I preached this homily at Notre Dame Seminary on May 3, 2016.
“Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (Jn 14:8).
A few chapters earlier, some Greeks said to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21).
Even if they don’t fully realize it, each person we meet says to us, “show us the Father” (Jn 14:8) and “we wish to see Jesus” (Jn 12:21). When we stop and reflect on our successes and failures in ministry, the central question we have to ask ourselves is “Who did I show them?” We need to ask ourselves if, when people who came to us and asked, “show us the Father,” did we show them the Lord, or did we show them ourselves and feed our own egos? If a person comes to me and sees only me, then I have failed that person – and that person will be disappointed. I may have even lost my one chance to truly be a witness to Christ for them.
In Les Misérables, Jean Valjean, a convict on parole comes to the town of Digne and is turned out from every inn. Finally, without even knowing whose it is, he knocks on the door of the bishop in the town. The bishop invites him into his small home, serves him dinner, and provides him a comfortable bed. To repay this kindness, Valjean steals the bishop’s silver in the night and takes off running. He is caught by the police and brought back to the bishop to answer for his crime. Instead of condemning him, though, the bishop tells the police that the silver had been a gift, and, to prove the point, he even gives Valjean the silver candlesticks that are on his mantle. After he dismissed the police,
The Bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice:—
“Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.”
Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of ever having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the words when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity:—
“Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”
The bishop saw the opportunity. He showed God to a poor convict through his act of Christian love. I’ve often reflected on how this example, even though it’s fiction, can provide an example to me in ministry. My answer (at least at this point in my life) is simply that the bishop saw Valjean.
We must remain vigilant. The chance can be short and subtle. Someone will come to us (or even just pass us in the street) and say, “show us the Father” (Jn 14:8). We must pay attention so that, when that chance comes, we can take advantage of it. In that one chance, we can either show people God or show them ourselves. If we show them ourselves, they will see a flawed man. If we show them the true love that is the Father’s, they will see Christ alive in us “so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (Jn 14:13) and the Son may be glorified in us.