To Know Jesus Christ

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Column by Father Jonathan Dickson

As I sat at my computer searching for an idea for this this column, I found myself blocked. With nothing to write, I continued to stare aimlessly at the wall. Then I realized that maybe what I was supposed to be writing about was in front of me all along. It was the quote, framed and written in calligraphy, that has been hanging in my office since I moved in. It was then, and still is my favorite verse from Scripture. It also happened to be the Gospel for the Sunday when I celebrated Mass for the first
time as a priest. The quote is John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life, that they should
know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.” When I
hung this quote on the wall I distinctly remember hoping and praying that if my
priesthood/chaplaincy meant anything it would to some degree be reflected in this
quote.

While the Paschal mystery is the salvific event of Christianity, our
Catholic/Christian faith is incarnational at its core. God had to take on flesh in
order to be crucified for our salvation. But as I have said over and over again, he
took on flesh so as to enter into the chaos of each and everyone of us. He is a God
that is personal to the very core. And so, when we repeat the words of John 17:3
we can affirm the fact that God is indeed “knowable”. As Catholics and
Christians, we are not called to simply know about God. I have met many people
who are brilliant in their theological knowledge and yet have never had an
encounter with Jesus Christ. Knowing about God never replaces knowing God. I
often make the comparison with people who begin to date each other. You may
know a lot about a person before you go out with them. But, you grow to know
them more deeply during courtship, the engagement, marriage, and then in a life
spent together. The same can be said about a friendship. I may know a lot about a
person, but when I enter into a friendship with them, I come to know that person
in continually deeper ways.

The Christian life which in my opinion is summarized in John 17:3 is
about personally knowing Jesus Christ. John’s statement couldn’t be clearer. Do
you want to experience eternal life; then simply open yourself up to a personal
relationship with Jesus Christ. And yet there is more. While eternal life is clearly
about the Resurrection and our “glorified life in the Kingdom of Heaven,” it is
just as much about life now. Eternal life is a loaded term in the Gospel of John. It
means abundant life in the here and now, not simply something for which we
wait.

Every Thursday I find myself before our SJCA students preparing to
celebrate our school Mass. And I always pray that if they take anything away
from the Mass or what I share in the homily it will be that God, that Jesus Christ,
longs to have a personal relationship with them. God is personal, not far off. As
stated many times in our spiritual tradition, “God is closer to us than we are to
ourselves.” This is the God that I worship, this is the Jesus Christ that I was
fortunate enough encounter 12 years ago and who I continue to encounter each
and every day. Because of this, my life has never been the same.

Interestingly enough, some Scripture scholars argue that this verse never
actually came from the lips of Jesus and that it was a later addition penned by the
author of John. I choose to believe that Jesus Christ did say this. But either way it
was inspired by the Holy Spirit and recorded in the Gospel. One of the great
questions in modern Christianity is what does it mean to be Christian? Ask ten
people and you may get ten answers. And yet I would still argue that John 17:3
poses the most important question of all: do you know Jesus Christ? Have you
encountered him? This is the core of who we are and the more we seek to answer
this question the more we will recognize Christ in every aspect of our lives.

Father Jonathan Dickson is the Parochial Vicar at Our Lady of Victory Parish in State College, Chaplain at Saint Joseph’s Catholic Academy in Boalsburg, and Diocesan Director of Ongoing Formation for the Clergy.