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GROWING UP CATHOLIC | Christ looks at me and I look at Him

Last month, I referenced Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski’s quote in the archdiocesan vision document, drawn from Pope St. Paul VI; “The world does not merely need teachers but witnesses.”

I’m still thinking about those words. In my life, I’ve been privileged to meet Catholics who are effective and passionate witnesses of the Gospel. I’m sure you know people like that, too. The challenge set before us (each one of us!) is to likewise display the joy of the Gospel, to be winsome in our witness to a weary and lost world.

Many of those Catholics, who may not even know who they are, were influential in my conversion. I owe a lot to their quiet, faithful example.

When you embody the Gospel, your witness assists countless others — fellow parishioners, your children, your friends, those you barely even know — on their path to heaven. Your influence spreads much further than you suspect.

As a younger man, not yet Catholic, I had a feeling I couldn’t shake that God didn’t see me, that my prayers weren’t reaching Him. Maybe He loved me in a general sort of a way, but He had bigger fish to fry. Because I doubted that God really knew me, I turned inward in an attempt to figure out what was wrong with me and my faith. All the fretting and focusing on myself was problematic for a number of reasons, but for the purposes of this essay, I want to make one observation, which is that my inward focus meant I was a terrible witness for the Gospel.

When people met me, they encountered a melancholic, cynical person. I harbored all sorts of hidden fears and doubts. I was bluffing my way through, but no one was fooled. Meeting me and knowing I was a Christian, I doubt anyone was eager to convert.

The first time I ever felt like Christ really saw me was in the Mass. The sacrament is where evangelization begins. When we feel seen by God, only then are we able to turn outward and show Him to others. Evangelization requires contemplative attention and the willingness to rest quietly in God’s presence. Being an effective witness doesn’t involve programs or techniques. It’s far more simple — allow God to see you and love you.

The priest Gerard Manley Hopkins observes that what you look at hard enough looks back at you. It is Christ doing the looking, reflected in the beauty of creation. Most of all, His gaze is upon us in the Eucharist. At a holy hour, when I kneel before the Eucharist, Christ sees me. And I know He sees me.

It isn’t wasted time, this silence before the Lord. A recent survey by Catholic World Report shows that the most important factor in the faith of young people and vocations is eucharistic adoration. Why? Because Our Lord’s divine beauty breaks down the borders that separate the viewer and the viewed, drawing us into His unitive love. In giving Christ our gaze, He looks back and we are forever changed.

Father Michael Rennier is vice-rector of the Oratory of Sts. Gregory and Augustine. A former Anglican priest, he was ordained in 2016 under a pastoral provision. He and his wife, Amber, have six children.

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