Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Solomon's Portico: Friendship is a Proposal to the Human Heart

A Photo with Some of our Catholic Center Women on Graduation Weekend
There are times in life when we read a passage from a book and it becomes a moment of recognition. "Yes, this corresponds precisely with my experience!" Several years ago, I had such a moment when I came upon a passage from Luigi Giussani's "Why the Church?" Giussani, the founder of the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation in commenting on a scene from the Acts of the Apostles writes:

"Try then to imagine the scene: it is around the Paschal season, when Jews throughout the world would be intent, as far as possible, on traveling to Jerusalem as pilgrims. Try to imagine the reaction of one of these pilgrims, who, on going to the temple for a few days in a row, would have noticed, each time, a little group of people under the portico. The first day he would have proceeded on his way, without wondering why, and on the second day, he might have done the same. But at some point, he certainly would have asked someone: 'Who are those people I always see together here?' And they would have replied: 'They are the followers of Jesus of Nazareth.' And so we can see how the Church began: it literally allowed itself to 'be seen' under Solomon's Portico, it proposed itself through the mere sight of it, through a first perception which can only be described as community."

There's a danger in the Church of becoming too frenetic. In the face of recent studies showing a significant decline in the number of Catholics in the United States, there can be an alarmist response that creates lots of hype, but offers very little depth or substance. When this approach is taken, it is often self-defeating. If people are looking for community in their life, they are not looking for a community that appears to be in panic mode or that is seeking to save itself from extinction. They are looking for a community that is attractive. They are looking for a community that proposes itself as an answer to the deepest desires of the human heart.

If the Church in the United States wants to grow, it first has to look at what works. The problem oftentimes in the life of the Church is that people are too insistent upon their own opinion of what "should work" and become unwilling to look at what actually works. Where are people loving each other? Where are vocations flourishing? Where are people receiving the Sacraments with devotion? Where are people growing in their prayer life? Where are people striving to become virtuous? Where are people practicing the works of mercy? If these things are happening in places where there is Lifeteen or a Charismatic Group, where there is an ecclesial movement like Communion and Liberation, the Neocatechumenal Way, Focolare, or Opus Dei, or where there is a Latin Mass community . . . wherever these things are happening, we shouldn't try to kill them with our particular agenda. Instead, we should encourage them and imitate them. Too often, we try to replace what actually works with what we want to work and this . . . never works.

If looking at what is actually working and encouraging it is the first thing we should do, the second thing we need to do is to share the joy of this experience. A person doesn't need to be a theologian in order to share the good news. A person can share the good news by telling his own experience. This, however, should not arise not from a scheme, but rather from a culture. It must be something that is natural and not from something that feels coerced. If people discover a community where they feel loved, experience growth, and become more truly human, then they are going to share this with others. Instead of trying to sell the Church, we can just share our experience of being part of the communion of the Church.

Do I have a Solomon's Portico in my life? I have several. My Solomon's Portico is wherever I live the friendship of the Church with others. Oftentimes, this seems to be at restaurants or at dinner tables. When we live this friendship together, it is attractive to others. It becomes a point of interest. It's been my experience that people are fascinated when they see a priest and his people loving each other and living a friendship together. It surprises them to see lay people and priests enjoying one another's company. In friendship, our humanity deepens. When people witness this deeper humanity, they desire it for themselves. When I go to my Solomon's Porticoes, it is not so that I can solicit business for the Church. I go because I need these places for my own life. The community of the Church--the friendship of the Church--saves me and moves me toward Christ. It is something for my life. And because it is something for my life, I am able to share that with others. But, it is firstly something for me.

Sometimes, especially clergy and people who are close to the Church, act as though we were mere commentators upon the Church or just professional organizers of Church events. But, to be convincing witnesses, we have to be moved ourselves by the encounter. The community of the Church has to be firstly something that moves us. When we love being together and growing together, this becomes an instant proposal to others. It draws them because they see the new humanity emerging in and through the friendship. But this kind of evangelization is humbling because it begins with an admission of my desires. I desire to experience love. I desire to experience mercy. I desire to experience the friendship of the other. I desire to be educated. 

There are great programs in the Church. I've used lots of them. But, my experience is that the most effective tool for evangelization is Solomon's Portico. When we gather together and live the friendship of the Church together; when we love each other and stay close to one another, this attracts others. And little by little, we draw in those who pass by the Portico and who see the way that we love one another and stay together.

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