Yesterday, St. Andrew’s Parish in Eagle River celebrated their 50th Anniversary as a parish.

Coincidently, their pastor, Archbishop-Emeritus Schwietz is celebrating next month his 50th anniversary as a priest! To say the least, we had a lovely Mass and celebration!

The Gospel for Mass, Matthew 4: 18-22 recalled Jesus walking along the Sea of Galilee and calling Andrew to follow him, along with his brother Peter and two other brothers, James and John.

What happened in this encounter with Jesus that caused Andrew to leave his familiar surroundings to follow Jesus?

This question is great food for our own thought and meditation as we reflect upon the vibrancy of our own relationship with Jesus.

I would suggest three characteristics of The Encounter: it is Compelling, Continuous and Contagious.

Compelling: I’ve often wondered, given the close proximity of Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee if Jesus had not met these fishermen on previous walks along the Sea.  Did they already have a relationship with Jesus, or was this a first encounter? Regardless of the answer, in this moment when Jesus is beginning his public ministry, he is already revealing his nature as Son of Man and Son of God.  His very being and presence, without saying a Word, expresses God’s nearness.  The gaze of Jesus pierces the depths of their being at the deepest levels of identity and longing; that interior place that is reserved for God and God alone.  Thus, when Andrew and the others were called by Jesus, ‘immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.’

This Encounter is central and critical for each of us. The Encounter with Jesus, while always personal and intimate, always respects our freedom of will, while at the same time brings each person into contact with the Force of Love.  The Love of Jesus is Compelling.

Continuous: Critical as the Encounter is, the call to follow Jesus entails a permanent nature.  For Andrew, the Encounter was not a flash in the pan or a fleeting moment.  It was a defining moment Yes, as it is for every Christian, but one that calls us to remain in relationship with Jesus.

Andrew remained in Jesus’ company.  He continued to grow in his understanding of exactly who Jesus IS, and would eventually come to the same conclusion as his brother Peter who was the first to exclaim of Jesus: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

Andrew remained with Jesus until the Paschal night of his crucifixion.  He was present when the Risen Lord appeared to the Apostles, assuring them that he would remain with them always.  And Andrew remained with Jesus all his days, bearing witness to him ‘to the ends of the earth’ until his final witness when he laid down his life for the name of Jesus.

Each of us are called to continue in the company of Jesus all our days.

Contagious: Finally, because we have been Compelled by the love of Christ; because we Continue in the Company of Christ, our own life becomes a Contagious witness of faith in Christ to others.

This is what St. Paul speaks of in the Letter to the Romans, and this becomes one of the key priorities for every parish:

But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10: 14-15)

When we become so identified with Christ, he takes up his dwelling within us.  We become so completely transformed in him, that we bear his presence in such a Contagious fashion, that others whom we encounter will have the same Compelling Encounter with Christ that we have experienced.  This is what Julian Carron calls Disarming Beauty, in his new book entitled the same.

This is the work of every parish, to bring each member to Encounter Jesus Christ.  Each parish and its members are in the words of Pope Francis to accompany one another, in the presence of and the search for Jesus Christ.  Through the celebration of the sacraments, the proclamation of the Word, each ministry of the parish, and every concrete act of charity, we Continue our journey of faith in the presence of Jesus, to the point that we are so Compelled by our love for Christ, that we become his Contagious presence in the world.

Happy 50th Anniversary, St. Andrew Catholic Church in Eagle River!  May you continue to be a place for others to Encounter Christ, Compelling their Continuous, Contagious witness of faith!