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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

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Saturday, 6 June 2015

CORPUS CHRISTI: ADORATION OF THE BLESSED SACRAMENT AND THE NEW EVANGELISATION II




WEAK, SICK, POOR AND TIRED: A STORY FOR LOSERS.
from Glory to God for All Things by an Orthodox priest, Father Stephen Freeman, and one of the best blogs I know. 



The American Dream is embodied in strength. Gen. George Patton famously said, “America loves to win and cannot abide a loser.” The spirituality of winning is probably the fastest growing and most attractive version of “Christianity” to be found on the American scene. Mega Churches, seating 10’s of thousands have sprung up as temples of success.
Nobody wants to be sick. The dependence it fosters, the way it changes and shapes a life are a form of powerlessness that holds no attraction. Poverty (however it is measured) is a massive struggle against forces that steal human dignity. Most homes in poverty include children and are headed by women. Their daily efforts to pay the rent, work a job (or two or three), tend to childhood needs and face another day are quiet works of heroism that fall beneath the radar of most. They are not only poor, but tired (working jobs and raising children alone is a formula for perpetual exhaustion).
So, who wants to be weak, sick, poor and tired?
I could add more categories to these. Who wants to be handicapped, physically or mentally? Who wants to be constantly overwhelmed by the noise of the world, unable to read emotions, awkwardly moving through the world, somehow unable to see your own awkwardness? Who wants to be incompetent? Who wants to fail despite good intentions and best efforts? Who wants to be told that they are simply inadequate and should shape up or ship out?
It is little wonder that the American Dream is so powerful and popular. The alternative is nothing anyone would choose.
And yet, the American Dream may be the greatest obstacle to salvation the world has ever known.
The New Testament is quite clear: we are saved through our weakness. We are not saved in spite of our weakness. Nor is our weakness healed so that we can then be saved. Our weakness is precisely the point at which, by which and through which God saves us.
And our weakness can be found in places where our brokenness most resides: weak, sick, poor, tired, handicapped, dysfunctional, awkward, incompetent, inadequate – these all describe the place where Christ intends to meet us.
The good news is that despite the popularity of the American Dream, even those who find it most successfully remain weak. Their success can make them blind to their weakness, or can be so alluring that their weakness remains unacknowledged. But the very best of the successful remain broken enough to be capable of salvation.
Why are we saved through our weakness? There are many ways to answer this question, but I will choose but only one: Weakness is the path that is most like Christ Himself.
Christ specifically describes the path as “taking up the Cross.” In the Sermon on the Mount, those singled out as blessed are “poor in spirit”; “those who mourn”; “the meek”; “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”; “the merciful”; “the pure in heart”; “the peacemakers and the persecuted.” These characteristics do not belong particularly to the strong and the successful. They are hallmarks of weakness. Psychologically, our strengths protect us from the vulnerabilities of weakness. We need no help other than in managing and hiding our weaknesses. Not so strangely, almost no one ever went into treatment for an addiction because they felt so well that they only wanted to feel better. Interventions work through failures. The only question about hitting bottom will be between a high bottom and a low bottom. But bottoms are required.
The virtues required in the process of salvation include humility and self-offering. The noble virtues of compassion, kindness and generosity are certainly valuable, but even these virtues are most commonly found among the weak. The greatest givers, in terms of proportion of income, are found among the poor. If you need a few dollars and you’re on the street. You are most likely to get it from someone whose situation is little better than your own. The rich are the most able, but only in terms of resources. Their strengths shield them from the pain of compassion.
Many weaknesses are accompanied by shame – particularly in a culture that celebrates strength and success. Things such as incompetence and failure can be particularly shameful. Shame is a feeling about “who we are,” rather than what we might have done wrong (that is what we call “guilt”). The weaknesses that inherently produce failure are often experienced as shame. Psychologists say that the pain of shame is “unbearable.” We try to cover it. We lie, we cheat, or we find ways to tune it out. America has a name for such shameful sorts of characters: “Loser.” It is a epithet spoken and heard with sneering disdain.
It is both tragic and unsurprising that such shame looks for a winning identity. Sports teams provide a modern surrogate for success. I might personally be a loser, but my team is a national champion. I wear their logo and cheer them on. It is a mild and passing form of salvation.
Salvation comes to us at the point of weakness. To become whole we must become broken. Only in self-emptying can we be filled. The teaching of Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex states this most clearly:
…the way of shame is the way of the Lord, and when we put ourselves in the way of the Lord, we immediately beget Him as our companion. It was through the Cross of shame that He saved us; so, when we bear a little shame for His sake, in order to repent and come to confession, He considers it as a thanksgiving to Him, and in return He gives us the comfort of the “Comforter”.
The tender mission of the Church is to preach the gospel to all, but to know especially that it will find the greatest response among the weak, the sick, the poor, the tired, the incompetent and inadequate and all those who struggle with their shame. The pastoral task of the Church is to always be the kind of place where such people may find shelter and support. The Church must clearly be a place where the bearing of shame is possible. This is the very definition of “safe.”
It explains clearly why Christ was surrounded with harlots, tax-collectors, lepers and the like. He saw in those filled with shame, kindred souls. For he voluntarily walked a path that carried Him into the heart of human shame. It was in that very place that He entered death and hell and saved us. We cannot meet Him there by any other path. If we would live with Him, we must also die with Him.
And, of course, the good news is that everybody qualifies. Losers one and all.

  

It’s easy to see that the weak need the strong, but perhaps what is more difficult is that the strong also need the weak. We need those who are small and vulnerable. We need the poor in order to discover our poverty. Living with people who are wounded, we discover our own wounds. And, perhaps, accepting the wounds of others, we learn to accept our own.  
 (Jean Vanier)


The Catholic Church, before Vatican II, had some advantages that we have lost because of the changes that have taken place, necessary as those changes were, and I believe it is one of Pope Francis' ambitions to recuperate these advantages,  as a matter of urgency  by means of the New Evangelisation, not by going back and trying to re-create things as they were by undoing the changes, but by doing something new.

In Father Stephen's post above, you get a picture of the Church as a community of losers who are being transformed into saints.   He says:
The New Testament is quite clear: we are saved through our weakness. We are not saved in spite of our weakness. Nor is our weakness healed so that we can then be saved. Our weakness is precisely the point at which, by which and through which God saves us.  And our weakness can be found in places where our brokenness most resides: weak, sick, poor, tired, handicapped, dysfunctional, awkward, incompetent, inadequate – these all describe the place where Christ intends to meet us.

Jesus Christ did not come to call the just but sinners.   He fills the hungry with good things, and the rich he sends empty away.   However, we will only hear his call if we know we are sinners, and only be filled with good things if we realise we are hungry for them and how much we need them.   Coming to know we are sinners, coming to realise our hunger when we turn to God in our need, is a process; and there are many pitfalls and reversals along the way, many layers of self-deceit to be stripped from us, much ignorance that needs informing, much pride that needs humbling and many wiles of the devil to be recognised for what they are.   As Pope Francis has said, 
“I see clearly,” the pope continues, “that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds.... And you have to start from the ground up."
"From the ground up" means  where the patient is suffering most.     If the Church is a hospital, then it must be so organised that the patients feel that their main problems are being addressed:  it must be a Church that encourages the most marginalised, the most estranged from God to approach and receive healing, starting from where they are hurting.   If our Church is Catholic, its appeal must be to all sorts of people in every human situation, with every human problem: without that, it does not live up to its name.   That is where the true integrity of Catholicism lies.

For us Catholics, Pope Francis is leading the way; but, it seems to me, that he is often misunderstood by the media because he is re-interpreted according to the media's own, quite worldly, agenda.   They understand that there is a conflict within the Church, but they believe it to be between a sectarian morality, a relic of a much different world, and those Catholics who combine with their Catholicism the hedonistic, permissiveness of the modern age.   They ignore as window dressing any statement of solidarity between Francis and Benedict, every denial that Pope Francis wants to change the teaching of the Church, and they place the Pope's remarks into their own context of the Vatican against the values of the modern, middle class West.  The reality is different: the Pope and those who are on the "modern" side want to steer a middle path between the scylla of a pre-Vatican II legalistic, rule-based moral theology, and the charybdis of modern hedonism.

The old moral theology used the term "mortal sin" for two distinct realities: it was used for moral rules of great gravity, like "murder is mortal sin", and  also as the subjective radical turning away by a Christian from his personal relationship with Christ.   Thus there was a tendency to interpret our relationship with Christ in legal terms because it was chiefly about observing or breaking rules.  Hence, it was a common experience of Catholic adolescents that we went in and out of mortal sin several times a week, while, in fact, our real relationship with Christ changed very little.   This moral theology was humanly inadequate because it had lost its connection with the prayer life of the person, with his seeking God. You can only evaluate the sinfulness of a person by seeing his sin in relation to his life of prayer.  When theology and prayer became separate activities, theology is separated from real life. 

It is often not realised that Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke agree on matters of basic Catholic moral theology.   If you ask Pope Francis if sex outside marriage, or the indissolubility of marriage or the morality of homosexual acts are wrong, you are liable to hear the same answer as Cardinal Burke would give.  However, if you ask how the Church should approach people who have sex outside marriage, who are in a second marriage or who practise homosexuality, you will get different answers; and Pope Francis' answers lie at the heart of the New Evangelisation.

Pope Francis' starting point is that no one, absolutely no one lies outside the orbit of the love of God revealed in Christ; and that the Good News is addressed to everyone, absolutely everyone; and nobody,  absolutely nobody is unable to respond, however great the legal obstacles may be, however inadequate, imperfect, weak and even self-serving their response may be - the prodigal son's motives for returning to his father were hardly ideal.   Hence, everyone, absolutely everyone who responds to Christ's message, however imperfectly at the beginning, should, in principle,  be able to find a home in Catholicism.

This distinction between questions of what is and what is not sin on the one hand, and our approach to people on the other, Pope Francis made very clear when he said famously, 

 "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?  We are brothers."  "It says they should not be marginalised because of this but that they must be integrated into society."
While these remarks are incompatible with the over-simplified rule-based theology of my youth, where you are either "in" or "out" on the basis of a single act of disobedience, without any reference to a person's underlying attitude or stage of development - life is more complicated than that - all of us have our shadow side, all of us have our shame, none of us are perfect, having a human nature that is wounded and is still only on the way to transfiguration by grace: we are brothers.   Why hold up homosexuals for contempt and ridicule?   Do not straight people have to deal with their own baggage?   Why put all the emphasis on sexual sins?

Hence, what do you do as an evangelist when you meet a homosexual person who is incapable of a normal sexual life and who does not have the spiritual development to choose a celibate life? Moreover, you discover that he and his partner are practising many marriage-like virtues and are learning to love, as married people do?  They are deeply religious and pray; and they are suffering very much but can't find an alternative to what they are doing, so they feel alienated from God.  I will always remember the opening sentence of a homosexual in confession to me:
"Mi pecado mas grande es que soy!" "My greatest sin is that I am."

What about the person who was married and, after a time, was adulterously unfaithful.  Then he or she marries in a registry office and, with a new partner, has a number of children. They are happy and love one another, and the second marriage, as they so often do, shows every sign of stability.  
However, one of them or both experience a religious conversion and want to be received into the Church.   There is no question about the validity of the first marriage, nor the success of the second.   Moreover, the other jilted partner has since founded another family and any idea of reviving the old marriage is out of the question.   As a pastor, what do I tell them?   How do I receive them?  Do I suggest that the second marriage should break up?

In these two scenarios, the people coming to the "field hospital" are in situations which, according to the objective moral order and the teaching of the Church, are against the divine intention.  For the world, it can ignore God's will, but we can't; but, at the same time, we must recognise that none of them can simply exit from their situation, the first because his homosexuality will follow him wherever he goes, and the second because there is a functioning family with dependent children - any pastor will recognise that to have two broken families instead of one would only add to everybody's misery and the children have a natural right to their parents' fidelity.   

How does the Church show God's love to the homosexual and the second family?.  After all, that is its principle job. That is why the Church is a hospital.  How can we, without negating the truth behind the rules, show that the sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath? In the Old Testament, the sabbath belongs to the natural law, having been written into the very act of creation, but it was still made for man.  And what about communion?

Is there any parallel  situation outside the sexual sphere which we can look at and which can give us some clue about the best way to interpret the situation in the above two scenarios?   I believe we meet a similar case in ecumenism.  As a Catholic, I believe that Christ only founded one Church and gave his commission to spread the Good News to the Apostles under the leadership of St Peter.   My sister belongs to an evangelical community church without a denomination.   They baptise and, if they are not simply repeating the baptism of someone who is already baptised, then they are baptising into the Catholic Church, whether they know it or not.   Their ministers are not priests, their communion service is not the Eucharist.  The structure of their church is completely man-made.   It is certainly against the intention of Christ that people should found do-it-yourself churches because he wanted his disciples to be one.   Yet there are intensely Christian people in that church: it is a vine that bears much fruit, both in prayer and in good works.  Christ is active in that church; and little wonder, because in the building up of the kingdom of God, in the time of Grace, it is Christ who has the initiative, not us.   When sheep are lost, he goes and hunts them down. He is the Lover in the Song of Songs, the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to look for the one who is lost; he is the Hound of Heaven.

 This is the kenosis of God: he pours himself out onto the Church through his Spirit, making allowance for our weakness, adapting himself to our needs, silently entering hearts that barely give him heed.   He just doesn't wait until we find the way back for ourselves, obey the right rules: he seeks us out.  We, the Church, must do the same.

THIS IS A NEW EPOCH.  NOW IS THE TIME FOR MERCY! Pope Francis 

In the old days of popular Catholicism, there was plenty of opportunity for sinners to share in the life of the Church, long before they were ready to take the decisive step that leads to holy communion.  There were scapulars and medals to use, rosaries and other devotions to say, hymns to sing, processions and pilgrimages and feastdays and shrines by the roadside, statues, holy pictures, holy water, sacramentals, sacraments, and holy Mass where only a portion of the people went to communion, so a sinner did not feel conspicuous.   There were plenty of smells and bells, which made the illiterate comfortable.  

 A sinner had no difficulty feeling at home in the Catholic Church. The Church never despised a part because  it wasn't a whole, a small move in the right direction because it didn't go all the way, an attempt because it did not end in success.   If Catholics could not pray there was always a statue to kiss or a genuflection to make. When Charles Peguy felt particularly sinful, he could walk to Chartres. There was little opportunity to feel excluded.

Vatican II concentrated on essentials: at the very centre of the Church here is the Eucharist which is both sacrifice and communion feast.  Through the Eucharist the Church becomes what it is, the body of Christ.   A living faith involves the living presence within our "hearts" (the most intimate and profound centre of our being, where the creative act of God repeatedly calls into existence our created reality) of Jesus himself whom we receive at communion.   Our Christian vocations in all their diversity are only different ways of bringing into the world by our own bodies and minds this presence of Christ: our common vocation is to be "Christ-bearers": we are the eucharistic presence of Christ to the degree that we diminish by humble awareness of and obedience to that presence as he grows in our lives, "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood, I live in him and he in me."   The Mass is at the very centre of our lives as members of the Church.

At the same time, other ways to take part in the communal life of the Church have diminished.  Even before Vatican II, attendance at devotions were diminishing.   Communal rosary, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, the May procession, Corpus Christi procession, Stations of the Cross, devotions directed at saints etc all tended to disappear, so that we were left with the Mass which requires a level of commitment which not all Catholics keep up all the time. 

The truth is, if you are aiming at a religion of the masses, you need activities that the masses can join in.  If you concentrate only on essentials which require commitment, then you will get a minority religion.  

Catholic parishes here in England tend to concentrate on essentials and have lost a good number of unsuccessful people, the weak, the sick, the poor, and the tired, people who once flocked to our churches.   Like the Church of England, Catholicism has become the church of the successful middle class.   In Pope Francis' words, we have become a church intent on holding onto the saved, rather that going out to save those who are lost.  The answer to this problem is the New Evangelism.

  The task of Catholic institutions is to present people at the margins of society with the Person of Jesus Christ.   From his time as bishop in Argentina, Pope Francis realises that a  major problem is how to present the immeasurable love of God to homosexuals, to people whose sexual life is in a mess, to people who show real heroism just providing what is necessary for their family, even when the family is, from the Church's point of view, irregular. At what point do we introduce people at the margins to the sacraments?   How do we give them the taste of God's immeasurable love while withholding the sacraments? Do we go to them with a canon law book in the hand or the New Testament?  That is one reason why the Synods we are having are on the family. The answers are not easy, but the good intentions of those taking part in the next synod are not, I hope, in doubt.


What factors are necessary for taking part in the New Evangelisation?

i)  The goal of New Evangelisation must be quite clearly stated and repeated enough that all who take part know what they are doing.

ii) Guide lines and a strategy must be worked out.   Care must be taken to respect and protect the privacy of all who are targeted.

iii)  House groups can be organised in various ways and take different forms to act as a halfway house between the street and the church.

iv) House groups are a part attempt also to provide an area of parish life in which people of different levels of commitment all feel at home.

v)  The Charismatic Renewal and the Neo-Catechumenate have considerable experience of evangelisation, and traditional parish groups, once they accept the over-all commitment to evangelisation, can also take part according to their particular charism.  In my parish of Negritos, I had, beside the ordinary house groups that met for prayer, groups of catechists, a youth group made up of altar servers, choir, young catechists who help with preparation for First Communion, a group that do regular house visiting, a group of street evangelists that set up a platform in a street and preach and sing hymns, a group that prays over the sick, a group of nurses who visit the sick in their homes, a pharmacy with a qualified pharmacist that sells medicines cheaply etc etc; but also the Legion of Mary

vi)  It is important that the different groups should meet regularly with a member of the parish clergy.

vii)  Christ is present in the believer through his Word and through his Sacrament.   These are two principle tools that Christ himself uses to unite people to himself; therefore they must be central in our evangelistic effort, and they belong together because in the Mass, he whom we hear in the Liturgy of the Word becomes present in his flesh to be our food.

viii)  In this article, I shall only say about the Eucharistic that it should be as beautiful as possible, that it should concentrate on being a ceremony in which people find their unity by approaching the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit: it is God-centred, not man-centred, and gives participants a sense of the "holy".

ix)   In the nineteen sixties, it was confidently predicted that adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, a rather late aspect of Eucharistic worship, would die out.  It is too individualistic, while the classical liturgy is communitarian.   I have argued in other blog posts that individualism and communitarianism are not opposites when they are centred on Christ; in fact, both elements are present in a balanced Christianity.   Our personal, individual one-to-one relationship with Christ is important if our meeting with him in the community is not going to be superficial; and, anyway, we meet the whole world in Christ, however individualistic we may be, because the whole world is in him through love by the power of the Holy Spirit.

x)  This explains why, in spite of predictions, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament has staged a comeback.   When a young Father de Lubac wrote that the Church had lost the majority of industrial workers because they had lost contact with the "holy", and when, much later, he blamed certain Vatican II liturgists for substituting human solidarity for the holy in the mistake of believing that the holy is out of date in a world which has "come of age", and when he and Pope Benedict blamed a general move in Europe towards secularism partly on this very fact, they elicited a response.   It has become obvious that adoration of the Blessed Sacrament presents people with the holy, all kinds of people, without any necessary qualification, Christ among the people.   It was seen in the streets of Preston:
All night vigils which begin with Mass and then people come and go with the Blessed Sacrament exposed.   No one is challenged or put on a spot by the organisers: the Blessed Sacrament is left to do its work.
Young people have developed this intoafine art.   Every month or so, the churcof St Patrick in Soho, London, hold an all-night vigil.  After Mass, some go out into the street and invite passers by to enter the church and light a candle.  Many do, some stay to pray, and there are opportunities for counselling or confession, and there is music, but people are let to themselves (and the Blessed Sacrament).


A SMALL MEDITATION 
by the Cure d'Ars

. THE CONTEMPT TO WHICH LIE EXPOSES HIMSELF.
Before instituting this sacrament of love, He knew very well to how much scorn and contempt He was exposing Himself. O my Saviour, why not remain in heaven after your return there. There, at least, the Angels will love you with a pure and perfect love: but in the Eucharist, the Jews will pierce you again with nails, wicked Christians will receive you unworthily, some without contrition, others without the wish to correct themselves, others perhaps with crime in their hearts. He knows
it: but all that does not hinder His love. “O city of Sion, exclaims the Lord, by the mouth of theprophet Isaias (xii, 6) cry out, thrill with joy, because your God dwells in the midst of you.” Jesus
Christ has chosen for Himself the humiliations and at this price has assured to us forever the happiness and benefit of His presence.
2. THE DAY ON WHICH LIE INSTITUTED THIS SACRAMENT.
What love is there like to that of Jesus Christ? He chose for the institution of the Eucharist the eve of the day on which He was to be put to death! At this moment all Jerusalem is in a fever. The
whole people are angry, and all conspire to bring about His death, and it is precisely at this moment that He prepares for them the most ineffable pledge of His love. Men weave the darkest plots against Him, and He thinks only what is the most precious gift He can give them! They think only of lifting Him on an infamous cross to die:. He thinks only of raising an altar on which to immolate Himself each day for us. They prepare to shed His Blood, and Jesus Christ wishes this same Blood to be for us the wine of immortality for the consolation and happiness of our souls.
Yes, we can truly say Jesus Christ has loved us and has exhausted the wealth of His love, sacrificing Himself in every way that His wisdom and His power could inspire. O tender and generous love of a God for vile creatures like us, how unworthy we are of it!

3. SOME CIRCUMSTANCES EVEN OF THE INSTITUTION.
He chose for instituting the Eucharist bread and wine, the food of all, both rich and poor, of strong or weak, to show us that his heavenly nourishment is for all Christians - little and great,
subjects and kings: “Come to me all you who wish to preserve the life of grace and to have strength to fight the evil spirit. Come to the feast I have prepared for you. I exclude no one.”
He consecrated the wine in a cup. We read in the Apocalypse of St. John that this apostle saw
an angel to whom the Eternal Father gave the vessel of His wrath to pour out on all the nations;but here we see quite the contrary. The Eternal Father puts in the hands of His Son the vessel of His mercy to be poured out on all the nations of the earth.
In speaking to us of His adorable Blood, He says to us as to His apostles: “Drink you all of this and you will find remission of your sins and life eternal.” O ineffable blessing! O, happy
fountainhead! The Blood of Jesus Christ will implore grace for you. When Jesus Christ worked this great miracle (of the Consecration) He lifted His eyes to
heaven, and gave thanks to His heavenly Father, showing us thus how this happy moment for us was desired by Him. Yes, my children, this divine Saviour seems then to say: My Blood is impatient to flow for you; My Body burns with desire to be wounded to cure your wounds; the thought of My
sufferings and death fill Me with joy, because through them you will find a remedy for all your ills.
O, what a love of a God for His creatures!

HOMILY FOR CORPUS CHRISTI
by Abbot Paul


Corpus Christi 2015
“When we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim your death, O Lord, until you come again.” We often proclaim these words, based on First Corinthians, at the Elevation of the Mass, when we adore the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and so recognise our Risen Lord in the Breaking of Bread. From the very beginnings of the Church in the Upper Room, where Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples, and in the Cenacle, where, together with Our Lady, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit, Christians have believed without doubting in the word spoken by the Lord and in its power to bring about what it says, just as “in the beginning” God had said, “Let there be light”, and there was light. This is the faith of the Church today. This is our faith. When at Mass Jesus says, “This is my body, which is given for you,” and “This is the cup of my blood, which is shed for you,” we know that his word is true and what he says, he does.
But it is not only in the Real Presence that Christians believe, for Jesus asks us to “do this as a memorial of me”. The Eucharist is a memorial of the whole life of Christ, from the moment of his coming from the Father by the grace of the Holy Spirit to the moment of his return to the Father and the outpouring of the same Spirit. In other words, the Mass is a commemoration and a celebration of the Incarnation and of the fruits of the Sacrifice of the Word made flesh. What is more, we anticipate and pray for his Second Coming as Judge of the living and the dead.
When we talk about the Sacrifice of the Mass, we naturally think of Christ’s Passion, Death and Crucifixion, and, of course, in the Mass, in a very powerful way, we are totally immersed in the Mystery of the Cross, in that aspect of his sacrifice, but the whole of his life is sacrificial, for in him all things are made new, all things are made holy. And so it is that, in the Mass, we celebrate the totality of the Mystery of the Incarnation, the whole Christ event: his Conception in the Virgin’s womb, his Nativity in the cave of Bethlehem and his lying in the manger, his Circumcision and first shedding of the Precious Blood for our redemption, and so on. Every moment, every aspect of the life of Jesus is sacrifice, including his Resurrection. It is Christ in his fullness whom we celebrate and whom we receive at Mass, for in the Son we receive the Father and the Holy Spirit. God, though three persons, is but One and in communion with Christ we are united to the Holy Trinity.
But there is something more. In the Gospel, we read of the feeding of the five thousand. With the poor offering of a small boy, five loaves and two fishes, one of the loveliest images in the Bible, Jesus is able to feed the multitude and there is an abundance of food left over, enough to fill twelve baskets. Like the manna in the wilderness, the food with which Jesus feeds us does not run out. He who created all that exists out of nothing can feed the hungry and nourish our souls. As with the widow’s mite, he can work miracles with the little we give, especially if it is given with a loving and generous heart. At Mass we give him bread and wine and receive in return his Body and Blood. What an extraordinary exchange of gifts! Even the tiniest crumb of Christ’s body and the smallest drop of his blood suffice for us to receive the whole Christ and with HIm the Father and the Holy Spirit. There are times when this might not be physically possible, under persecution or through grave illness or for lack of a priest to celebrate Mass. Then we can receive Christ in spiritual communion, so strong is our desire to give ourselves to him that he might give himself to us. In a mystical sense, the Real Presence is always with those who have given their hearts to Jesus and he is always with us.
In his wonderful book “The Shape of the Liturgy”, which I have quoted many times, Dom Gregory Dix said, “Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and groom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead loved one; - one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, priests have done just this to make holy the people of God.”

Today we give thanks to God for the Blessed Sacrament and for the immense privilege of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. May our thanksgiving extend to every mo
ment and aspect of our lives that we may never leave the Divine Presence but live in God now and for eternity. Amen
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