Perhaps you have seen him. He stands at the busy intersection, holding a large cardboard sign. His appearance is scruffy. His countenance is worn. His eyes search for your attention as you sit in your car waiting for the light to change. And he scares you with it, because he looks angry. He disturbs you.
No, he is not a beggar. The sign does not ask you for money or food. This person with the cardboard sign is up to something else entirely.
His sign, scrawled in large letters, reads, Prepare To Meet Your God! He is a street preacher, you guess. Or, maybe just someone who is emotionally disturbed.
You try to dismiss his odd appearance and his disturbing message.
But, miles down the road, after the light mercifully turns green, you are still haunted by his sign. What does it mean to meet God?
And, when we do, for all of us will, will God's face be as angry as that man standing at the intersection? Makes you wonder, doesn't it?
The focus here is the subject of meeting with God. And where does this meeting occur?
In the temple; the place of worship. Sobering, isn't it?
You and I, when we sit in our church, have an appointment with God. Look around. Look within. Look beyond. He is here, you know.
Brush aside the cobwebs from the mind, blow the dust off the familiar rituals and words, peer closely into the mystery of this hour and this place, and he is there. Closer than your next breath. More intimate than your most private thought. It is God that draws us all here. Prepare to meet your God.
So, what type of meeting will this be? When we meet God, our experience may be painful.
If we look at readings from the Old Testament as well as the Gospel, we find that the image of fire is used for the meeting with God. In the New Testament, Mary was told that the destiny of her baby Jesus would feel like a sword piercing her soul.
These are not pleasant images. Fire and sword? Are these not two of the most excruciating ways to experience pain? Who wants to meet God if it feels like fire or a sword? Meeting God may not be pleasant.
When a person meets God, old ideas are challenged, old patterns are changed, old sins are exposed. It is God's holiness that burns our unholiness.
It is God's righteousness that exposed our unrighteousness. It is God's compassion and justice that rips the mask off of our injustice.
Is it a pleasure to meet God? Often it is not. Like trying to rub a cat's fur the wrong way, God's hand may be very uncomfortable against our skin.
So what is the answer to this discomfort? It's simple, really -- just turn the cat around. That's it. God's presence is not painful for those whose lives are already pointed in the direction of God's righteousness. Just as the sight of a police car in your rearview mirror does not bring fear, unless you are breaking the law.
Even so, the thought of meeting God is only terrifying if you are on the wrong side of things. And if you are, if his presence burns like fire, or cuts like a sword, just change sides, change behavior, change attitudes, priorities.
Even if the meeting with God is uncomfortable, the purpose of the discomfort is to purify us, to make us into the people God created us to be in the first place.
God comes close, with a holy heart of love. A love that seeks to change us, to purify us, to make us holy. Like the fire that burns the waste from liquefied silver or gold, leaving a pure precious metal behind, so does God's love purify us.
It is not God's fiery anger that burns away our sins, it is his burning love. It is not God's flaming sword that dismembers the sinner. It is his surgeon's scalpel that removes the sinful tumor.
So, like the street preacher told us, "Prepare to meet your God." But do not fear. When you and I meet God, even if God's holiness fears or cuts us, we will be the better for it.
For when we encounter God, his face is not frowning. His stroke is gentle and kind. He is not trying to rub us the wrong way. He is just trying to turn us around.
Msgr. Frank C. Wissel, D. Min., is pastor at St. Mary Church in Greenwich and the founding director of the St. Maximilian Kolbe House of Studies for boys in Bridgeport. He can be contacted at 203-869-9393 or firstname.lastname@example.org.