Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Faith: Unless We Share What's Inside, Nobody Will Come Inside

They are all over the place.  At the parish where I live, there are several of them.  At the BU Catholic Center where I work, there are several here too.  They are magnificent buildings.  Structures that were built to last.  Structures that said, "We're the Catholic Church and we're here to stay."  Well, that's what they said when they were built.  But now, they've been sold.  Now, they reflect the reality of a diminishing presence and influence of the Church.  When I walk to work in the morning, I pass by a convent that was built for 65 nuns.  It is a massive building and housed the nuns who taught in a Catholic school with four classes of each grade, each class having 60 children.  Now, it is an apartment building.  The BU Catholic Center sits amid a series of buildings that once housed all manner of Catholic life.  Now, with the exception of one solitary building--our Newman House--the buildings have all been sold off.  I look at some of those other buildings and wish that they still belonged to us!

I sometimes look at magnificent churches and beautiful buildings that were once filled with Catholics doing the work of the Church, and wish that I had lived during the time of building rather than during the time of downsizing.  There must have been something quite satisfying about building great churches and opening schools.  Instead, we now live in an age where we struggle to keep things going.  The buildings are now seen not as places to encounter Christ, but as quick fixes to solve budgetary shortfalls.

The buildings, however, are only a reflection of a much deeper problem.  The buildings themselves perhaps may have even become an obstacle to the mission of the Church.  They were built so that people could encounter Christ and live in Christ.  Instead, perhaps the buildings and all that went on inside of them became as Pope Francis keeps saying, "self-referential."  Perhaps we became so convinced of the importance of our structures, programs, titles, and bureaucracies that we lost sight of Christ and his centrality.  Instead of being a place of encounter with Christ, these weighty bureaucracies became obstacles to meeting Christ.

Walking amid these buildings--these ghosts from a bygone era--we can react in various ways.  For some, they can become merely nostalgic for the past.  For others, they can shrug their shoulders and be "accepting" of the new reality.  Others--and these are the ones who really drive me crazy--are the ones who think that if we keep repeating the worn out and failed methods of the past that somehow things will work out.  These are the methods that become alarmed by any sort of zeal for the Faith, for Evangelization, or for the Sacraments.  This way of approaching our future is like a slow-acting poison.  Unfortunately, it is a prominent approach even still.

But, there is another way.  In a sense, we do live in an age that requires building, but it is not the age of fifty, one hundred, or even one hundred and fifty years ago.  We live in a more fundamental age.  The New Evangelization--at least in these first decades--will be about building the foundations of Faith and the Christian Gospel.once again.  Our ancestors in the Faith built buildings in order to minister to the people.  Unfortunately, along the way, we lost the people.  Now, we have to build a people.  This people is built by God.  It is built by preaching the Gospel with joy and with zeal.  It is built by being overwhelmed by the love of Christ and bringing the good news of that love to others.  It is built through the sacraments.

When I was assigned to Boston University's Catholic Center, I was happy to learn that Cardinal Sean O'Malley has invited FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) missionaries to be part of our program.  These young men and women have been so moved by Christ's love, that they give a few years after college to become missionaries on college campuses.  They want to share with other young people the love that they have found in Christ.  As is so often the case, these young people are showing the rest of us what needs to be done.  They are so moved by their own encounter with Christ that they
want to help others to encounter Him.  

When we see a magnificent church or some grand Catholic building, they remind us of the great faith of the people who built them.  But, when they stand sold or empty, they are like monuments to what happens when we fail to be zealous for Christ.  These buildings could all be inscribed with the words of Christ to to the Church in Sardis: "I know your works, that you have the reputation for being alive, but you are dead.  Be watchful and strengthen what is left, which is going to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God" (Rev.3:1-2).  

These facades speak of something that once was.  In so many ways, we can be like this ourselves.  We can speak all of the church lingo and dress in the outward appearance of faith, but we can be empty inside.  We can settle for the appearance of life in Christ, but not the actual life in Christ.  These empty and sold buildings make me sad, but they also make me feel scolded.  Am I living my friendship with Christ in such a sincere way that I am moved to speak of him to others?  Am I zealous in sharing Christ's love with others?  Do I settle for looking like a Christian and a priest, but not really living this life to the fullest?

It would be nice to build a church with spires that can be seen from miles away.  But, this is an age of building the foundations.  This is a moment to share the Gospel with one person at a time. It is easier and safer to spend all of our time putting on the facade of being his disciples.  We can have luncheon meetings where we talk about church stuff and keep going through the motions.  But the real question., I think, is when was the last time I shared with somebody what Christ has and is doing in my life? If we are just looking like the Church but not being zealous in sharing the Gospel, then we are just like the grand facades of empty buildings.  We may have the reputation for being alive, but really we are dead.  And at this point, the facade is probably only fooling ourselves.

As I think about the building in which I work, there is a small sign on the front door that announces we
are the Newman House Catholic Center at Boston University.  That sign is okay.  But, in order to fill up the inside of the building, we need living signs; Catholics who are joyfully sharing the Gospel with those who live outside of this building.  The Builders of this generation are the disciples who will witness to Christ.


  1. The faith of my parents and grandparents was adequate for its time. But the West has devolved so much that such faith is no longer adequate. Yes to an outward-looking Church and the New Evangelization.

  2. Great essay, Fr. Barnes. You really do see the big picture.


  3. A very moving entry. Well done.