Face to Face

"Someone wrestled with Jacob until the break of dawn" (Gen 32:25). 

Jacob was at a turning point in his life. To fulfill his destiny he had to return to his ancestral land and face his older brother, Esau, whom he had tricked into giving up the family birthright. He may have been grappling with his own conscience, but the deeper meaning of the night encounter with a mysterious stranger is that he is also wrestling with God. From that face-to-face contest, Jacob will emerge with a new name and a new destiny as the carrier of the promise made to Abraham and Isaac. 

He declares, "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared." Any direct contact with God would take a human being out of time into the eternal present of the divine moment, for God is I AM. This sudden suspension of our time-bound narrative was thought to equal the shock of death, yet Jacob's life is just beginning, not ending. He is now the father of the promise, and his 12 sons will become the forebears of the Twelve Tribes. 

Every Christian experiences a life-defining encounter with God at baptism. God's identity imprints the narrative of our lives and the trajectory of our destiny by uniting us with Christ. Our fate, our choices, our gifts and our dreams are focused within the Christ in us, our personal share in the total mystery of the baptized members of Christ's body. Jesus, the crucified and risen Christ is the head of that universal body, and his Holy Spirit is the animating, coordinating principle of our shared life in the church. We belong to Christ and we depend on each other for our identity and purpose.

If our lives sometimes feel like a long night of wrestling, it is because we must work out and embrace the specific details of our Christian lives under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We may even experience a kind of wounding, as Jacob does, when our lives are wrenched and pulled by God's divine invitation. It should be no surprise if we feel like there is something much larger and deeper going on than our own personal agenda. Even when we feel lost, disconnected and irrelevant, we are part of the mystery of the body of Christ, sharing in the redemption of the world. God alone knows the whole of it, but we are never alone and never inconsequential in the hidden scope of Providence. 

In the face of so awesome a call to holiness, our only response is to turn and surrender to God's call. Our vocation is nothing less than to become ourselves and to find the glory that God has intended for each of us from the moment of our conception.