Fr. Bart van Roijen: You’re looking for Jesus

What are you looking for? Whether you know it or not, the answer is Jesus, Father Bart van Roijen told Our Lady of Pentecost Summer Institute.

We all want to be happy, he said, and we all have our own ideas about what will make us happy. “But there has to be a context to our happiness, and without God we cannot be truly happy.”

In a talk titled Pentecost: The Word Made Flesh Revisited, Father Van Roijen said John’s Gospel is framed at both ends with a question asked Jesus: “What (or Whom) are you looking for?”, and between those two questions are a number of stories of people who found the answer in Him.

In the first chapter of John, two disciples of John the Baptist set out to follow Jesus as he passes by; on seeing them he asks them “What are you looking for?” (Jn 1:38). After the resurrection, he meets the weeping

Mary Magdalene outside the empty tomb, and asks her “Whom are you looking for?” (Jn 20:15)

Others who come to Jesus on their own searches include Nicodemus in chapter 3, and the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter 4. They’re looking for other things—but in finding Jesus, they find everything else they truly want. “They have seen the Lord, and they are satisfied.”

Father Van Roijen described the story of the Samaritan woman as “a love story that is truly satisfying.” The woman is desperate for love, despite her five ex-husbands and her current boyfriend. She is an outcast in the community, too—reduced to drawing water at noon, a time when no one will be out in the hot sun of the Middle East.

Jesus, Father Van Roijen said, is number seven, the true husband in her life (in a spiritual sense, of course). She recognizes Him as the Messiah, and leaves her water jar—

which had been the whole point of her trip to the well—as she goes off to tell the story to the villagers who have ostracized her.

“He who is speaking to her is her true spouse. She leaves her jar. She’s finished with that endless task of looking. She has found.”

The same thing can happen for us, Father van Roijen said. Jesus’ teaching is centred around this question, and “He reveals Himself as the answer to this question. Jesus doesn’t just leave us looking—He tells us ‘here I am.’ In Christ we already share must fully that which awaits us [in heaven].”

People look for many things—acceptance, love, power, recognition, approval, security. To the extent that these are good things, we will find them when we find Jesus. But sometimes we may be looking for the wrong things, and then we need to repent.

“Are you looking for your one heart’s desire, or are you distracted by other things?” Father van Roijen asked. “That’s a good question to ask every day.”

As disciples who have found Jesus, he said, we should have certain distinguishing marks.

We should be in communion with God’s commandments and word; we should love one another; we should have faith in the One God has sent; and we should be in unity with one another. These things may sound simple enough, but they are only possible by God’s power through the Holy Spirit.

“The Holy Spirit is essential,” he told the audience.” Otherwise we’d be trying to accomplish God’s work on our own.”

Father van Roijen also spoke on Mary’s Life in the Spirit: Journey towards a New Pentecost. He noted that, while the story of the Annunciation is extremely familiar to us today, it was completely new and unexpected to Mary, and it wouldn’t have been entirely clear that Gabriel’s visit was a good thing.

Yet despite any fear she may have felt, she said “yes” to God and to the Holy Spirit—she “spoke a passing word and embraced the eternal Word,” in the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

“We, too, must answer our God with a word,” Father van Roijen said.

As Mary’s journey continues, we learn more about the Holy Spirit. As she visits Elizabeth, John the Baptist leaps in Elizabeth’s womb. ”The Spirit is infectious—we see it as it leaps from person to person.”

After Jesus’ birth, Mary ponders the events in her heart. “It takes time to treasure and to ponder, Father van Roijen said. “We need to allow time for our roots to sink deep into our souls.”

At the Presentation in the Temple, she encounters Simeon and Anna, who are waiting in hope, as the disciples are told to do after Jesus’ ascension, and as we ourselves must do. And God blessed both of them for their waiting, as they beheld the glory of God.

They also prophesied to Mary, and to us, what the Christian life will be, as Simeon told her a sword would pierce her heart.

“The life in the Spirit is not a bed of roses but a crown of thorns,” Father van Roijen said.

In her docility to God’s will, Mary’s whole life is a model for our prayer, he said. “We are handmaids of the Lord. Our prayer does not dictate to God, but opens us more fully to Him.”

—Richard Dunstan

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