The idea of seeking Jesus in everyday life is something of a paradox. And that’s because, as much as Jesus can be found in ordinary life, our search takes us beyond the everyday. Jesus is in the everyday, but he’s also the bridge to God the Father and to a life beyond the everyday. And so, as we begin these reflections on “Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life,” it should be admitted that our search will transform the way we see everyday life. But that kind of vision is necessary so we see not only the ordinary, but also the extra-ordinary within the ordinary. In other words, there’s always “more than meets the eye” when we’re seeking Jesus. So, be open to “the more” that Jesus brings—whatever that happens to be.
I. The Object of Our Search
Now, this will sound obvious, but it’s good to be reminded that in order to seek Jesus (or anything else) we first have to know what we’re looking for. It can be very frustrating to expect Jesus to be or act in a certain way in our life if it’s not how he operates. For example, we might expect Jesus to just wipe out terrorists; or we might expect him to make the Holy Spirit a force in life that we wouldn’t be able to resist. But he doesn’t work like that. It’s an enormous question to ask, “Who is Jesus?,” but it’s one that we have to consider before we start searching for him in everyday life.
Our main sources for knowing about Jesus are Scripture and our Catholic Tradition. And we could go on for a long time trying to describe who Jesus is (because there are so many facets to him). But, for now, we’ll just look at some of who Jesus is.
Just yesterday, in our readings for Daily Mass (John 5:17-30), Jesus makes a really tight connection between himself and God the Father. In fact, he calls himself “the Son” of “his [my] Father.” And we all know that “whoever has seen [him] has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The Father and he are one. But the Word became Flesh not for his own sake, but so that humanity might be drawn to the Father. In other words, in seeking Jesus the Son of God, we’re also going to get God the Father (and the Holy Spirit). And so, when we think about how Jesus has revealed himself to be, (as obvious as this is) we have to remember he’s the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; in order to know more about the Person we’re in search of, we also have to consider what God the Father and the Holy Spirit are doing.
And so, right off the bat, we see Jesus as Creator (with the Father and the Holy Spirit). “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth,” the Word of God was there—though the Word wasn’t incarnate yet in the human form of Jesus. Nonetheless, “Jesus” was there in the beginning. And from creation, he reveals himself to be intelligent, wise, and eternal. With Adam and Eve in the Garden, he reveals himself also to be an intimate Font of Life dwelling within the human person and the human race.
If we jump forward in history, we see through the lives of God’s chosen People, he reveals himself to be a God of the Covenant; the Giver of the Law; the Voice within the Prophets; and the faithful caretaker of his people. And then when we get to the Incarnation and the life of the Apostles, God reveals himself to be the lover of humanity and all creation, as the one and only lasting source of life, love, and happiness. As we know, Jesus the God-man is capable of anger, but only in response to injustice against the innocence of creation; it’s never an arbitrary anger, but is always an intentional expression of God’s deep love and concern for all created things, especially “the widow, the alien, and the orphan”—those who are alone and forgotten, completely dependent on others, and defenseless.
Now, these are just some of the “characteristics” of God that we encounter in Scripture and in the life of God’s people. We also know some things about God from our Catholic Tradition. For instance, we recognize God as love itself (1 John 4:8), and so God is also relationship itself. We know that God is distinct from creation; God doesn’t depend on us for existence; rather, we depend on God. And so, God’s “identity” isn’t bound up with us, as ours is bound up with him (after all, we are made in God’s image, and not the other way around). From our Catholic Tradition, we also that God is entirely transcendent (“other”) and also entirely immanent (“near”). God is knowable and close, but God is not exhaustible.
St Francis of Assisi is known to have prayed very simply: “God, who are you?” And that’s a good place for us to start: “Jesus, who are you?” We know something about him. We know he’s a bridge. Through him we know God as Friend, as Companion, a healing Presence, a Worker of Wonder; we know him as King, Priest, Prophet, Prince of Peace, Emmanuel (“God-with-us”) and so on, and so on. It’s important to consider that question: “Jesus, who are you?” because that’s who we’re in search of. When we’re “seeking Jesus in everyday life,” we have to be sure we’re seeking Jesus—as he has revealed himself to be—and not Jesus as we would have him be.
II. The Ways God Comes to Us – Part I
When we think about the notion of “everyday life,” there’s often an image of separation that comes to mind. You know: There’s “church” and then there’s “everyday life,” and “ne’er shall the two mix.” Or there’s the image (maybe subconsciously) that “seeking God” comes more easily, or is more fitting, to men and women who don’t have “everyday lives;” people like priests, deacons, monks and nuns. But, if we look at all the ways God has made himself known throughout history, we see a different image. We see that, in reality, God most often reveals himself in the “everyday.”
From the first day of creation, all the way up to the conception of John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth, God made himself known through everyday things. In the Garden, his Voice was heard by Adam and Eve. Later on, his will was mediated through Noah, and the Great Flood. And the rainbow in the sky was revealed as the sign of God’s covenant with all creation. And still later on, God’s will was made known through Abraham, and through circumcision. He was made known to the people through Moses, and he was made known to Moses himself through the burning bush. The Ten Commandments were carved into ordinary stone, and during the time of the Passover, God sent the plagues over Egypt in the form of frogs and lice, wild animals, diseased livestock, boils, thunderstorms with hail and fire, locusts and darkness, and the death of all the firstborn in Egypt. Only the first plague—the turning of water into blood—would be out of the ordinary. But still, God used water and blood, very ordinary things, to reveal himself to the Egyptians (though, it wasn’t a revelation of his “person,” as such).
During the Exodus, God came to the people through the “pillar of cloud” and the “pillar of fire.” Also, as we mentioned, God spoke to the people through the voice of the prophets. And there’s that well known image of God’s voice coming in the sound of a gentle breeze:
So [the word of the Lord] said [to Elijah], “Go forth and stand on the mountain before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord was passing by! And a great and strong wind was rending the mountains and breaking in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And behold, a voice came to him . . . (1 Kings 19:11-13)
Up until the time of the Incarnation, God revealed himself through the “everyday:” through everyday people, through everyday things, affecting the everyday life of the nation. We would say that God’s presence was mediated through people (the community), through other rational beings (i.e., the angels), and through creation. But we would also say that God’s presence was immediate and direct, through the “word of the Lord,” or the “voice of the Lord,” coming mostly to the prophets and King David, and the like—all of whom were ordinary people called to do extra-ordinary things. Again, it’s the image of God coming to us in the everyday, but also pulling us out of the everyday.
But with the Annunciation to Mary, and the immaculate conception of Jesus in her womb, God reveals himself in an out-of-the-ordinary way. I mean, becoming pregnant “by the power of the Holy Spirit” is exceptional. And yet, the idea of being pregnant is rather everyday; it’s expected. God didn’t send his Son on a chariot and with a flash of lightning and power . . . he sent the Son in a rather usual way—in human terms; he became known to us as a baby.
But this time in history—from the Incarnation to the Ascension—is when God was present to us directly. He still revealed himself through the wind, and the clouds, and through fire and water, and so on. But to see Jesus in the flesh, to look into his eyes, to feel his hands, and hear his voice—that was when God came to us directly, without anything between him and us (--sort of. I’ll talk a little more about that later). But even while God walked among us in the flesh, he still made himself known through other things.
When Jesus was baptized, the Holy Spirit came in the form of the dove. And the voice of the Father was heard coming from the cloud. God wasn’t the dove or the cloud, but they made his presence known. And then we have all the healings and miracles that Jesus did. Whenever he healed someone and that person went around telling others, something of Jesus went with them. Jesus became known to others through, say, that person’s joy, or the fact that something had changed for the better. Those people revealed God to others. And, among the human race, the Apostles stand out as instruments of God’s person—even while Jesus was still in the flesh. After all, he sent them out in his name to bring the kingdom, the healing, and the presence of God to others. Wherever there was healing, there was God. Wherever demons were cast out, there was God at work. When the multitudes of the poor and hungry were fed, there was God. Even though God was present to us directly while Jesus walked the earth, God was still present in all those indirect ways as well.
But, of course, the way we would often want to seek and find Jesus in everyday life is through an event like the Transfiguration. So bright and luminous that you couldn’t possibly miss it! So obvious you could see it with your own eyes. But that’s very much an exception to the ways God makes himself known. For this brief moment in time—two thousand years ago, lasting about thirty-three years—God made himself known to us very directly in the person of Christ, and even with the brilliance of the Transfiguration. But that came to an end (sort of).
As we know, God still makes himself known to us in some concrete signs and symbols. And that’s what we encounter in the Mass. Where’s God in the Mass? Right there on the altar, under the appearance of ordinary bread and wine—“This is my Body; this is my Blood.” God is right there at the ambo, through what looks and sounds like ordinary words on ordinary paper—“The Word of the Lord.” God is present through the person of the priest who stands in the person of Christ the Teacher and Head—“He said to the Eleven: Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them . . . and teaching them . . .and I am with you.” God is present in the union of all the faithful gathered “together in one place”—“Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am,” Jesus tells us. And God is present, concretely, in all the sacraments; though, through rather ordinary ways: water, oil, the laying on of hands, the spoken word.
It’s easier to “see” God in the Mass because we have very concrete signs of his presence; of course, it takes faith to see God in these ordinary things like bread and wine, and a priest and community of people who are not yet entirely holy. It takes faith to “see” God in Mass, but it’s easier. However, outside of Mass, in “everyday life,” it’s harder to “see” God because the signs of his presence are less defined, and they’re less obvious—but they’re still there, and it still takes faith (and human reason) to see them. And if we remember that God comes to us in the ordinariness of life—because that’s how he chooses to come to us—then our seeking Jesus will more fruitful. Because we’ll be open to seeing God on his terms, and not our own.
III. The Ways God Comes to Us – Part II
Now, on a side note—and it’s an important side note—God reveals himself also through less “personal” ways. For instance, there wasn’t any personal relationship between God and Pharaoh in Egypt. Instead, God simply revealed his power Pharaoh—through the ten plagues. Also, God was at work healing some of the “enemies” of Israel; like Naaman the Syrian leper, and the widows of Zarephath. And God was made known to the Israelites through the attacks on them by the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Egyptians. Sometimes, God is present even in the misfortunes of life.
Also, the Fathers of the Church in the first few centuries recognized that God had revealed his divine person to the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews, while at the same time, he revealed his divine wisdom to the Greeks. The ancient Greeks had lots of wisdom and truth, but they didn’t know the God from whom that wisdom and truth came—they didn’t know God’s name, they didn’t him personally, they didn’t know God as Yahweh. And yet, wherever there is truth, there is God. And so, while we have a Hebrew Testament (the Old Testament), we also have a Greek Testament (the body of wisdom and learning that comes through the Greeks). And the Fathers of the Church were quick to pick up on this. And so, from the early years of the Church, with people such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, St Augustine—Greek wisdom (as a revelation of God’s wisdom) became part of Christianity.
As I said this is a side note, but an important one; because from this “Greek Testament of Divine Wisdom,” we get the notion of what are called the “Transcendentals:” things that are found in most of creation, and yet are so universal they “transcend” creation and are actually reflections of the Creator. And so, we see unity as an aspect of God. We see goodness as an aspect of God. Also, we see truth and beauty as aspects of God. We see unity, goodness, truth, and beauty everywhere . . . and yet, they don’t belong to any one thing—because they belong only to God.
And so, practically speaking, wherever we encounter real unity, we encounter something of God. Wherever we encounter real truth, or goodness or beauty, we encounter something of God. Obviously, we can readily see these “transcendentals” in the person of Jesus. He is a unity (he is a person of absolute integrity; he’s undivided within himself and in his love for the Father). Jesus is truth—“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” He is goodness itself—he is the measure of what is humanly good. And he is beauty—morally and intellectually for sure, and perhaps even physically.
As I said, this is a side note, but a very important one as we go about “seeking Jesus in everyday life.”
IV. The “Tools” in Seeking Jesus
And so, we have some of the “tools” we need to go in search of Jesus. We know we have to seek Jesus as he’s revealed himself to be; we’re searching for the real thing, and not something we’ve imagined him to be. We know that he reveals himself most often in the everyday, and very seldom in “extraordinary” ways. We know that sometimes he’s known through life’s challenges—not to break us, but to strengthen us and make us grow (you know, a plant doesn’t grow if it doesn’t have some manure scattered on it sometimes). We know that Jesus reveals himself through the entire community; he even makes himself known to non-believers, and through people we might consider “enemies.” And we know that God reveals himself in wisdom as well, and in what is: one, good, true, and beautiful.
Jesus also reveals himself through our individuality—through our good desires, through our gifts and talents, through our conscience, through deep feelings of peace, or joy, or suffering, or love. And one last bit of information we need to remember is that, while we’re seeking Jesus, Jesus is also seeking us out. He and we are like two people walking side-by-side; he’s looking at us . . . all we need to do is turn to see him. (Of course, that’s what Lent is all about, isn’t it: turning to see God with fresh eyes, renewed faith, and deepened love.) And so, let’s see if we can take these “tools” and apply them to some examples of “everyday life.”
V. Everyday Life: A Sampling
1. [Image of a Lector reading from the ambo]. So, where is Jesus here? It’s fairly easy: in the written Word, but also the spoken Word. When we say “The Word of the Lord,” we mean it. Jesus is also present (more or less) in the person who’s proclaiming the Word—it depends on how much they’ve internalized the Divine Word they’re passing onto others.
1a. [Image of a father guiding his son]. So, where is Jesus here? Well, if we consider the last image, we see Jesus present in the conversation between parent and child. We see Jesus who is Wisdom; there’s also Jesus present in the person of the son—Jesus who is a “perfect student” of God the Father. We also see God present in the relationship between the two. And the same would hold for friendships and any sort of human relationship; remember that unity or oneness is one of those “transcendentals” that reveals God’s presence.
2. [Image of the gathered faithful kneeling at Mass]. When you look at the image, most people are “engaged” in the act of praying. Some are looking off to the side; some look like they might have something else on their mind. But they’re all together in that one place, basically “doing” the same thing—they’re praying together to one and the same God, as brothers and sisters. Where is Jesus here?
Well, we would see part of the “many parts of the one Body of Christ.” Every person there, from the youngest to the oldest, is part of the living Christ. We also see Jesus in the respect they have for one another as fellow worshipers—again, God is present in the relationship among them and between them: God is love itself. Now, it is less obvious, but we also see the Son of God “drawing all things to himself.” The faithful are gathered because Jesus has called them to himself. And so, the very fact that they’re there is a sign that God is present and at work.
2a. [Image of a man and woman looking at each other with care]. Now, this is very similar to the image before it, though the connection might not be obvious. Where is Jesus here? Again, God is love itself, and so we see Jesus both within the two individuals and also between them. It’s similar to the people gathered for Mass; Jesus is within everyone, and yet also binds them all together as a community of Christian love. And, collectively, the gathered faithful gaze upon Christ, the Bridegroom, and he upon them—just as this man and woman gaze at each other. Christ—or the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit—is what brings them together and keeps them together. After all, God is love.
Sometimes when two people are in a relationship, they’ll talk about their “relationship” as though it’s its own thing. They might say: “Our relationship is really good,” or “Our relationship needs some work.” It’s like there’s one person, another person, and then the relationship. And that’s right! God is love itself; God is relationship itself; there is God present within the two individuals and also between them. And so, this is good, it’s true and beautiful, and it’s a unified whole. Love isn’t just an image of Christ, it’s a potent way Jesus reveals himself as he is—he is love itself; and we participate in that.
3. [Split image of Ordinary and Extraordinary Form of Mass]. So, where is Jesus here? Of course, in the Eucharist, and in the priest. But where is Jesus in the split between these two images?
3a. [Image of a man and woman standing apart, in tension]. And where is Jesus here? Perhaps he’s in the truth that they’re better off separated. There might be pain involved, but the truth is good. Or maybe Jesus is still between them; maybe their relationship is just bruised, but not broken. Maybe Jesus is moving their hearts toward reconciliation; maybe not. Maybe Jesus is present as they each try to trust God’s will for them (as individuals and as a couple), like Jesus said in the Garden: “Not my will be done, but yours Father.” Maybe there are hurt feelings, and Jesus inspires them to cry, and to be honest with themselves. Jesus is present here on many different levels.
4. [Image of a boy and his dog under the Christmas Tree]. So where is Jesus in this adorable picture? Well, I would say in companionship and faithfulness. In the image of innocence and dependence upon others. He’s present in the “Christmas Spirit.” A lot of those fruits of the Holy Spirit are here: joy, charity, peace, kindness, goodness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness. Dogs and children often soften our hearts because, among other things, we see Jesus at work; we see the Holy Spirit doing his thing.
5. [Image of a soldier comforting another soldier]. Now, this image isn’t quite in the “everyday,” but it can be related to a lot of other everyday situations and circumstances. Where do we see Jesus here? Well, mostly clearly in the comfort and the assurance given. The hands of the one are, very definitely, the hands of Christ; offering hope, healing, companionship. But the soldier being comforted is also the presence of Christ. Just consider the face of Jesus when he was hung on the Cross, and looked for support. What did he say? “When you did these things to least of my brothers, you did them to me.”
We might also see Jesus in the situation itself; a situation meant to challenge the individuals; a circumstance meant to challenge a nation. God did not start the war, but for some reason, these two soldiers found themselves side-by-side in the midst of it. For what purpose?
6. [Image of a person in a hospital bed alone]. Here’s a familiar sight to some. And it’s a place where the question is often asked: “Where are you, Jesus?” When Jesus walked among us in the flesh, he healed many people of their physical problems, but not everyone. Why doesn’t Jesus heal this one? But who knows what kind of healing might be at work here. Maybe it’s a healing of the mind or the spirit. Maybe Jesus is helping the person to accept the reality of illness and death. We know that when Jesus took on our human flesh, he also took on our human weakness, our human sufferings. Where is Jesus here? We trust that he is suffering with the person. But he’s also present in those who come to visit, who offer prayers, who are hopeful—and truthful.
7. [Image of a flower’s center]. How about here? Here, God is present not so much in his person; rather, God is revealed as the intelligent, intentional Creator, who pays attention even to the smallest detail. The colors are vibrant and delicious. And, at the center, is what Aristotle would probably call “the beauty of the truth of mathematics.”
7a. [Image of flower aside spiral]. Where’s Jesus here? In the divine wisdom which puts into creation such things as: order and harmony, balance and patterns. We instinctively see the same thing in some people. Some people strike us as (outwardly) beautiful; we see (even if we’re not necessarily aware of it) we see proportions and ratios, balance and composition—we see in beautiful people the work of the One who is Beauty and Harmony itself.
From the Book of Wisdom we hear the call to see God through beauty:
"Now if out of joy in their beauty they thought them gods, let them know how far more excellent is the Lord than these; for the original source of beauty fashioned them. Or if they were struck by their might and energy, let them realize from these things how much more powerful is the one who made them. For from the greatness and the beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen."
8. [Image of a board meeting]. And we go from the beautiful to the more mundane. When you’re tied up at a meeting, and there aren’t any windows to look out of, you might wonder: Where is Jesus? Well, it depends. Jesus could be present, saying, “You’re made for more than this . . . and you know it.” Or Jesus could be saying, “Be patient, there are some things here you can learn—maybe even just the virtue of patience.” Where’s Jesus? I think it depends.
9. [Image of Christmas shoppers]. Now, this can be a little more exciting—going Christmas shopping. Where’s Jesus in all this? He could be in the mind of someone saying, “I just want to have a simple Christmas with family and friends; no gifts needed.” Or maybe Jesus is in the hearts of some who get all excited about getting gifts for other people—there are some people who just love to give. Perhaps there’s a young man who just bought something for his girlfriend, and he’s not sure she’s going to like it. And maybe Jesus is there in his heart saying, “Don’t worry about. Just be yourself, and let her fall in love with you.” Jesus can be all over the place here . . . or, of course, he can be nowhere to be found.
10. [Image of a weeping woman]. Where is Jesus here? Like the man in the hospital bed, Jesus suffers with her. Maybe Jesus is present in those who will protect her and raise her up. Maybe Jesus is at work in the one who abused her, making that other person’s conscience swell with guilt or sorrow or shame. And maybe Jesus is present in you—in your reaction to her, in your desire to reach out and help. That’s not just you reacting; it’s Jesus within you reacting.
11. [Image of Jesus]. And, lastly, where is Jesus here? In the proportions of his face, in the moral beauty and integrity that are in his eyes? Or in the wisdom, in the commandments, in the stories of faith that his image brings to mind? Or is Jesus in the reaction you had when you saw his face? We are made in the image of God, who is Goodness and Truth and Beauty—how else would we react when we see his face; for it’s nothing other than Jesus gazing upon himself. And that brings a smile to the eyes, and peace to the heart.
And so, in the end, “seeking Jesus in everyday life” requires us to first ask the question: “Who is Jesus?” And then we have to ask: “How does he normally make himself known?” And the answer is: “Normally in everyday life, and in the life of his Church.” And so, that’s where we look for him. After Jesus ascended into heaven, and the disciples were left standing there looking up into the sky, two men came along and brought them “back to earth.” And they did that because here is where we’ll find him. We’ll find the extra-ordinary through the ordinary.