Among the surprising and joyful aspects of this moment in my life is the amount of people who have included in their gifts to me, beautiful testimonies of their experience. There have been testimonies of people who were far away from the Church, from the sacraments, and from the Lord who discovered in our community the beautiful face of the Redeemer. In our love for one another, they were drawn back to Christ. Others, who perhaps were not far away from the Lord, nonetheless, have given testimony of their growth in the life of Faith.
When we love one another, people know that we are Jesus' disciples and they are drawn towards this love. As the pastor here, I too bear witness to this experience. I too have encountered the beautiful and merciful face of Christ in the great love that marks our life together. This love has helped me to be a better priest. I want to share with you one way that this has happened.
There is no denying the fact that the culture and the Gospel have arrived at an enormous divergence, especially in the realm of morality. In many ways, most people are more shaped by the views of the culture than they are by the Gospel. This places the preacher in a precarious position. There are two temptations that can seduce the preacher. The first is to tread lightly around any teaching of the Church that conflicts with the culture. The second temptation is to come out with both guns blazing and make it an all out battle. Without a communio of love, these are the preacher's only options. Both options are lies. The first hides the truth of the Gospel in order to preserve a false peace. The second says true things but only drives people farther away from those truths.
But, my experience has been completely different. Love softens the blow. When the people know that their priest loves them and when the priest knows that the people love him, there is a beautiful freedom to preach and to listen to the Gospel. When we are so convinced of our love for one another, there is no fear of preaching or listening to the Gospel. Love casts out fear. And the more the Gospel is preached and heard, the more we love one another. And the more we love one another, the more others know that we are his disciples. And the more that others know that we are his disciples, the more they want to be his disciples because they see how we love one another. And the more we love one another, the more the Gospel is preached and heard. And . . . . . . . . . . .
All of us are seeking the face of Christ. The mission of the Church is to reveal the face of Christ to others and this face is revealed when his disciples love one another. All of us need to see the face of Christ. I need to see this face every day so that I can have surety in my life and so I can follow him. When his face is obscured, we can have no confidence about life and its meaning. When Christians fail to love one another and when they attempt to substitute other things for love, they obscure Christ's face and no longer become effective witnesses. But, when we have love for one another, we reveal Christ's face and this face awakens in the heart a confidence that nothing else can give.
For Christians, we must wake up every day and seek the face of Christ where we know it is to be discovered. Instead of becoming discouraged by where the face of Christ is not, we ought to draw strength and consolation in where it is discovered. From this encounter with the face of Christ, we become better agents of the New Evangelization because we live with the conviction of Christ's love. It is certainly a sorrow that Christ's face is obscured in many places, but that cannot become our focus. Our focus must always be upon contemplating the face of Christ where it is discovered in our true experience. This contemplation will make us able to bring his love to those places where his face is obscured. This is the only path of true evangelization.
Each day, the heart of the Christian echoes the longing of the psalmist who writes, "Come', says my heart, 'seek his face; your face Lord do I seek. Do not hide your face from me" (Ps 27) In my experience in this assignment for the past 13 years (and especially over the past few months), the Lord has answered this cry of my heart. The revelation of his face, manifested in the love of his disciples, is "my life's refuge; of whom should I be afraid?" (Ps 27). Only in the tender gaze of Christ does our heart discover peace. The disciples of Christ are at our best when we love one another and reveal this face, and we are at our worst when we obscure this face. I am grateful in these days that the tenderness of his mercy is made known to me in the love that his disciples have for one another.