Sunday, December 29, 2013

Only the Gaze of Christ Can Rebuild Parishes

Msgr. Luigi Giussani, Founder of Communion and Liberation
In the days leading up to Christmas and in this period of Christmastide, I've had lots of opportunities to be with friends and to share meals together.  Recently, I visited the home of some friends who belong to the movement, Communion and Liberation. More specifically, these friends are Memores Domini.  They are lay men who work in a variety of professions and who dedicate themselves to the contemplation of Christ and to bringing the announcement of Christ to others.  

After a beautiful meal together, I left their home and had in my heart that kind of joy one experiences from being with something great.  As I walked home, I noticed a little sparrow on the ground that had died.  Not surprisingly, the scripture passage from the Gospel of Matthew jumped to mind.  "Not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care" (MT 10:29).  It is quite an 
amazing thing, is it not?  God knows this sparrow and its condition.  He looks upon the sparrow.  And the tenderness of this gaze with which God looks even upon a sparrow gives us a new hope.  It is confidence in this gaze that makes us capable of announcing the Good News.

It was when Jesus commissioned the Twelve to go and announce the Kingdom that he also informed them of the gaze upon which their Heavenly Father looked upon them.  He was strengthening them not only to fulfill the mission entrusted to them, but also to endure the persecution that was certain to follow.  It was this gaze that would sustain them.

Was it not the tenderness of Christ's gaze upon Peter when he asked him, "Do you love me?" that strengthened Peter in the rest of his ministry?  Did not Matthew remember that moment when Christ looked upon him with mercy and live the rest of his life from that moment?  How many people have come to Christ because they discovered that he is the Good Shepherd who looks for the lost sheep with tenderness?  This gaze is critical to evangelization.

Although I do not meet my friends from the Memores Domini as often as I would like, each time I do, I feel inwardly strengthened.  It is because of the way with which they look upon me and upon reality.  Their gaze reassures me of the Father's gaze.  Their life radiates a certain joy that originates in the gaze of the Divine upon them.  The mission to the world--for them and for all of us--always has to originate and be sustained by a tender gaze.  

We often skip over this "gaze" in order to implement practical 
solutions.  Several months ago, I read a book entitled, "Rebuilt."  It has to do with a parish that has experienced a lot of growth.  Although I found the book to offer a lot of "helpful hints," it did not really move me.  It sounded a lot like "How to Build a Successful Parish."  What was missing for me was a sense that the mission of evangelization begins with an irresistible gaze.  Instead, it was about building a structure.

I do not wish to criticize the pastor there nor the people who are undoubtedly doing great things.  My point is simply that the book did not appeal to me because I did not feel as though I had walked into the middle of a gaze between lovers.  The book seemed more about parish life than it did about Christian life.  It seemed too mechanical and not enough about being moved by the tender look of Another.

Jesus sent the Twelve out, but he did so after assuring them of the 
gaze of the Father.  I do not think that the principle crisis facing 
parishes and Catholic institutions is their administration, properties, or job titles.  There is certainly much that could be done to improve all of these things.  But, this cannot be the starting point.  The principle crisis is that we often present ourselves as people who are not caught up in the love of God.  The starting point has to be a gaze that fills a person with the assurance that they are loved by the Father.  This cannot be skipped.  Well, it can be skipped, but the mission will fail.  It is only the tenderness of this gaze that will sustain true evangelization.

What is needed in so many Catholic parishes, dioceses, and institutions is not simply new programs, technologies, or structures.  What's needed is a renewed encounter with the gaze of Christ.  What is needed is an education in friendship and love.  What is often missing in aspects of Catholic life is that tenderness that is at the origin of discipleship.  Trying to "rebuild" things without beginning with this gaze and a fidelity to this gaze will only result--at best--in stopgap measures.  True evangelization begins with a gaze.  When we are living this gaze, programs may certainly follow, but they are remarkably different than anything we could come up with on our own.

My friends in Memores Domini strengthened me by radiating the gaze of Christ.  This is true evangelization.  They looked upon me with a tenderness that can only be given by one who himself knows that he is looked upon tenderly by Christ.  Strong parishes and strong dioceses are places where the gaze of Christ is made visible in and through the gaze of those who know themselves "looked upon with tenderness."  It is in the gaze of bishops and priests upon their people; it is in the gaze of Christians upon the poor, the suffering, and the vulnerable; it is in the gaze of brothers and sisters in Christ upon each other that evangelization occurs. Strong parishes and strong dioceses are rebuilt through the gaze of charity. 

1 comment:

  1. This such a BEAUTIFUL post!! Thank you for writing and sharing it. My parish is currently in the "throes" of the Rebuilt "movement" and it feels so inauthentic and disingenuous that it actually saddens me. I believe our Pastoral Staff feels "right" in their mission and is well-intentioned but I do not believe that the pews are empty due to the inability to find a parking space! The pews are empty because the souls are starving and we are not feeding them! I don't know the answer - I truly don't - but I KNOW by the grace of God that it starts with His love and not adminsitrative functions! So many of Jesus' parables either take place around a meal or speak of feeding & the lost. We are ALL hungry, it is why the "buy me" culture exists. We keep thinking if we own enough things we will be satiated and then sadly find this is not true. It's no different than an alcoholic or drug addict needing more and more to get the same "fix" as before. Eventually it's not enough......