Encountering Christ in the crowd

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On the first day of the new year, 20,000 people converged in St. Louis, Missouri for the Mass which began the SEEK conference. Included in these 20,000 were around 60 students from the University of Dallas. SEEK is an annual conference hosted by FOCUS which encourages college students to encounter Christ through prayer, fellowship and speakers. As my friends and I entered into the dome where the opening Mass was to be celebrated, I was struck by the sheer number of people in the crowd. I had not seen so many Catholics together since attending Mass at St. Peter’s on Easter Sunday during my Rome semester.

Throughout my five days at SEEK, I had plenty of opportunities to reflect on crowds. Walking through the hallways, I was literally swept along by the people around me. Entering the adoration chapel to pray, I was forced to find a spot near the door because every seat was filled. Although at times overwhelming, these crowds were joyful and purposeful: moving towards talks, lunch or booths of Catholic organizations.

On the third day of SEEK, the reality of the crowd took on a whole new meaning for me. It was the highly anticipated night of eucharistic adoration in the Dome. Although SEEK has an adoration chapel which is open all week long, the night of adoration is the one night where all of the attendees of the conference, as well as the people of the city of St. Louis, could come and adore our Lord together. Accordingly, my friends and I showed up an hour early so that we could sit near the front.

After listening to talks by Fr. Mike Schmitz and Dr. Edward Sri, it was time for the exposition of the Holy Eucharist. As Jesus entered the room, a great hush fell over the crowd. I was reminded of the word of the Lord spoken to Jeremiah: “Yet thou, O Lord, art in the midst of us, and we are called by thy name; leave us not” (Jer 14:9).

After a time, a priest came up to the altar in order to carry Jesus through the crowd. At first, I was merely struck by the visual representation of Jesus and his apostles (the priests) moving through the people. Then, it suddenly dawned on me that this was no mere representation. The same Lord who walked the earth 2,000 years ago was passing by me now, and he was working miracles!

As I followed the progress of Jesus, I also looked at the people around me and the people whom He passed. One girl stood, her hands in the air, and stomped her feet, “dancing before the Lord with all her might” (2 Sam 6:14). Others, with tears streaming down their faces, looked towards the Eurcharist as if to say: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (Jn 11:21). Still others reached out their hands like the hemorrhaging woman, knowing that if they could just get close enough, they could be healed (Lk 8:42-44).

As I watched these faces of grief, joy and hope, I was struck by the appropriateness of each reaction to Christ. Here, I thought, is David; here is Martha; here is the hemorrhaging woman; and here is the Lord!

As I reflect on my experience in adoration at the SEEK conference, I am reminded again and again that the Lord who passed through the crowds “and healed them all” is still passing through crowds today (Lk 6:19). He is working miracles, changing hearts and feeding His people with His own body.

If we contemplate the people of the Bible and the way that their lives were radically changed by their encounters with Christ, how ought we to think about our own encounters with Him? We can personally encounter Him every single day in Mass and adoration. Do not be fooled into thinking you are lost in the crowd, for as Jesus said to Nathaniel: “before Phillip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (Jn 1:48).

The next time you gather together in a crowd of Jesus’ followers to celebrate the Mass or pray before the Blessed Sacrament, consider: The Lord is passing through – how will I respond?

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