Contemplate the Face of Christ:
When We Make Christ the Center of Our Lives, We See His Face Shining in the Faces of Those around Us

By Bishop William F. Murphy
Kansas City Star [Los Angeles CA]
Downloaded June 14, 2003

Editor's Note: The following homily was delivered during the holy hour and Benediction at the first Knights of Columbus Eucharistic Congress in Washington, D.C., June 22, 2002.

THE first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles offers us five essential characteristics of who we are as Church. The first of these is "community." We are a community of faith because we have been called by Christ to be united to him and in him. Thus made one by him, we are with him as head, one body, one conversion of life and love.

It is clear from the one who makes us who we are, that the Church is not some social organization nor are we just members of some humanly founded social group. We did not found the Church. Christ did. We did not establish how to be part of the Church. Christ did. And we do not determine what makes us loyal, faithful Catholics. Christ does.

What makes our sharing in this great gift of being part of the Church so precious is grace: Jesus and his gift, a sharing in his own life. This means that as we look on the face of Christ, as we contemplate that face, you and I must see how much he loves us and hear his words to us again: "Love one another as I have loved you."

Pope John Paul II tells us, "The Lord's words to us on this point are too precise to diminish their import." While the Church needs many things, he says, "without charity all will be in vain."


Those of you who, like me, get to go to many weddings doubtless have become accustomed to these words of St. Paul's: "Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, it is not snobbish. Love is never rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not prone to anger; neither does it brood over injuries. Love does not rejoice in what is wrong but rejoices with the truth. There is no limit to love's forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure" (1 Cor 13:4-7).

I have begun to think that we cannot have a wedding without hearing this passage. But the reason why this Scripture passage is used so often is that it beautifully captures the commitment of the sacrament of marriage. St. Paul's words clearly set out what is in the hearts of the newlyweds and what is deeply present in the sacrament of marriage. I invite you to keep these words and the sacrament of marriage, your marriages, before your mind's eye and see if that doesn't help us to understand more clearly and commit ourselves more deeply to living our life of Church as a spiritual communion.


In Novo Millennio Ineunte, his apostolic letter on the Church's mission in the third Christian millennium, the pope writes, "To make the Church the home and school of communion: that is the great challenge facing us in the new millennium." He then adds, "What does this mean in practice?" (43).

You who are married know better than I how crucial that question is as you deepen your marriage commitment to your spouse and together build a family. How much commitment? Total commitment! How much fidelity? Total fidelity! How much learning to live together and share together? Total! How much love? Total love!

All that Christian couples affirm about marriage is what we together must affirm about our life as Church. It is total commitment, total fidelity, total loving and sharing together. It is total love. For that to happen, we must seek Christ and learn to love one another as he has loved us. We need to deepen what the pope calls "a spirituality of communion." That means being one in seeking God and contemplating the face of Christ in prayer, the center of our lives. That means seeing his face "shining on the face of our brothers and sisters around us" such that we share our unity and seek to deepen it with all, in this our Church, this body of Christ. We will attend to one another's needs, share our joys and sufferings, know how to make room for our brothers and sisters, and make Christ's love the guiding principle and the ultimate measure of all our dealings with one another as the Church of Jesus Christ.

Now comes the tough part: Putting all this into practice. After the glow of the Jubilee Year, so rich in God's mercy and Christ's love, Pope John Paul has called the Church "to put out into the deep." That may have seemed easy in the days immediately after the Jubilee, just as marriage may seem easy those first months after the honeymoon.

But recent events in the Church and world have rocked and challenged us. It seems to me that because the Jubilee was such a time of grace, Satan is determined to strike at the Church with forces in our society that both break up and tear down the Church from within, using even Catholics to try to wound and cripple us.


So it is now a time of testing for the Church and society. This happens in marriages and they have struggles. It is happening to us, and we will become stronger as long as we put into practice the spirituality of communion that is at the heart of who we are as Christ's Church.

That is a great challenge from God, but in Christ we have the means. It will be a testing of ourselves, but the Lord never tests us beyond our endurance. This means first of all that we see ourselves as one in spiritual communion. It means that we support one another as one, with a support that recognizes and celebrates the roles each of us must fulfill: "some apostles, some prophets, some teachers" (cf. Eph 4:11).

We cannot live the spirituality of communion if we are constantly tearing one another down, if the Church's teaching authority is questioned, if the priesthood is not held in high esteem, if the vocation to religious life is not honored, and if the laity's role in the Church is not championed.

We cannot live the spirituality of communion if we make the world's view of the Church our own and measure the life of faith by the standards of the media or the opinions of the elite.

This may mean that some will walk away from us, may reject the Church, may abandon the spirituality of communion. While we all will be hurt by that, it will be a consequence of the very lack of the spirituality of communion in the Church.

But for us who contemplate the face of Christ in one another, who seek to share one another's burdens, who applaud and praise and rejoice in our religion, who are built up spiritually by the holy example of others - for us there is only one answer, only one way! That way is to live out that love which is Christ's greatest gift, to live it in the communion of the Church, to live a spirituality of communion which shows the world every day of our life that we strive for the greatest spiritual gifts. As Church, or communion, we live to love one another as Christ first loved us.


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