When I was in high school, a religion teacher once asked our class to "draw a picture of God." My drawing was mostly geometrical, with a circle symbolizing the continuous and never-ending nature of God, and a triangle to represent the Trinity. I don't know what everyone else drew. I doubt that anyone came up with an image of Jesus the human being that God used as the ultimate self-revelation. Or a human family to represent the generative love of God as described in our Sacred Scriptures. My drawing would be much different today perhaps showing the presence of God in people who are healed and helped. The memory of that class assignment came to mind recently as I was thinking about the images and representations we see today. What are the symbols of faith and religion today? Take the Catholic Church, for example. During the coverage of the sex-related scandals, television newscasts used some recognizable images and symbols of the Catholic Church. We saw candles and stained glass, smoke from incense burners, people receiving communion, shots of a crucifix from various odd angles and ground level pictures of tall spires reaching into a cloudy sky. We saw old men in pointy hats; they were wearing brocade and gold buckles. We saw images of men in Roman collars, their faces darkened to hide their identities. Is that all there is to the Catholic Church? Where are the images of lay persons as witnesses in the marketplace? Where are the helpful, healing, caring ministries? Are they too difficult to demonstrate, so that we have to rely on images incomplete or even inaccurate? Some years ago, a newspaper photographer wanted to take an artful picture of Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger. Bishop Gettelfinger canoes the boundary waters, hikes the mountain trails at Philmont, preaches, teaches and presides. The photographer asked him to pose, kneeling in a dark room, illuminated only by a shaft of sunlight streaming through a door. It was an artful way to convey holiness, I'm sure; that was the reason for the pose. Prayer is a part of a Christian leader's life, of course but . . .
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A hundred years ago, a French lay movement developed an image that ran counter to the current images of Christianity. In a world of stained glass and towering cathedrals, the movement Le Sillon used the image of a man with an ox-drawn plow, preparing a furrow for the seeds of Christianity. The image of preparing the field appeals to me but today, I have to admit, images of sowing and planting are outside the experience of most Americans. What's left? Perhaps the Christian family is the lasting image we have. The Christian family, as Pope John Paul II and others have described it, is "the Domestic Church." It is in the family where we first experience the God who loves us and saved us.
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Take the time today to reflect on the images of all that is holy in your life. You might call to mind a church, an encouraging teacher, a life-giving parent or a life-saving friend. Take the time to make a decision about the image of your family. What do you say it is? What is it in reality? Is there a difference? How do we recognize the presence of our Messiah and savior? When the blind see, the lame walk and the poor have the good news preached to them. Or in the family where the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, and the stranger is welcomed. If the current image of your family or of your church or of your community does not live up to reality, take the time to draw a new picture.
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