A few years ago when the journalist and moderator of Meet the Press, Tim Russert, passed away so unexpectedly, I was really amazed by how his friends and colleagues spoke not only of his work ethic and expertise, but especially of his deep devotion as a son, as a father, and as a faithful Catholic who simply refused to ever miss Mass on Sunday.
I was inspired to pick up and read one of Russert’s memoirs, “Big Russ and Me.” The book is about what life was like growing up in Buffalo, New York and about all the lessons that his dad, Big Russ, had taught him along the way.
Russert paints a picture of 1950s Buffalo that’s probably not too different from the way many of you grew up – in fact, it bears a striking resemblance to my youth on Staten Island even in the 1980s. Russert attended Catholic school, served Mass in his home parish, played sports for the parish teams, hung out in the neighborhood with kids from the parish and school, and worked after school answering phones in the parish rectory to help pay for high school.
He tells of praying grace before meals, of abstaining from meat on Fridays, of holidays and festivals that marked the passing of a year, and of the Sacraments being rites of passage in school and in the neighborhood. Perhaps most importantly, he tells of a handful of nuns and priests who helped him believe in himself, work hard, and to trust that politics and journalism could in fact be means of service.
It struck me that the story Russert tells of his upbringing – and the story of my own childhood – is thoroughly immersed in the life of the Church. Whether he even realized it or not, each and every aspect of his life was in some way touched by Christ because every aspect of his life involved the Church, mediated for him in the parish his family belonged to.
The Church was therefore able to form every aspect of Tim Russert’s life, in innumerable ways. So much so, that the people he lived and worked with couldn’t help but comment, upon his death, about how important the faith was to him, and what a witness that was in their own lives.
In today’s Gospel, we’re given a kind of metaphor – and an invitation – for precisely this kind of full immersion in the life of the Church.
Hearing John the Baptist announce that Jesus is the Lamb of God, Andrew and another disciple follow after Him. When Jesus turns to question them, they’re dumbfounded and sputter out an almost silly question: “Rabbi, where are you staying.”
But the question is better than they realize, and Jesus simply responds, “Come and see.” And the two follow Him to where He “was staying, and they stayed with Him that day.”
Where is Jesus staying? – Where is the home of Jesus? – Where does Jesus abide?
Where else would Jesus abide, where else would Jesus make His home, but in the Church He founded, the Church that is itself His very body!
So, if we, like Andrew, want to know this Jesus who is the Lamb of God, we need to find the place where He is staying, and we need to spend the whole day with Him there – that is to say metaphorically, we need to have every aspect of our lives, not just an hour a week but our whole lives, immersed in the life of Christ’s Church.
You can tell an awful lot about a person by taking a look around their house, can’t you? So then, what might this house where Jesus is staying look like? Let’s imagine together, for just a moment or two, what we might find in Christ’s house.
What are the books we might find on the shelves? Certainly the Scriptures, and the lives of the saints, and the writings of the Church Fathers. But also the great works of literary history, like Dante’s Divine Comedy and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. And we’d find more modern novels and stories by Graham Greene, G.K. Chesterton, Flannery O’Connor, C.S. Lewis, Shusaku Endo, and hundreds and hundred of others.
What art would we find on the walls and in the hallways? The great sculptures of Michelangelo, Bernini, and Mestrovich; and the paintings of the masters like Blessed Fra Angelico, and Caravaggio, and even the moderns like Salvador Dali.
What music would be playing there? Certainly the great hymns and Gregorian chants of the Church’s worship; but also the polyphony of Bach, Byrd and Palestrina, the symphonies of Mozart and Beethoven, and the spirituals of the African American church.
What food would we be invited to enjoy there? – The Eucharist, of course, is the great banquet of Christ’s Church. But there would also be great wine from the Christian Brothers, beer from the Trappists, Capuchin coffee, and all the special foods made to celebrate the feasts and saints, like Joseph, Lucy, or Nicholas.
Might a few sports even be played there? Well there’d certainly be Notre Dame football. But let’s be ecumenical and say there’d be Georgetown basketball, and Boston College hockey too.
Who are the other guests that we would meet in this house? The Apostles and all the martyrs and saints, the great friends of Jesus throughout history would undoubtedly all be there.
Augustine, Aquinas, McIntyre and Maritain would be discussing philosophy in one corner; Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, and Blaise Pascal would be debating math and science in another. And the list goes on, and on, and on.
Now, I want to be clear that my point isn’t that in order to know Jesus, or to be part of His Church you have to be a genius, or must be impeccably cultured. My point is that the Church is not merely somewhere we go once a week for an hour to pray!
The Church is an entire world, a whole culture, an entire way of thinking, and being, and relating to others and to all of creation. It is filled with all the beauty and joy of human existence. It contains all the world’s treasures – any and every kind of art, music, food, literature, and person that is inspired by Christ, and in turn, is capable of revealing Him to those who partake of them.
In turn, anyone who is steeped in the world and culture of the Church cannot help but witness to the life of Christ they have found where Christ abides. Such people are so saturated in the life of Christ that they almost radiate His light, and other people are drawn to the beauty of their life – to the beauty of Christ.
That’s essentially what we see in today’s Gospel. After having spent the day with Jesus, in the place where He was staying, Andrew simply can’t help but go to his brother and proclaim, “we have found the Messiah … and then he brought Peter to Jesus.”
Friends, what about us – what about our lives? Are our lives steeped in the life of the Church? Does the life of the Church help bring Christ to every aspect of our lives, or is the Church merely something that happens for us one hour on a Sunday?
As He did to Andrew in today’s Gospel, Jesus turns now to each and every one of us and He asks, “What are you looking for?”
Brothers and sisters, the fulfillment of our every longing is to know Jesus Christ – and to do that we must follow Him to the place where He dwells, the Church, and we must stay there with Him.
May Christ make the beauty, the rhythms, and the rituals of His Church the very center of our lives and the very air we breathe, so that we too can radiate Christ’s life to all we meet.