Christianity Is Not Doctrine But Encounter with Christ, Says Preacher

First Full Day of Papal Spiritual Exercises

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 18, 2002 ( On the first full day of the weeklong retreat of John Paul II and his collaborators, they were reminded by the preacher that Christianity is not a doctrine but a personal encounter with Christ.

Cardinal Claudio Hummes, archbishop of Sao Paulo, whom the Holy Father appointed this year to direct the Spiritual Exercises, began the first reflection by unmasking the influence that Enlightenment currents had on evangelization and catechesis.

This temptation, the cardinal said, «valued efforts to offer knowledge of Jesus and his doctrine,» but it ended by favoring «theoretical knowledge, even going to far as to absolutize it.»

Yet, the cardinal explained, Scripture is not restricted to giving knowledge of God and his morality. Above all, it shows the action of God in history, in the life of individuals and peoples, he said.

It is a history characterized by God´s meetings with men, at the individual and communal levels. In this way, man experiences God. God establishes with a people, Israel, a covenant of communion, the cardinal said.

«The encounter with God, with Jesus Christ, is much more than mere knowledge about Jesus Christ and his doctrine,» Cardinal Hummes said. This dimension is the starting point for the new evangelization, he insisted, summarizing the central message of John Paul II´s apostolic letter «Novo Millennio Ineunte.»

Driven by the Holy Spirit, the disciple proclaims to others the encounter he has had with Christ and invites his listeners to live that same experience, the cardinal said. At this point, he quoted the Book of Revelation: «Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me» [3:20].

«Not all open the door out of fear that Jesus might interfere with their life and selfish personal plans,» Cardinal Hummes explained. «However, he will be the solution to our problems, if we entrust our lives to him without reservations, unconditionally.»

However, where and how can one encounter Jesus? The Brazilian cardinal answered this question in the second meditation of the morning, inspired by the 1999 apostolic exhortation «The Church in America.»

He said: «After Jesus´ ascension to heaven, we can meet him in the Church, through the prayerful reading of the Scriptures, through the proclamation of the kerygma, in the sacred liturgy, in the sacraments, in the community, and in our brothers, especially the poorest, because as Jesus said: ´as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me´» [Matthew 25:40].

«In today´s world, wealth is increasingly concentrated, while poverty and hunger are extended. The Church, especially we the bishops, need to be in profound solidarity with the poor,» said the cardinal, whose diocese is characterized by huge social differences among its inhabitants.

«Each one of us must personally assume this concrete love for the poor as a priority and as a point of encounter with Christ,» he added. «The question of the poor must always be one of the determinant criteria.»

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