Written by Ricky Jones

Pope Francis, when he was a Cardinal in Argentina, shared these beautiful words on a topic familiar to all of us members of the ACTS community, the mystery of the encounter with God.

“Everything in our life, today just as in Jesus’ time, begins with an encounter. An encounter with this Man, the carpenter of Nazareth, a man like all men and yet different. The first ones, John, Andrew, and Simon, felt themselves to be looked at into their very depths, read in their innermost being, and in them sprang forth a surprise, a wonder that instantly made them feel bound to Him, made them feel different.” ~ Pope Francis

This is what we experienced on retreat—that wonder and awe in the presence of God. The ACTS retreat is designed to facilitate this encounter, and that’s really all we can do. All the preparation—both interior and exterior, material and spiritual—that we undergo during the thirteen weeks leading up to each retreat is to help us to be properly disposed to provide the best environment possible for others to encounter God—His love and His mercy.

“We cannot understand this dynamic of encounter which brings forth wonder and adherence if it has not been triggered—forgive me the use of this word—by mercy. Only someone who has encountered mercy, who has been caressed by the tenderness of mercy, is happy and comfortable with the Lord. I beg the theologians who are present not to turn me in to the Sant’Uffizio or to the Inquisition; however, forcing things a bit, I dare to say that the privileged locus of the encounter is the caress of the mercy of Jesus Christ on my sin.” ~ Pope Francis

It is often we ourselves who are preventing God from doing what needs to be done in order for our souls to be transformed. Many times, or as Pope Francis says above, always it is only through the mercy of God that we can come to know Him. It is the sin we hold on to, or the memory of our sinful past, that keeps us from God. But on retreat we can experience the healing power of God’s mercy and forgiveness. For many of us, myself included, it is through mercy that we encounter God.

“You can prove that God exists, but you will never be able, using the force of persuasion, to make anyone encounter God. This is pure grace. Pure grace. In history, from its very beginning until today, grace always primerea, grace always comes first, then comes all the rest.” ~ Pope Francis

God has given us free will, not forcing us to love Him, but rather giving us the ability to choose to love Him. You can’t force someone to love God or even to experience Him, other than by the reflection of Him that you provide by the example of your life, by your witness to Him. Some of us have friends and loved ones we know would benefit greatly from the ACTS retreat, but who are reluctant to take that step. It grieves our hearts to know that all they have to do is say “yes” and the door will be opened for them to encounter God. All we can do is pray and provide witness. Many times it is the example we provide or the change others see in us that creates in them a desire or curiosity. Then perhaps they are ready to allow that “door of faith” to be opened. God’s grace working through us can be the catalyst to conversion.

Let us pray for the women’s ACTS team who have said “yes” to God and are preparing themselves for the upcoming retreat so that they can facilitate this encounter with God for the retreatants.

I leave you with this video of Pope Francis’ first homily as Pope in which he addresses the same beauty of God’s tenderness, mercy, and forgiveness as related in Sunday’s Gospel reading of the Woman Caught in Adultery.

Ricky Jones

Attended first retreat in June 2010. A convert to Catholicism, Ricky came into the Church in 2008 and has been on fire ever since, having served as a catechist and parish leader. He blogs about faith at LeadersThatFollow.com. He is the author of Seven Lessons in Leading People to Life Change, a practical guide for living your faith, leading people into relationship with God, and building up the Church. Together with his wife Johana he founded The ROCK Association a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that has as its mission providing resources, training, and the construction of buildings for the the purposes of faith formation. They are currently building a convent in Tanzania, but they make their home in sunny Los Angeles, California with their two young boys (and baby #3 on the way).

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