Finding the Center
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…. For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision, but only a new creation. Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule.
When I was in seminary in Rome, one of my apostolic missions was to give tours in English of St. Peter’s Basilica. We would go to the piazza there and announce that we were giving free tours in English, and groups of people would flock around for an hour-and-a-half tour. The goal was to share our faith as we explained the art, altars, statues, and monuments on a deeper level than the other secular tour guides. People loved it, and so did I.
Once, a woman who had followed to tour with me asked why there are so many crucifixes on the altars. She as Lutheran, and as she told me, “We don’t put that out there very much” – opting for a more sanitized bare Cross. Every altar in that basilica has six candles and a crucifix in the center. Every one. While she found it to be almost gruesome, I explained that this is the price of our salvation; that Jesus actually went so far as to die in agony on a cross – out of God’s love for us. The crucifix, for me, I explained, was not so much a reminder of torture but of the immense Love that God has for His children. Why wouldn’t we want to be reminded of that fact?
St. Paul is on that same page I think. He didn’t want anything getting in the way of or obscuring the depths of God’s love for us. So, he didn’t get tied up in doctrinal or practical arguments over who was “more Christian” than someone else. Rather, he pointed us where our attention should be: on Jesus, and on His immense love to the very end. Why wouldn’t we want to remember that?
But we do forget it, don’t we? Sure, we might affirm God’s love for us when questioned: “Does God love you?” “Of course, Father. Of course, He does.” But do we really live out of that knowledge? Is it always on our lips and in our hearts? Does it radiate from us wherever we go, with whomever we meet? If I am honest, I must admit that other things can obscure that knowledge in my own heart and mind. And our world is full of those sorts of things that get in the way of the basic proclamation of Jesus and God’s love that Paul was promoting.
Over the last week, in our own country, the polemics continued. The fractured nature of our society is on full display, and various factions are vying for everyone’s attention and affirmation that they are right and others are wrong. Even our Church gets caught up in this polarization.
And when that happens, Christ is not proclaimed.
People do not see or hear of the saving power of the Cross.
They do not experience the merciful love of God.
They remain lost, hurt, angry, and divided.
For St. Paul, it was not a matter of practice – of circumcision or uncircumcision – it was only the power of God effective through the Cross of Jesus and the preaching of His gospel. And this is what must matter to us the most – not the teams, factions, parties, or social media groups to which we belong. Rather, it is about the Body of Christ to whom we all belong, and remembering that Jesus is the center around which our lives revolve.
How do we do this? How do we avoid falling into the trap of proclaiming and promoting things that are less important than Jesus? I have three suggestions.
First, unite yourself intimately with Jesus Christ – through the Eucharist and the sacraments of the Church. Make Mass a priority every weekend; and even consider daily Mass from time to time (we celebrate at 7am at St. Bernadette and 8:30am at the Parish Center). Take advantage of the various times of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament during the week. Experience the merciful love of God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Get to know Jesus in His Sacraments and in the Church.
Second, get involved in some form of service. Come to know Christ in the needy and poor – those whom we serve through St. Vincent DePaul, our Haiti partnership, the immigrant outreach of the Pastoral Migratoria, Winter Relief, Pastoral Council, the liturgy committee, Sodality, Knights of Columbus, or others. Get to know Jesus in those whom we serve.
Finally, commit yourselves to developing your personal spiritual life. Rededicate yourselves to daily prayer, in the Rosary, novenas, or regular Scripture reading. Join our women’s Walking with Purpose groups, the Seven Sisters prayer society, or Tuesday adoration. Come to know Jesus in your own beautiful faith.
When we dedicate ourselves to centering our lives on Jesus Christ, there is precious little time to devote to polemics and division. Rather, that time to dedicated, like St. Paul, to proclaiming Christ’s love and our salvation. That is what transforms lives. That is what brings unity and ultimate peace. Peace and mercy be to all who follow this rule.