The Big Three: Eucharist, Part I

The Eucharist is the real presence of You, Jesus, here and now, today, the same as when You first revealed that I must eat Your flesh and drink Your blood to attain life everlasting: This saying is hard; who can accept it? [1][Jn 6:60] But You are and were serious about Your body and Your blood. In John 6, the “Bread of Life” discourse, You gradually bring the crowds and us around from the previous day’s multiplication of the loaves and fishes to the necessity of eating of Your body and drinking of Your blood.

  • You start out by calling the crowd’s and my bluff: you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves and were filled. Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. [Jn 6:26-27].
  • The crowd and we say Moses gave us manna, bread from heaven to eat, so beat that! You said to them, “…It was not Moses who gave bread from heaven; my Father gives [in the present] you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”[Jn 6:31-33] These were topics You covered before…In Chapter 3, You identified yourself as the one who came down from heaven. [3:13]…In Chapter 5, You confronted the crowds in Jerusalem: You search the scriptures, because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life. [5:39-40; see also 5:21] Later in John, You will identify Yourself as the Way, the Truth and the Life. [14:6] Therefore, this bread of God is You who (a) came down from heaven and (b) gives life to the world.
  • The crowds, wanting this life through this bread of God say: “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. [6:34-35] Here You identify Yourself explicitly with this Bread of Life which is the Bread of God. Thank You, Holy Spirit, for pointing out the difference between satisfying hunger, coming to or seeking Jesus, the giver, the sustainer of life, and satisfying that thirst, believing in Jesus, that quest for knowledge and understanding.
  • Now You try to get me to see, for although I have seen, I do not believe [6:36] what you explain next: I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it [on] the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day.” [6:36-40] Since You begin and end with “seeing” and “believing,” they must form the key to this passage. And Your point?…You came not to do Your will but the Father’s will and He wills that You should save and raise up all whom He gives You, all who see You and believe in You. This poses a problem: those in the crowd there could see You, just like Thomas, when he plays the Missouri cynic, could seen and touch you and believe…but how are we going to be the ..those who have not seen and have believed. [Jn 20:29] Sure, I have these witnesses, John, the other Evangelists, the Apostles, the martyrs, even the people of God then and now who tell me this is true, who believe themselves and encourage me to join them and believe.

But I think that You are speaking to me today when You say: everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day. I think You are challenging me to see You now and believe in You. And I think this is not just seeing You as indwelling in the faithful, in every person I meet who must, to some degree, share Your life in order to be alive. I believe that You want me to encounter You here and now in Your true body and Your real blood, truly present, among us every day, even walking with those who eat and drink and become one in You. But more on this later.

  • You are Jesus, the son of Joseph. Do we not know…[Your] father and mother? Then how can…[You] say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?[Jn 6:42] I notice the irony here. Yesterday, following the multiplication, we were ready to come and carry him off to make him king,[6:15]…now today, because You state that You come down from heaven which we thought likely yesterday, thinking You the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world, [6:14] the one predicted by Moses who must have been sent by God. But now, because You claim to be sent by God, we discount all we thought then and want to bring You down to our human, our ordinary, in fact our all-too-familiar level. Yesterday, we just loved to eat Your free bread. Today, since You claim to be bread from heaven, bread that give life, bread better than manna, far better than the loaves we ate yesterday, that’s going too far!
  • You call our bluff…since we won’t confront You face to face with these questions, these disparaging remarks, since we are still grumbling just like we did in the desert, You chastise us: “Stop murmuring among yourselves.”[6:43] You want to talk, let’s talk; you want to argue, let’s argue; you want to debate, let’s debate…but let’s get it out here in the open for everyone to hear!”
  • Then You say: “Let Me be very clear: No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. [6:44] If you want the bread of life, that’s me. Moses did not give you manna, My Father did. And My Father gives you Me; you can’t come to me, you can’t have this bread of life that I am, unless you believe the Father sent Me and flesh and blood…[will] not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. [Mt 16:17] And if He does reveal this to you, if you do believe Him, if You do believe Me, then I will raise you up on the last day.”
  • “Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.[6:45] You have not seen the Father, but if you listen to what He told you through the Torah and the prophets, if you learn from His words, you will come to know Me, for they testify that I come from the Father and have seen the Father.”
  • “Now you believe that God has spoken to our forefathers, that the Torah comes from God. For this reason, It is written in the prophets: ‘They shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.”[6:46]
  • “This is important, let me be very clear, whoever believes has eternal life. [6:47] Believe the Father, believe his words in Scripture, believe in Me, and you will have eternal life.”
  • To repeat what I have said: I am the bread of life.[6:48] You must believe this if you are to truly believe in Me as I truly am, as the Father sent Me, as you need Me. Only then will you have eternal life.”
  • “You do remember that, though Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, they died. But this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die.” [6:49-50]
  • “But let me be very clear, you have to eat it; you have a choice but you have to eat it if you do not want to die. As I said, I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” [6:48-51] Up to this point, this bread that came down, this bread that gives life, has been out there, a loaf, a baked good, a thing that both You and I are discussing…now You have the chutzpah to say that the bread that I will give is my flesh…whoa! We’re in a whole new realm. We’ve got a major problem. We just went from theory to reality, from wheat, barley and rye to the flesh of a man, a human being,…and not just any human being, You…that’s a gigantic leap…You’re really testing the limits of our credibility. Not only that, but you tied it into this “life” thing, not just my life, not just the life of this crowd, but for the life of the world. You just upped the stakes from our intimate reality to a cosmic perspective. You’re talking a major paradigmatic shift. Maybe I misunderstood You…maybe you mean this wheat loaf is “like” your flesh, because You are, after all, God, and in taking on Your body, You took on Your own creation, but God is not limited to Your body, God keeps all creation in existence. Maybe, in that way, in a sense, all creation is Your “flesh?” Does that explain it?
  • The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?” I gotta admit, this crazy metaphor is scaring a lot of people, including me. I mean, the revulsion of cannibalism just makes me gag. Maybe you want to consider dropping it or at least backing off from it a bit, maybe explaining its one of your parables or, as I mentioned before, the bread is “like” your flesh, that You want us to pretend its Your flesh in order that we appreciate just how much You want us to have life…kinda like the flesh is Your way of saying Your “blood, sweat and tears.”
  • …You won’t back down; You make Yourself even more explicit: “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” [6:53] Now is that compromise? Is that an explanation? Does that admit You were kidding with us? Does that admit this whole bit is a metaphor? No! Exactly the opposite. First, you introduce your statement with the “Amen, Amen, I say to you” bit, kinda like saying “This is it, this is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me, God.” But You are God, so when You say, “I say to you,” in essence, You are saying: “This is God speaking here, listen up!” So You give us no wiggle room, You pull a Nixon and stand there and say: “I want to make one thing perfectly clear.” Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how I look at it, You are not like Nixon; what You say is Truth, You cannot say anything but Truth. But putting that aside, not only do you not back down from Your previous statement, You raise the stakes exponentially: either I eat Your flesh and drink Your blood or I do not have life in me. Now that’s silly; I have life in me right now and I haven’t eaten Your flesh or drunk Your blood.
  • Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. You are not talking just this temporal life, this cozy life, this physical life that I am living right here and now. You are talking eternal life, everlasting life, life that doesn’t end when I die…in fact, You go on to say that You will raise me up on the last day. That “last day” sounds rather ominous…I mean, won’t we have another sunrise, won’t things go on just as they have done for all these billions of years. You mean there is a terminal, a final day? The great implosion? All gone? No more time? Yep, but then You counter that with “eternal” life and “raising me up.” You know that I may, most likely shall, have died by that time. What happens then? It seems nothing, or at least not good things, if I don’t eat Your flesh and drink Your blood. This is a major either/or, a line in the sand, a demarcation to end all demarcations! What a choice, cannibalism or eternal death! I mean, even the word we blithely translate as “eats” is actually “not the classical Greek verb used of human eating, but that of animal eating: ‘munch,’ ‘gnaw.’”[2]
  • For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.[6:55] You are just not going to let go of this; like a bull terrier, you’re going to just keep shaking this in front of me, whether I like it or not, until I get it. Well, it raises two questions:
    • (a) Why did You not wait to say all this after the Last Supper? There, when You blessed and broke the bread, and gave it to us saying: “This is my body that is for you… This cup is the new covenant in my blood, [1 Cor 11:24-25], the outward appearance of the bread was not bloody flesh, nor the wine, gory blood. Transubstantiation is a miracle, even one of the great Miracles, right up there with the Incarnation and the Resurrection, but at least it put this eating Your flesh and drinking Your blood into something I can do without throwing up. So coming back to the question: Why did you say all this, seemingly months before the Last Supper?  Hold on…maybe, just maybe, that is Your point. If You announced all this after the Last Supper, people might think the bread and wine were tokens, mnemonic devices to simply remind us of You. After all, You did say: Do this in remembrance of me twice [1 Cor 11:24, 25]; so memory, reenactment is certainly part of it. But without this dialogue, without this discourse on what You really are doing, I might have been off the hook, whipping my brow and exhaling Whew! But here You lay it on the line: flesh = food, blood = drink; if I want eternal life, I eat and drink. Period, end of story.
    • (b) Then there’s the question of Truth. Can I believe what You are saying? A spin-doctor would tell you: I think Your ratings in the polls just took a major dive. Perhaps that is the point: You were not here to win popularity contests. Nor were You here to sugar-coat reality. You were here to tell it like it is, to reveal to us Himself: I am…the Truth,[Jn 14:6] unadorned, simple, in a carpenter’s visage from Nazareth [Can anything good come from Nazareth?][Jn 1:46]; For this [You were]…born and for this [You]…came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to [Your]… [Jn 18:37] Why I can’t accept the Truth, You, and the incredible reality that You are, that You reveal, that You teach,…this is my problem, not Yours. Perhaps that’s again the point: what You’re tell me, what You actually do at the Last Supper, it is incredible – “not credible, unbelievable”,…and I cannot believe it on my own. I must rely on the gift of faith. I can’t get there on my own: You’re standing there, God Incarnate, You’re talking about Your own flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father.[Mt 16:17] I must have the gift of faith from Your Father to believe in Your flesh and blood, the transformed bread and wine.
  • Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. [Jn 6:56] You do realize this is kinda spooky…I mean, first, I eat your flesh and drink your blood, seemingly playing first the zombie and then the vampire, and then, as a result of my monstrous actions, I somehow remain in You and You remain in me. How is this possible. You already said my activities would gain me eternal life. But now Your are telling me that You, who obviously must be dead when I do these things, will somehow be eternally alive and not only that, but be eternally alive in me, transform me so that I am eternally alive and somehow I will be in You. Very confusing…..But maybe so only from a human perspective and not from a Divine. First, You will overcome my revulsion by extending Your Divinity not only having taken our form, our humanity, but also further extending Your Divinity to take on the form of bread and wine. If I think about it this way, it is not such a stretch of the imagination. Any God who can become man, can also become whatever He wants to be. The ancients thought God took on animal or plant or monstrous forms; a simple form of bread and wine seems relatively bland in comparison with some of our misconceptions. Secondly, and somewhat in the same vein, if You can be God, man and bread and wine at the same time, what’s to stop You from being in me, and for that matter, enabling me, somehow, to be in You. I mean, I am not going to totally understand how this all comes about, I am not going to be able to grok how You actually make all this happen, but I can encompass in my feeble brain what my heart, my soul in faith understands, that You are God and that for God all things are possible [Mt 19:26] including You making it ok to eat Your real flesh, drink Your real blood and through this miracle, enable me to have both eternal life and to live in You and You in me…Lots to think about; lots to pray about; lots to meditate about; lots to believe…but You make it simple…as You said earlier, everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him [on] the last day. [6:40] Period

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] Note on 6:54–58 in the NABRE text. The note continues: “This may be part of John’s emphasis on the reality of the flesh and blood of Jesus (cf. Jn 6:55), but the same verb eventually became the ordinary verb in Greek meaning ‘eat.’”

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But why the Catholic Church?

Because all the other Churches and religions to which I have been exposed, and there are many, while each has aspects of Christ’s Church and faith and holiness, each doesn’t have the whole package. In some, those aspects may be more appealing than the same in the Catholic Church, particularly if compared with a particular Catholic parish, e.g. the singing may be better [not only with choirs but everybody participates], the preaching more connectable [more down to earth, less dogmatic, even more understandable from an American instead of a foreigner], the pastor more charismatic [less an administrator and more a chum], even the congregation more welcoming [hospitality being a quality that is sorely lacking in many, particularly larger, parishes.] And that’s just the superficial items. How about the more democratic organization, the fewer and less constrictive “doctrines,” the more conventional stands on social and political issues, more open to personal thinking, interpretations, decisions…to tailoring beliefs to my individual needs and world view.

These aspects and their comparisons to the Catholic Church are real. The Catholic Church has many, many failings and foibles, particularly when viewed at the parish level. Nor does the hierarchical level come off well these days: sex and financial scandals, squabbling and factions. Ain’t easy to judge a Divine Church in terms of its human members.

To me, the difference is in the big one that divides Christianity from all other religions, You, Jesus, and in the big three that divides the Catholic Church from all other Christian Churches, Your Real Presence, Your Forgiveness and retention of sin, and Your Church, with Your Magisterium, Pope and bishops. While the Holy Spirit and I will explore each of these separately if that is His will in future meditations, I need to let You guide me to Yourself, Jesus, first.

All of us search for ultimate answers and many of us find it in the realm of the Spiritual. And this search unites us and takes on a collective form in a shared religion.[1] God hard-wired me this way and then, in Your providence, revealed Your True Self over time, making a covenant with a family, a tribe, a nation, and the world through the Jews. That revelation increased in magnitude and depth until finally, knowing You had created us in His image and likeness, You finally appear in human history in that image and likeness in Jesus, the Divine Image, the Divine Expression, the Divine Word.[2] Only in You, Jesus, do I see revealed the Truth, God, whom You showed us to be our Father, and the Spirit of their Love which You share. No other religion except Christianity can point to incarnational revelation, where You, God, actually became human and dwelt among us as a man. Since I can know through a myriad of witnesses that You walked, spoke, ate, drank, slept, and lived among us, then it is on that basis that I believe, I have faith, that You are the God-Man and what You told us in Your life and words are God’s life and words.

[1] “Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going? From ancient times down to the present, there is found among various peoples a certain perception of that hidden power which hovers over the course of things and over the events of human history; at times some indeed have come to the recognition of a Supreme Being, or even of a Father. This perception and recognition penetrates their lives with a profound religious sense. Religions, however, that are bound up with an advanced culture have struggled to answer the same questions by means of more refined concepts and a more developed language.” Vatican II, Declaration On The Relation Of The Church To Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, Nos. 1-2.

[2] It pleased God to call men to share His life, not just singly, apart from any mutual bond, but rather to mold them into a people in which His sons, once scattered abroad might be gathered together (cf. John 11:52). This universal design of God for the salvation of the human race is carried out not only, as it were, secretly in the soul of a man, or by the attempts (even religious ones by which in diverse ways it seeks after God) if perchance it may contact Him or find Him, though He be not far from anyone of us (cf. Acts 17:27). For these attempts need to be enlightened and healed; even though, through the kindly workings of Divine Providence, they may sometimes serve as leading strings toward God, or as a preparation for the Gospel.(2) Now God, in order to establish peace or the communion of sinful human beings with Himself, as well as to fashion them into a fraternal community, did ordain to intervene in human history in a way both new and finally sending His Son, clothed in our flesh, in order that through Him He might snatch men from the power of darkness and Satan (cf. Col. 1:13; Acts 10:38) and reconcile the world to Himself in Him (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19).Vatican II, On The Mission Activity Of The Church, Ad Gentes, Nos. 2-3.

So why a Church?

So why the Church? This is actually a whole plethora of questions rolled into one. I’ll ask the Spirit to help me look at two: Why any Church? And why the Catholic Church?

Why any Church? First, I am not talking bricks and mortar. I am talking a faith community, it is the “we” in the “Our”; God is “Our” Father, not just my Father.

There is a difference between belief and faith. I recite in the creeds, “I believe”. What I believe is important, is gleaned from a faith community, perhaps many faith communities, plus my own reflections and thoughts, an amalgam of what I believe. But there is a transition from belief to faith. It’s the transition from “I believe” to “I believe,” the personalization, the identification, the commitment to, the living in accordance with the what, the belief. For the simple reason, faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. [1] [Heb 11:1] “Realization” is the making real to me; “evidence” is sometimes translated “conviction,” but either ultimately stem from videre, “to see,” not just to stand under [understand] and view, but to grok with the eyes of the heart, to peer into the essence of the reality and behold the face of God. Indeed, this is often my problem, I may believe, I may be able to mouth the words, but I haven’t made them my own, I haven’t covenanted with them, I haven’t recognized the God Life in them, I haven’t loved them, I haven’t lived them.

So why a Church? Because such lived belief, such faith, is in Jesus; from the incarnational point of view, it is not sought out there in the heavens or in the recesses of my mind, it is found in community, communion with the Jesus, with His Spirit, and through them with the Father. And not even Them out there, but in these, us least of His brothers and sisters, us whom Paul persecuted, us who gather by twos and threes and welcome Them in our midst. Because God has revealed to us that He is so intimately bound to each and every person through His Son and Spirit, I cannot hope to find Them in the Trinity’s infinite diversity and wisdom, mercy and love if I try to find Them in my sinful self alone. I need to find, to see, to experience Them in Their myriad and every fascinating manifestations in each person I meet and in each community I share. “Religion’s main and final goal is to reconnect us (re-ligio) to the Whole, to ourselves, and to one another—and thus heal us.” [R. Rohr]

Not that I do this well. I sometimes prefer to hole up in my own cubby of a world and pretend that the rest don’t exist, or at least don’t matter. It’s called self-idolization. I’m god and I believe in me and I’m in charge and everything and everybody else either better take note and fly right or get out of the way. Of course, such hubris has, as the Greeks observed, its inevitable fall, its crumbling tumble into reality. And for this I need the faith community more than ever, to bear with me when I build my Babels, to pick up the pieces and put my Humpty back together with mercy, love and forgiveness, and to welcome back the battered and scarred sheep with loving and open arms to again form our community of faith and trust in our loving God. Please forgive me, Lord, Jesus, Spirit, Father, and my sisters and brothers, I blew it again, but I’m back to try once more with Your help.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

God or Church

It was pointed out to me that I put the Church and what it says before everything. Upon reflection, I don’t think that’s quite accurate. I put God first. If the Catholic Church were to collapse and disappear tomorrow, I would still put God first. When I am faced with the fact of He who simply is, I can’t get around, past, over or under Him/Her. When people say I can’t prove God, I reply that they can’t disprove Him and that the arguments for His being Him are more convincing than those against. God places these before me and says: “Choose. Choose to Be, to live; choose truth.” God is and God has shown me who He is in Scripture and primarily in the person of Jesus Christ, though sometimes that’s a bit hazy and Jesus has to remind me have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me…? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. [Jn 14:9] [1]

From Scripture I learned that He has been incredibly, literally, loving and merciful to me, considering how I treated Him. He is the indulgent owner who keeps sending servant after servant to collect his rent from me, my obedience and worship in thanksgiving for all He has given me and my sacrifices for all the evil I have imposed on His creation; substitute “me” or “we” for “they” and Jesus has it right: one they beat, another they killed, and a third they stoned. Again he sent other servants, more numerous than the first ones, but they treated them in the same way. Finally, he sent his son to them, thinking, ‘They will respect my son.’They seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. [Mt 21:35-37, 39]

I always am amazed that Jesus does not judge the tenants immediately but instead asks the chief priests and the elders [Mt 21:23], What will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants when he comes?[Mt 21:40] Just as Nathan condemned David by his answer [2 Sam 12:7], Jesus pronounces the exact same punishment on the priests and elder as they pronounced on the tenants: The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.[Mt 21:43]

But notice that the way this happens in God’s providence is that His Son is actually crucified by us tenants while we were still sinners [Rom 5:8], turns the tables on us and saves us by that very action and then, to top it off, raises Jesus from the dead and us with Him. Yes, I am forgiven for Jesus knows I knew not what I did. [Lk 23:34]

That’s the God I follow, the God who forgives, who comforts, who inspires, who directs, whose footprints, when we walk, are only those of Him, the Good Shepherd, when I have wandered and need to be carried back home.

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

The “river of life” (Revelation 22:1-2)

Holy Spirit, besides being described as “the wind [which] blows where it wills [Jn 3:8],[1] You are also described as “flowing water” and as “a spring inside you”. (John 4:10-14) Life seems to flow that way, from one thing and another, all seemingly jumbled together, without rhyme or reason, texting to toileting to eating to driving to meeting to playing sports, without a seeming link, a common thread, except that I am involved in each. I neglect to notice that You are involved in each also.

Your Will is like that wind, that river, which encompasses all my actions, all my thoughts, all of me, all of everybody and everything in its flow. It is an intelligent, kind, loving river that knows exactly where it is going. I may want to resist, go my way, get caught in an eddy of addiction here, a backwater of sin there, but You have taken that into account. You move me on in spite of myself. Chaucer said “Time and tide wait for no man.” Time ticks down to the moment of my death and the tide of events, individual and international, moves on, foreseen and guided by Your unfathomably loving hand. Providence moves inexorably on toward the Parousia, carrying all along in its wake.

I cannot see how disasters, death and destruction fit into Your Love, but I believe and trust that they do, because I believe and trust in You. I am told[2] that if I am able to hold a certain degree of uncertainty, ambiguity, and tension, like not knowing where bad things fit into love, paradoxically, this will lead to a much more calm and content way of “being in control”! That control is resting in trust and faith.

Help me today to rest in that trust and faith. Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] by Richard Rohr, OFM, Daily Mediations, modified.

Walking on the Water: Pope Francis and the Church

“How are we doing?” The answers to Ed Koch’s famous question when asked about the Catholic Church encompasses the complete spectrum of opinion from Cardinal Burke’s “Catholic Church Under Pope Francis Is ‘A Ship Without A Rudder’”[1] to Fr. Donald Cozzens foreseeing the possibility of a “Catholic Spring.”[2] What should we be doing, bewailing the radical comments and actions of a renegade or rejoicing at a new renewal of a prophet?

Three comments:

  1. “The wind blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” [Jn 3:8][3] While Pope Francis is definitely “born of the Spirit,” and blows where it wills, and you can hear the sound it makes, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes, Jesus guaranteed that the Spirit would lead the Church in truth always:
  • I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you. [Jn 14:16-17]

and He will teach us everything:

  • The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you. [Jn 14:26]

and testify to the truth of Jesus.

  • When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth that proceeds from the Father, he will testify to me. [Jn 15:26]

and He will guide us in all the truth that Jesus revealed as we can bear it.

  • For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth. He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, because he will take from what is mine and declare it to you. [Jn 16: 7,12-14]

Thus, while we are a sinful community of men and women, the Church, the Body of Christ, is built on rock and guided by the Spirit. Of that, I have no doubt!

  1. Richard Rohr, OFM, has had a series of meditations recently that bear on our views of Francis and the Church:
  • Experience and Doctrine: Most of organized religion, without meaning to, has actually…[told us] almost exclusively to trust outer authority, Scripture, tradition, or various kinds of experts (what I call the “containers”)—instead of telling us the value and importance of inner experience itself (which is the actual “content” the containers were made to hold). In fact, most of us were strongly warned against ever trusting ourselves. Roman Catholics were told to trust the church hierarchy first and last, while mainline Protestants were often warned that inner experience was dangerous, unscriptural, or even unnecessary. Both were ways of discouraging actual experience of God and often created passive (and passive aggressive) people and, more sadly, a lot of people who concluded that there was no God to be experienced. We were taught to mistrust our own souls—and thus the Holy Spirit! Contrast that with Jesus’ common phrase, “Go in peace, your faith has made you whole!” He said this to people who had made no dogmatic affirmations, did not think he was “God,” did not pass any moral checklist, and often did not belong to the “correct” group! They were simply people who trustfully affirmed, with open hearts, the grace of their own hungry experience—in that moment—and that God could or would even care about it.[4]
  • Outer and Inner Authority: Paul trusts his experience of God and of Christ over his own upbringing, over the Twelve Apostles, over Peter, and over the Jewish Christians. Paul doesn’t follow the expected sources of outer authority in his life, neither his own Jewish religion nor the new Christian leaders in Jerusalem. He dares to listen to—and trust—his own inner experience, which trumps both of these establishments. It’s amazing, really, that institutional religion makes him the hero that it does, and almost half of the New Testament is attributed to him, because in many ways he’s a rebel. He’s not by any definition a “company man”—anybody’s company in fact! In terms of human biographies, he is almost in a category all his own. It is ironic that the ability to trust one’s own experience to that degree has not been affirmed by the later church, even though both Jesus and Paul did exactly that. They trusted their experience of God in spite of the dominant tradition. And the church came along and domesticated both Jesus and Paul. We were never told to trust our own experience. In fact, we were probably told not to have any experience. It was considered unnecessary! (Yet the Church still produced people like Augustine, Francis, Teresa of Ávila, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Teresa of Calcutta—who trusted their own soul experience against the tide.) Once you know something, you can’t deny that you know it. You don’t need to dismiss outer authority—its intuitions are often correct—but you’re not on bended knee before it either. The church’s fear of inner authority has not served the Gospel well and has not served history well either. I am afraid this has to do with those in charge wanting to keep you co-dependent. I don’t think Paul wants to keep you dependent upon him at all. He is the great apostle of freedom—a scary freedom that much of tradition, and most clergy, have not been comfortable with at all (Galatians 5:1-12, Romans 8:20-23).[5]
  • As long as you think you’ve got to fix everything, control everything, explain everything, and understand everything, you will never be a peaceful person. These things largely happen by endless ruminating and commentaries in the mind, which are usually negative…The common phrase “peace of mind” is a complete misnomer. When you are in your mind, you are never at peace, and when you are at peace, you are never in your mind, but in a much larger, unified field that includes body, mind, soul, and others all at once! We called it the “communion of saints.”[6]
  1. Finally, a vision[7] the Spirit shared, an interpretation of Peter walking on the water, makes sense to me.

There’s Peter, aka Francis, getting out of the safety of the boat, aka Ark of the comfortable Church, and going off in search of Jesus on the deep, blue sea of the world. As long as he has his attention on Jesus in whatever form He presents himself, be it LGBTs, the Israeli Prime Minister, the Palestinian President, a deformed child he kisses, the bickering bishops, Francis is cool. The Pope is savvy to this journey; it is one he has been on for his entire life, in Buenos Aires subways and old 100,000 mile cars. He knows that as soon as he pays more attention to the chaos swirling around him than to Jesus, he will be sucked into that maelstrom. So he keeps on walking toward Jesus with faith that Jesus will protect him, Jesus will lift him up, Jesus will guide him through the night and the storm, ever mindful that his role as “petrus,” the rock upon which the Church is built, makes him even more vulnerable to sinking into the world…or running back to the safety of the tried and true solidity of belief in dogmas, not the less defined, scarier, more challenging faith in Jesus.

Meanwhile, back in the boat, the rest of the Apostles, aka bishops, are thinking, if not shouting, “That’s a ghost. Don’t believe in false messiahs who perform signs and wonders so great as to deceive, if that were possible, even [us,] the elect. [Mt 24:24]. Get back here and lead us! You’re nuts to go chasing after ghosts!”

To carry the analogy of the sea a bit further, just as Francis has emphasized getting down with the people and knowing the smell of the sheep, Jesus was dealing with fisherman, and, for them, He uses the analogy follow me and I will make you fishers of men.[Mk 1:17; Mt 14:19]. Even the angels are to be fishermen: The kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away. Thus it will be at the end of the age. The angels will go out and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. [Mt 13:48-50]. The sea is where the action is, the people, the righteous and the wicked, the prostitute and the publican, the tax collector and the garbage collector, the corporate executive and the file clerk.

Maybe that’s why Frank is walking on the sea!

 

 

[1] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/02/cardinal-burke-pope-francis_n_6083940.html

[2] http://elephantsinthelivingroom.com/New Pope; New Hope: Our from the Underground, Fr. Donald Cozzens

[3] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[4] Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Trust Your Own Experience, Tuesday, October 28, 2014, Adapted from Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi, pp. 1-2

[5] Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Trust Your Inner Authority, Wednesday, October 29, 2014,

Adapted from Great Themes of Paul: Life as Participation, disc 1 (CD)

[6] Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Peace of Mind? Thursday, October 30, 2014; Adapted from Dancing Standing Still: Healing the World from a Place of Prayer, pp. 75-76

[7] in the sense of an allegorical interpretation of Scripture [CCC, 117.1] that was inspired in me by the Holy Spirit.

“What can we do?”

Jn 6:28 So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” [1]

Faced with the world falling apart around me, I am bewildered, frozen, totally without any idea of how to answer this question in today’s world.

You have just told the crowd who came seeking You because You fed them bread and fish: Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. [Jn 6:27a]. Their question, and my question, is “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?

There are two ways I ask this: (a) one is of the overwhelming helplessness at my inadequacy to accomplish what God lays out for me to do; and (b) the other is the “playing dumb” posture of pretending that I don’t already know what God wants of me.

The first position, the answer of which could leave me with great humility and awe and comfort that God does work out my greatest happiness even though I am not able to do so, instead usually leads me to frustration and anger at the impossible task and goal God has given, aka dumped, on me! I mean, how can I be expected to “accomplish the works of GOD,” for heaven’s sake [literally]?

The second, the answer of which could fill me with joy and relief that God has placed in my heart how I am to serve him, instead usually has me saying: “Forget that!” and wandering off the reservation, seeking to do everything “my way,” without paying any attention to what God wants nor what you, my “supposed” brothers and sisters, are due and need.

Both exhibit a supreme lack of trust and faith. Both raise the same specter of pride and control, the first from the position of inadequacy and desire for control, the second of self-reliance, self-salvation, the flaunting of “control.” Both are viewing Your creation, the universe, the world, as orbiting around my ego; in the first, I’m on the pity-pot, in the second, on a pedestal.

You have made it extremely simple and blatantly clear what You expect in the next verse: Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”[Jn 6:29] Granted, the crowd was having a bit of difficulty identifying Jesus as “the one He sent,” i.e. their Messiah, the Son of God Himself. But from the perspective of 2000 years of pondering “these things in her heart,” [Lk 2:29] the Church, following Mary’s example, has had a great deal of time to come to understand and accept You, Jesus, for what You are, the Christ, the Son of God.

Indeed, even having been put so simply, so succinctly, when I think about it, true faith, deep, abiding faith, faith to move mountains, is totally beyond me. I wish I were Thomas, uttering “My Lord and My God.” [Jn 20:28]

Instead, I am one of your disciples who am unable to drive out the mute spirit from the boy. You are truly justified, Jesus, when you berate me: O faithless generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? I throw myself with the boy’s father at Your feet: if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us, explicitly expressing the doubting “if.” You call me on it: ‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith. With the father, I cry out: I do believe, help my unbelief! [Mk 9:19-24]

What a Miserable one I am![Rom 7:24] I cannot achieve the very faith for which You chastise me for not having. I am between a rock and a hard place…a no-win situation!

You gently remind me to be humble, for human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God. [Mk 10:27; Lk 18:27; Mt 19:26]. As the NABRE note says: “Achievement of salvation is beyond human capability and depends solely on the goodness of God who offers it as a gift.”

What am I to do in the meantime? How am I to survive this total meltdown? How do I face the next father with a possessed son, aka a dying spouse, no job, ebola, undocumented, living in poverty, hooked on coke? Your solution, here and always: start with prayer and move on from there! [see Mk 9:29]

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  Lao-tzu

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.