Contemplating the face of Christ and Facebook

In the year 2000 at the dawn of the new Millennia, the Church dedicated herself to the contemplation of the face of Christ. That year, I was a college student in my sophomore year, and the graces and excitement of my own Catholic faith had just fallen on me afresh. I was learning to pray, to love the teachings of the Church and to build community that would support me in this newfound love for what had before seemed tired, outdated and irrelevant to me. I attended a conference that year in which a Priest told us that Pope John Paul II implored young people at the start of this new millennium to 'contemplate the face of Christ.' This seemed, at the time, like a strange thing to me. I had never given his actual face much thought aside from the many different depictions I had seen throughout my cradle Catholic life but I had already grown to love this Pope a great deal so I took those words quite literally and began incorporating into my nascent prayer life this practice of trying to envision the face of Christ.

There are not many habits that I stick with, and usually only the bad ones at that, but this searching for the face of Christ is one that has stayed with me. My prayer life has wavered over the years, grown passionate and intense at times only to dwindle to virtually nothing for years and now finally to have rested on something relatively consistent, simple, deep and sustaining. I have always begun my prayer time with that simple act. When I sit in silence and close my eyes and there is only darkness I search the darkness for His face, the face that brings me hope, the head that was crowned with agony for my sins, the eyes that look upon me just as I am, in love, the mouth that speaks the words of everlasting life. And when, and if, it comes to me, I simply sit and adore. I search it. I look upon love. What do His eyes look like? His expression? How is he looking at me? At times I struggle to get a clear image in my mind and other times its as if he's there looking into my soul. While I came to love and depend on this way of beginning my prayer I never fully understood why Pope John Paul II thought it would be so important for us to contemplate His actual face in in the new millennia but I'm becoming more and more convinced that it has something to do with Facebook.

Sure, I know there was no such thing as Facebook in the year 2000. In fact we had no idea what social media was save for the short period of time dial up internet allowed us to venture into awkward chat rooms before our parents needed the land line again. Myspace hadn't even been created yet, much less Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn and there definitely, definitely was no Snapchat. (I'm still not entirely sure what the purpose of that one is.)  I can't help but find myself envious of 19 year old me who was free from social media attachment, free from a cell phone (much less a smart phone) and free to not be found every waking minute of the day by email or text or endless notifications. We didn't know at the time that all of these things were right around the corner and that they would become so intertwined with our lives in such an intense way as adults that it would be hard to separate our own psyche and the contents of our newsfeed. But God knew, and maybe John Paul II knew. At the very least He knew that the "young people" he addressed in the year 2000 would become the Mothers and Fathers of the next generation and that we would be the ones forming them, teaching them and loving them. And maybe, just maybe, he knew that all of these technological advances would make it so that we could do great things, that we could reach many nations with the Gospel, that we could show beauty and goodness in ways that we never dreamed, and that we could solve ever growing problems in newer and bigger ways each day. But, that it also meant that while we don't have to leave our couch to get groceries, or get a degree, or connect with people around the world, that we would become more and more detached from those who live in our own homes and in our own communities.
It is ironic to me that this platform that seeks to connect us in so many ways is named 'Face" book because it is one of the tools that allows us not to look at the face of our neighbor or friend or child. Oh sure, we see people's faces all day long as we go about our day but do we really see them anymore? Do we search their faces to understand who they are? Do we listen to what they are saying? Technology has implanted in us seeds of impatience and immediacy so much so that we are no longer capable of contemplating the face of another. We want an answer now, we want to say our piece and we want results immediately or we're moving on to something else. Unfortunately, for those of us who are parents, this impatience has formed our way of being with our children. We have become masters at multitasking and our children have become one task among many. We are unable to be truly present because its easier to escape to the instant gratification that we are familiar with now. It's hard to admit. It's easy to avoid the hard work of actually 'being' with them and to fill the momentary guilt with more entertainment and gratification or work or business and to justify it by calling it necessary.
Our children see this detachment in us and they are being formed by how we look (or don't look) at them. My 3 year old says "Mom, look!" hundreds of times a day (no exaggeration) and I often try to placate him by murmuring "uhmhmmm" or "yes dear" and nodding in approval of whatever drawing or boo boo or acrobatic trick that he wants to show me in that second. This child, however, even at 3, is no fool. If I am not looking at him he will emphatically declare "Mom! LOOK AT MY EYES" or even more heart wrenching sometimes he yells "Mom, SEE ME!"

See. Me.

We are raising a generation of children who want to be seen and we aren't looking. We all want to be seen of course but we need the loving gaze of our parents to see us in a particular way.  We are the ones that teach them what it means to be seen. I think that John Paul II implored us to 'contemplate the face of Christ" not only because we need to see Christ but because we need to know what it looks like to BE SEEN by Him. To see Him seeing us. Only a generation who is seen by their heavenly father through the loving gaze of Christ can know the importance of looking into the eyes of our own children, to search their faces with patience, to really SEE them and to share with them the loving gaze of Christ that has been given to us.

We wish to see Jesus" (Jn 12:21). This request, addressed to the Apostle Philip by some Greeks who had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover, echoes spiritually in our ears too during this Jubilee Year. Like those pilgrims of two thousand years ago, the men and women of our own day — often perhaps unconsciously — ask believers not only to "speak" of Christ, but in a certain sense to "show" him to them. And is it not the Church's task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new millennium? Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face. The Great Jubilee has certainly helped us to do this more deeply. At the end of the Jubilee, as we go back to our ordinary routine, storing in our hearts the treasures of this very special time, our gaze is more than ever firmly set on the face of the LordNovo Millennia Ineunte, 16 - Pope John Paul II
I'm not here to say it's all bad and I'm definitely not deleting my accounts. So, how do we live with it and reclaim our families and friendships? How do we redirect our gaze toward Christ and to those closest to us? How do we teach our children to be present, to look into others eyes with wonder and compassion? This is not an easy endeavor, for sure but there are some simple ways that we teach our children to contemplate his face with us. As it turns out, maybe Pope John Paul II foresaw more than we think. Or, at least he allowed himself to be a messenger for God's providential word on these challenges that face us today. At the end of the Jubilee year in the beginning of 2001 he issued an apostolic letter aptly named Novo Millennia Ineunte (At the beginning of the new millennium) in which he spoke of the joys of the Jubilee year and the plan to "live the present with enthusiasm and to look forward to the future with confidence."
We put the question with trusting optimism, but without underestimating the problems we face. We are certainly not seduced by the naive expectation that, faced with the great challenges of our time, we shall find some magic formula. No, we shall not be saved by a formula but by a Person, and the assurance which he gives us: I am with you! Novo Millennia Ineunte, 29 - Pope John Paul II

Teach them to pray. I think the first and perhaps most important way that we can reclaim our connections is through prayer. Of course we ourselves have to go daily to prayer, to seek His face and to listen to His voice. We have to also teach our children to pray. One of the best ways to pray as a family is to read His word. Scripture paints a picture with words and places us into the moment when we can become face to face with Christ. Begin with the Gospels and read a bit together at night before bed. Invite them to place themselves in the story however they like. Talk about it afterward. Ask them what they think the story is about and what they felt when they imagined themselves in the scene. Ask them what Jesus' face looked like as the scene played out. In this way we can teach our children to pray well, to see Him, to seek His face and to be holy.

We have to learn to pray: as it were learning this art ever anew from the lips of the Divine Master himself, like the first disciples: "Lord, teach us to pray!" (Lk 11:1). Prayer develops that conversation with Christ which makes us his intimate friends: "Abide in me and I in you" (Jn 15:4). This reciprocity is the very substance and soul of the Christian life, and the condition of all true pastoral life. Wrought in us by the Holy Spirit, this reciprocity opens us, through Christ and in Christ, to contemplation of the Father's face. Novo Millennia Ineunte, 32 - Pope John Paul II
The contemplation of Christ's face cannot fail to be inspired by all that we are told about him in Sacred Scripture, which from beginning to end is permeated by his mystery, prefigured in a veiled way in the Old Testament and revealed fully in the New, so that Saint Jerome can vigorously affirm: "Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ". Novo Millennia Ineunte, 17 - Pope John Paul II

Take the Sabbath seriously. I get it, Sunday's are a busy day. I'm married to a Church musician so Sunday is, quite literally a work day for him and a day of wrangling kids, catching up on laundry and other work that couldn't get done during the week. A couple years ago I found myself desperate for recreation on Sundays. I found the Mass that was the least intrusive to our weekend and I sought rest through Netflix and scrolling Facebook. Then a friend of mine challenged me take a different approach, to schedule our weekend around Mass instead of the other way around and to spend the day screen free and enjoying each other. On the Sundays that we take the sabbath serious in this way I find that I feel renewed in my spirit and in my body (because the day usually involves a nap too.) Set the time apart on Sundays to be with God and with each other. Treat Mass like the big deal that it is, play outside, play board games, go on a hike and rest together! The time you give to this day will be given back a hundred fold.
The Sunday Eucharist which every week gathers Christians together as God's family round the table of the Word and the Bread of Life, is also the most natural antidote to dispersion. It is the privileged place where communion is ceaselessly proclaimed and nurtured. Precisely through sharing in the Eucharist, the Lord's Day also becomes the Day of the Church, when she can effectively exercise her role as the sacrament of unity. Novo Millennia Ineunte, 36 - Pope John Paul II

Make family dinner a tradition. These days families are pulled in every direction; sports, meetings, homework and endless activities. It's important to have a designated time to come together and reconnect, for each family member to be heard by the others and to break bread together. Start with once a week. Make the meal simple and let everyone help. Make sure the television is off and the table is free from phones, tablets and anything else thats distracting. Let each member have a turn to share his best and hardest moments of the week. This is the moment that you teach them to really listen to each other, to look them in the eyes, to take the time to understand what the other is saying and to wait their turn. Imagine if every adult had been taught these things as children!
"By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (Jn 13:35). If we have truly contemplated the face of Christ, dear Brothers and Sisters, our pastoral planning will necessarily be inspired by the "new commandment" which he gave us: "Love one another, as I have loved you" (Jn 13:34). Novo Millennia Ineunte, 42 - Pope John Paul II
See Christ in the least of these. Saint Theresa of Calcutta once said, "I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This is sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.” When we serve those less fortunate than ourselves we see, in a new way, the face of Christ and we become profoundly grateful for the blessings in our lives. There are usually a multitude of opportunities for serving the poor, sick or needy in your community and it is a beautiful thing to do as a family! Service can be the antidote for our own selfishness and even us adults can use a good strong dose of that. 

Certainly we need to remember that no one can be excluded from our love, since "through his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every person".35 Yet, as the unequivocal words of the Gospel remind us, there is a special presence of Christ in the poor, and this requires the Church to make a preferential option for them. This option is a testimony to the nature of God's love, to his providence and mercy; and in some way history is still filled with the seeds of the Kingdom of God which Jesus himself sowed during his earthly life whenever he responded to those who came to him with their spiritual and material needs. Novo Millennia Ineunte, 49 - Pope John Paul II
Take these words of JPII to heart as we set out to continue the good work of our generation in the new(ishmillennium and with our children continue to contemplate the face of Christ! 
Let us go forward in hope! A new millennium is opening before the Church like a vast ocean upon which we shall venture, relying on the help of Christ. The Son of God, who became incarnate two thousand years ago out of love for humanity, is at work even today: we need discerning eyes to see this and, above all, a generous heart to become the instruments of his work.  Now, the Christ whom we have contemplated and loved bids us to set out once more on our journey: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). Novo Millennia Ineunte, 58 - Pope John Paul II


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