Sunday, May 20, 2012

Front Row Seat

“Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15)

Our experience of God shapes who we are.  It shapes our relationships, the way we treat people, the way we live, the way we love, and the way we share His love with others.  It goes without saying that the disciples had the ultimate experience of God because they ministered with the Son of God for three years, and for forty days after the resurrection, they were able to experience the Risen Jesus like no one else for they had a front row seat to his mighty words and works.  Now on this day of the Ascension, they want to hold tight to the Lord, but as he goes up to heaven, the story doesn’t end, for now the real work begins of sharing their unique experience and witness of the Risen Lord with the entire world.

When I began at St. John Vianney Seminary 19 years ago, they assigned me a seat in the large seminary chapel of St. Raphael’s in the first seat of the front row directly in front of the pulpit.  I could not fall asleep when we gathered for prayer and Mass that early in the morning because there was always a priest preaching in front of me (though I must confess that I did at times doze off because of our early start times).   I spent much time in that seat which allowed me to see everything transpiring in the sanctuary up close and pick out each of the priests’ idiosyncrasies, their gestures, and even those of the servers.  But what I gazed up at the most was that marvelous mural above the sanctuary which is probably the most beautiful work of sacred art that we have in this Archdiocese.  It is a complex work of art that has so many details, but the first words of Jesus in today’s gospel are engraved on that mural and became engraved in my heart: “Go into the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”  Over the four years that I spent praying in that chapel, my experience of God went from a very innocent experience to a more mature understanding of the Eucharist and of what was expected of me as a future priest.  I gazed up and memorized every detail of that mural and to this day, every time I walk into that chapel I sit down in that same seat in the front row to gaze up and look up at the images that moved me then and always find new ones that move me now.  And like the disciples, having gotten to know the Lord in my seminary formation, when the time came to be ordained and truly preach the gospel, I shared with the people of God my experience of him. (Click on image below to make it larger.)

Our experience of God evolves as we grow closer to him.  The key is being open to experiencing him in new ways, and this is my challenge to you this week:  try to experience God in a totally new way.  Come and spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament.  Come to a daily Mass.  Pray a rosary.  Open your Bible at home and see what God has to tell you.  We have to experience him in new ways like the disciples did after the Resurrection and Ascension in order to share these experiences, like they did, with the rest of the world.