Ideas to Learn From

"Come to me,

all you who labor and are burdened,

and I will give you rest."

Matthew 11:28

Adoration Chapels

     One of the analogies I use in telling Catholic friends about The Jesus Gallery is that of an Adoration Chapel.  Since becoming Catholic I’ve had many opportunities to make short and long visits to such chapels, and to witness the quick and not-so-quick drop-by visits of many.  Those are holy encounters for us Catholics, but real peculiarities to non-Catholics and non-Christians.  But in addition to Jesus in the Eucharist we have Jesus in his Word, and stopping to hear a bit or a lot of his Word might offer similar value to Christian and non-Christian, churched and unchurched, especially if the space is welcoming and peaceful.

     A specific and explicit purpose of The Gallery is to encourage folks to get involved in a church, but The Gallery itself is very un-church-like: no worship, no teaching, no preaching, completely non-denominational.  No donations would be sought and there would be nothing for sale.

The Grotto at Notre Dame University, Notre Dame, IN (and similar grottoes in many other places)

     Another analogy is the Grotto at Notre Dame.  It is fascinating and inspiring to witness the number of people who visit this outdoor sanctuary at all times of the day and night in all types of weather in all seasons of the year.  No one knows for sure, but I think it is safe to assume that many of those visitors are not Catholic, and maybe not even Christian in any formal sense: they are other children of God simply seeking a bit of respite or solace.  Sure, some of the visitors may be just curious, but my sense is that most come for a spiritual reason.

     And that is exactly what I hope The Jesus Gallery will be: a peaceful and inviting place where anybody seeking a spiritual respite will feel welcome.  The added dimension is the live, continuous, proclamation of the Gospels, not at a loud, boom-box, volume, but at a pleasant level that invites either close listening or quiet reflection, perhaps while walking around the space to contemplate the artwork.  It is the power of the live proclamation that drives the concept.

     The big difference from the Grotto, of course, is the focus on the Gospels, rather than on the Mother of Jesus, in the hope of being more welcoming to non-Catholics, and in the belief that Jesus comes first.  Mary herself is always pointing us to her son.  It is my intention to place The Gallery under the patronage of Mary.

The Shrine of Christ’s Passion, St. John, Indiana: http://shrineofchristspassion.org/

     This is a big, expensive, outdoor sculpture garden in northwest Indiana, only 35 miles from downtown Chicago.  It is a 30-acre site with 40 life-size bronze statues and an active gift shop.  It took in excess of 10 million dollars to create the shrine; construction began in 2001; the first pilgrims walked the path in the spring of 2008.  In 2013, 150,000 to 200,000 persons visited the shrine, perhaps 8,000 on Good Friday alone (according to an April 2014 story in Our Sunday Visitor).

From the shrine’s website:

Experience as never before the Passion of Christ.    

Located at 10630 Wicker Avenue (U.S. 41) in St. John, Indiana, The Shrine of the Christ’s Passion is a multi-media interactive, half-mile winding Prayer Trail that depicts the last days of Jesus Christ’s life. Forty life-size bronze sculptures in a tranquil setting, complete with beautiful music and amazingly sculptured gardens allow visitors to experience the story of the crucifixion and resurrection as never before! Chicago broadcaster Bill Kurtis narrates the audio recordings that you hear at listening stations along the path.

Construction on the interactive winding pathway began in 2001 and included 3,000 yards of concrete, approximately 80 semi loads of boulders and more than 1,000 trees and bushes. Created by Texas artist Mickey Wells, 40 life-size bronze sculptures, weighing 300 to 700 pounds, vividly tell the story of the last days of Christ.

The Shrine is operated by a non-denominational, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) private foundation. The proceeds from The Gift Shoppe and donations help to maintain the grounds.

Destination Churches and Shrines around the world, e.g.: Guadalupe, Mexico; Lourdes, France; Fatima, Portugal; Medjugorge, Bosnia and Herzegovina; St. Peter’s, Rome, Italy; St. Patrick, New York City, USA.

     Even in Jesus' day crowds flocked to religious destinations: to Jerusalem, to the desert to see and hear John the Baptist, to meadows and mountain-side and lake-side to see and hear Jesus himself.  The human quest to experience some aspect of the Divine has never been limited to formal churches or religious structures of any sort, or to just one or two days of the week.  One contemporary example: the eruption of pilgrims flowing to Medjugorge after the story spread of appearances there by the Blessed Virgin Mary beginning in 1981.

     This human phenomenon undergirds The Jesus Gallery, but on a much smaller scale and as a truly local, neighborhood based, endeavor.  And as an infinitely repeatable endeavor.  The Gospels belong to everyone, and we who say we are followers of Jesus Christ should be ever more creative in sharing them with more and more of our brothers and sisters at a time and place that makes it easy for them.

Conclusion

     There is no better way to affirm the dignity of another human being than to share with him/her the person of Jesus.  There are many wonderful direct charity efforts in St. Joseph County, Indiana, and in most communities in the United States, yet race relations are still a local and national quandary, the troubles of our consumer culture are revealed by increasing drug abuse, and violence seems omni-present.  Too many of us humans do not see ourselves or others as “made in the image and likeness of God.”  Jesus is the answer, as he has always been, to such dilemmas.  And The Jesus Gallery is hopefully just one more small way to make Jesus more visible in the world at large.  He is too often relegated to churches and Sundays, but he came for all persons, every day of the week, wherever they happen to be.

     The volume of visitors to the types of places discussed above points to a real thirst to experience Jesus outside formal church-service settings.  But these places are dependent on either large financial investments and/or the mystique surrounding an extraordinary event associated with the location.  Their popularity developed over decades or even centuries.  The Jesus Gallery is low investment, low overhead, repeatable anywhere, and quick to put into operation given sufficient volunteers.  But the goals are much the same: giving people another chance to encounter the person of Jesus.  HE IS PRESENT IN THE WORD!  So let's make the Word more present to the people.