Saturday, May 11, 2013

Evangelization Begins With His Face

In the midst of packing boxes as the date of my transfer approaches, I've been touched by the many gifts, dinners, and offers of assistance that have come my way.  All of these gestures of tenderness and charity have shown forth for me the true face of the Church.  In the communio of the Church we discover the face of Christ.  Where this communio is lacking, the face of Christ becomes obscured.  Programs, strategies, and bureaucratic structures can supplement the communio, but they can never replace it.  And, when those things become ends in themselves and not at the service of the communio, the work of evangelization suffers.  I believe Pope Francis said something like this recently when speaking about the Vatican Bank.

In the Gospel Jesus says, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35).  In recent weeks, as I have pondered my years as pastor, I've considered what were the strengths and weaknesses.  What most struck me about these years together is that we have loved one another.  Charity is the great mark of our time together.  We have love for one another.  It is this love that has drawn new people to the Church.  It is this love that has drawn vocations to the priesthood.  It is this love that has revealed the beautiful face of Christ.

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.


  1. Amen. And again I say Amen.


  2. Fr. Barnes,
    I attended Mass in your beautiful church for the first time today. It is quite impressive and will continue to do so as long as I am assigned up here in the North Shore. As I was doing research on St. Mary's Star of the Sea, I came across your blog, and have found it to be most enlightening. I hope my own Pastor embraces social media, as you have done. Additionally, I know you are moving on to another assignment, and I hope you continue to blog, as I would love to follow it. All the best to you.

  3. You write beautifully, father. I regret now that I did not use time that you were with us to rebuild my relationship with God and His church. You did wonderful work at SMSOTS and we parishioners shall miss you. Peace, as you embark on the next leg of your journey. No doubt you will be as loved at BU as in Beverly.