Catholic Culture Solidarity
Catholic Culture Solidarity

Personal Encounters

By Fr. Jerry Pokorsky ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 03, 2024

Jesus reveals, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (Jn. 8:31-32) The word of Jesus is not abstract. John the Evangelist writes that the word of Jesus is rooted in the sensory experience of personal encounters, the foundation of all knowledge:

  • That which was from the beginning…
  • which we have heard,
  • which we have seen with our eyes,
  • which we have looked upon
  • and touched with our hands,
  • concerning the word of life—
  • the life was made manifest,
  • and we saw it,
  • and testify to it,
  • and proclaim to you the eternal life…
  • so that you may have fellowship with us;
  • and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
  • And we are writing this that our joy may be complete. (1 Jn. 1-4)

Mysteriously, with a myriad of sensory experiences, we receive God’s gift of faith and encounter Him. Our faith requires an ever-expanding number of direct human relationships to keep us in touch with reality and maintain our confidence in the truths of our existence. We attain sufficient and persuasive evidence of His word in personal encounters.

The public life of Jesus provides us with a study of hierarchical and egalitarian human encounters. Jesus gathered the Twelve Apostles as His understudies and added 72 disciples to His corps of followers. He proclaimed the Kingdom of God. He testified to the Chief Priests after His arrest in the Garden: “I have spoken openly to the world, I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret.” (Jn. 18:20) Jesus anchored His teaching in honest personal encounters.

After Pentecost, the early Church proclaimed Jesus, His life, death, and Resurrection throughout the Mediterranean. Their encounters were also personal: face-to-face, in families, in the synagogues and meeting places, sometimes in letters, during the celebration of the early Masses. Handing down the Deposit of Faith depends upon a wide variety of human encounters.

The oral tradition of the faith preceded the words committed to writing on parchment. The bundle of scrolls we call the Bible did not float down from heaven. By the 4th century, guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church identified the collection used in the sacred liturgy (and excluded others) as canonical—the Scriptural rule of our foundational faith. The Bible is the fruit of an elaborate providential compilation of interrelated human encounters and testimony.

During the Middle Ages, ordinary Catholics depended upon their families, their communities, the Sacred Liturgy, and the stained-glass windows of their cathedrals to grasp the essentials of the Apostles’ Creed. Those beautiful scrolls maintained by the monks were in short supply but lovingly studied, and the era witnessed the golden age of Catholic theology. In the late Middle Ages, violations of Church teaching and illicit practices led to the Protestant revolt. The Protestants were the first to exploit the new printing-press technology.

Over succeeding centuries, the printing press—the press or the media—became a magisterium with a peculiar variant of infallibility. Newspapers document and mediate facts and report experiences of events. But the mass media frequently become an echo chamber of error and propaganda requiring corrective accounts that challenge accepted narratives.

For example, in the early 1930s, Welsh journalist Gareth Jones traveled to the old Soviet Union and exposed Stalin’s murderous famine to the outside world. “I walked along through villages and twelve collective farms. Everywhere was the cry, ‘There is no bread. We are dying’… In the train, a Communist denied to me that there was a famine. I flung a crust of bread which I had been eating from my own supply into a spittoon. A peasant fellow-passenger fished it out and ravenously ate it.” The mainstream press and the public initially rejected Jones’ reports.

American New York Times journalist Walter Duranty, living in luxury in a Moscow hotel, denounced the report. The Pulitzer Board cited Duranty’s “dispassionate interpretive reporting” for a series on Stalin and the Soviets in 1932. But Duranty’s “interpretive reporting” failed to report the facts of the starvation. The New York Times—carefully guarding its infallibility— never revoked his Pulitzer.

A breakdown in human relationships and smothering bureaucracies (often within the institutional Church) hinder our opportunities to encounter the many aspects of truth. Technological advances are a blessing and a curse: The development of mass transportation and a rapidly changing economy rooted in technology result in family sprawl. The accumulation of these forces disperses our communities and impairs our ability to base our views on facts acquired in authentically human encounters. Without vigilance and constraint, technology dehumanizes.

Consider this mind game: In the near future, a robot enhanced with artificial intelligence would undoubtedly deliver a more compelling homily than most priests: Perfect enunciation. Impeccable structure. Flawless orthodoxy. Intriguing. But be careful about what you ask. Technological gimmicks—such as those ubiquitous live-streaming liturgies—cannot substitute for trusting give-and-take of personal relationships: what we see, hear, and touch—within our communities.

At root, Catholics are (or should be) old-fashioned. We build many churches (avoiding mega churches). We celebrate the Sacraments as a communal family. As the family of God, we love one another, squabble, resolve disagreements. Above all, we encounter Jesus in the Gospel and our reception of Holy Communion and continue in His word. Our faith is universal; our practice is local and communal.

The saving Truth of the faith is also tangible and real: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (Jn. 6:53-56)

Fr. Jerry Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington who has also served as a financial administrator in the Diocese of Lincoln. Trained in business and accounting, he also holds a Master of Divinity and a Master’s in moral theology. Father Pokorsky co-founded both CREDO and Adoremus, two organizations deeply engaged in authentic liturgical renewal. He writes regularly for a number of Catholic websites and magazines. See full bio.

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