Yesterday afternoon my family and I visited a parish community in a most unbeautiful place: the church and its elementary school sit beside an interstate highway clogged with traffic. Within the parish boundaries are a slew of strip shopping malls, trailer parks and 1960s era ranch houses and Cape Cods. When we entered the sanctuary we saw it was was no great shakes either—a converted 1950s gym with a worn rug on the floor and wooden pews that had seen better days.
The priest who celebrated the Mass began it by telling us that the Mass would be reverent but brief because the church’s annual carnival was going on in a nearby baseball field and the carnival volunteers needed to return to their duties.The cantor proceeded to sing softly and off key. A mentally disabled man sitting near us was four or five lines behind the rest of us during all songs and responses.
Despite of, or perhaps because of, all the ordinariness of this unassuming parish, I felt the Holy Spirit making its presence known. The miracle and mystery of our Eucharistic Lord was present. And what helped me greatly was the priest’s explication of the Gospel reading for this Sunday in Ordinary Time. Jesus asks the Apostles two simple questions.
Until yesterday, I never really had contemplated what happens after Jesus multiplies the loaves and fish to feed a hungry crowd. He and his disciples head off in a boat. First they go to Dalmanutha, a village on the Sea of Galilee, where Pharisees attempt to test His divinity. They move on to Bethsaida, another fishing village, where Christ makes a blind man see. They travel further and Jesus asks his disciples “Who do the crowds say that I am?”
Then, He asks them an even tougher question: “But who do you say that I am?”
Who is Christ? The priest told us we can talk about his miraculous birth. We can talk about his torturous death and glorious resurrection. But who, exactly, is Christ? How do we go about explaining Him to others?
And then the priest told us to look at the person standing near us, someone we do not know. This is Christ. As Christians, we must learn to see the face of Christ in everyone we meet. And we must be the face of Christ to all we encounter as well. This is our task. As followers of Christ,our words, but even more powerfully, our actions must reflect Christ. When we look in a mirror, whose face shall we see?
This summer, in School of Community, we are reading some works by the leader of Community and Liberation, Fr. Julián Carrón. The priest’s homily called to mind an excerpt from the readings: if the fact of Christ’s victorious presence, “remains only at the level of piety or devotion, it would be as if it never happened,” Fr. Carrón writes, “as if it did not contain enough substance of reality to change life, to make a mark on life; and then we would be shaped by everything else, which overwhelms us, which confuses us, which discourages us, which keeps us from breathing, seeing, touching the novelty that the risen Christ has introduced and continues to introduce in our lives.”
I am Catholic because God makes Himself known in every soul we encounter. And because wherever we travel for whatever reason, we can be the face of Christ to others.