Have you ever been to a fox hunt? Me neither. In fact, growing up as a city girl, a fox hunt is about as foreign to me as a game of stickball is to an English country gentleman. The idea that a spiritual lesson based around a fox hunt could in any way resonate with me is a stretch, but a few years ago at a faith formation program I was attending, that is precisely what happened.
Here’s how it went: In a fox hunt, the hounds who lead the pack have seen the fox they are chasing. They have sniffed his scent. These hounds have encountered the fox and this encounter motivates them to chase him with abandon – always keeping him in their sights. There are other hounds in the hunt as well who, by contrast, have not actually seen the fox for themselves. Instead, this second set of hounds are chasing the first set – caught up in the excitement and frenzy of the pursuit. After a time, however, the second set of hounds loses interest and drops out of the race. Why? Because they do not have a clear vision of what they are chasing – they have not encountered the fox.
If we liken our spiritual journey to a fox hunt - we need to examine which category of hound we fall into: the first set who have encountered Jesus personally or the second set who have not “seen” Jesus for themselves but are merely following others who have.
Many of us begin the journey in the second category – we may hear a powerful testimony, or be inspired by a family member or friend’s conversion. In some cases we may be part of a vibrant faith-filled community and enjoy the camaraderie and fellowship that brings. Perhaps our spiritual life is largely cultural and we participate because it is a tradition and expected of us. We may be drawn to a spiritual leader – a priest, or preacher who touches our heart. None of these motives are wrong in and of themselves, but ultimately all of them will be insufficient if we do not personally encounter the Lord Jesus himself.
In the story of Jesus’ dialogue with the woman at the well in John’s Gospel, we read of how this encounter touched the woman’s heart so powerfully that she immediately returned to the town where she was considered an outcast and boldly proclaimed what Jesus had done for her. The townspeople were intrigued by her testimony and they invited Jesus to remain with them for two days. The passage concludes with the townspeople telling the woman: “We no longer believe because of your word; for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the savior of the world.” (John 4:42)
In the span of two short days, the townspeople moved from wanting to meet Jesus because of the woman’s testimony to believing in him because they had experienced him for themselves. The went from being the hounds who chase the other hounds, to the hounds who chase the fox.
How does this encounter occur? For the townspeople, and the countless others in the 2000+ years since them – the first step to a personal encounter with Jesus is hearing someone else share their story of what the Lord has done for them. Personal, humble, honest witness is the single most effective evangelization strategy there is. But it doesn’t end there. The next essential step, which John’s Gospel tells us that townspeople took, is to invite Jesus to stay (John 4:40) and to hear him for ourselves. (John 4:40-42) This second step of personally inviting the Lord to “stay” is an ongoing process. None of us can keep up the pace of the spiritual fox hunt without encountering the Lord on a daily basis in prayer, in the sacraments, through the scriptures and in silent meditation. Without this we will quickly slip to the back of the pack and eventually out of the race altogether. Instead we must daily ask the Holy Spirit for grace to see the Lord and to stay with him in order that we, like St. Paul might boldly declare at the end: “I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim 4:7)
About Debbie Gaudino: I am a child of God! Through the gift of Baptism, I have been adopted into the family of the Holy Trinity. This is my primary identity, and each day I discover more and more what that really means. I am also a happily married (17 years), homeschooling Mom to two beautiful children (my son is 11 and my daughter is 9). I currently work as a part time account manager for Lighthouse Catholic Media and am a Theology graduate student at Franciscan University of Steubenville. Over the past dozen years, I have served the church in my local parish and diocese through leading and speaking at Women’s Retreats, Adult Faith Formation Programs and Life in the Spirit Seminars. You can read my blog entitled Saints 365: Striving for the heights of holiness in the trenches of everyday life at www.saints365.blogspot.com
Copyright 2014 Debbie Gaudino