Encountering the Word

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This message was written by The Ven. Dr. Victor-David Mbuyi Bipungu for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.

Faith is generally understood as complete adherence to an ideal that is beyond oneself. It implies a total commitment to this belief and an absolute confidence in the Supreme Being in whom one believes. This adherence, trust and commitment arise and are consolidated through an encounter. By encounter I mean direct contact with the Word made visible through a person or a historical event. I understand why Paul told the Romans that, ‘faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ’ (Rom 10:17).

The conditions and circumstances of our birth and education, and the people who are a part of our histories, have all contributed to our experience of faith and have all shaped our fundamental values. All these things have made possible our encounter with the divine. Unexpected encounters may be liberating or suffocating. Nonetheless, they change our lives and point us in a direction that shapes who we are. How did you experience the first encounter with the person who later became your husband or wife? Do you remember the circumstances of the meeting with this stranger who became your best friend some time later? How did the interview that led to your first job go? What about our own encounter with Jesus Christ?

These questions have inspired my reflection and the answers have helped me to better understand my vocation, my ministry and the Church’s mission. In fact, my encounter with Jesus Christ came about through unexpected encounters in my family history. My great-grandfather was not a Christian. My grandfather, as Chief of the village in my native country D.R. Congo, was the first to welcome the Belgian Catholic missionaries during the colonial period. This is how the first Christians in my family, including my parents, were baptised.

Growing up in the Christian faith, supported by the warm community life of my childhood parish, I had the opportunity to serve as an acolyte and to see first-hand what the parish priest was doing. He was a welcoming man. Many people went to his office and came out happy. One day I asked him why so many people wanted to meet him. He replied that they considered him their friend. They needed his advice. This was another decisive encounter that led me to discern my vocation. This is how I came to be oriented to the priesthood.

These encounters allowed me to understand that faith is an experience of friendship and love with God in Jesus Christ. Therefore, the priest is a friend, a servant, who accompanies and helps others to experience this beautiful friendship that transforms them into the best person they can be. The priest’s mission is to make known the love of God, which restores dignity to every person, whatever their situation. This is also the mission of the Church in which the priest works; a mission of mediation that makes possible the unlikely encounters where the people of today welcome the Gospel of Christ as a message of love. Montreal Dio is also the place where these unlikely encounters lead to Christ.