our group.” As the disciples had to be willing to learn from the women, we have to be willing to open our eyes, ears and hearts to truth spoken from our versions of unlikely bearers of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Precious are those moments when we do recognize Jesus – when ‘our hearts burn within us.’ So often we know the presence of Jesus in breaking open the Word with one another, in breaking bread with one another during Eucharist or during table sharing of so many varieties.

Like the disciples, we love those times of burning hearts and profound understanding and knowing the presence of Jesus! And like the disciples, we know how we feel when Jesus vanishes from our sight.

Our feelings when Jesus seems distant may range from disappointment, to fear, to confusion, to anger, to sadness. After all, we hope he will set us free. And, Arianne, perhaps – like me – you’d sometimes prefer that freedom would come with a little less cost.

But, in choosing this reading for us, Arianne, you remind us that the good news of Jesus Christ, while often confounding and always demanding, will set us free. The way of Jesus is the way of laying down our lives in service with others in works of love, mercy and justice.

You remind us that it is much more likely that we will recognize Jesus in the context of the gathered community.

So, as you begin your year as a canonical novice, please know that we – your sisters, our associates and all who share the charism of Providence – are with you on the road, on “the path traced out” for us by a loving and surprising God.

Please know we are with you on the journey, Arianne. We, like you, hear and believe in the good news of Jesus Christ!

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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