Category Archives: Solemnity Reflections

Peek-a-Boo: In honor of Easter

Do we realize that Jesus played hide and seek after the Resurrection? Here He just pulled off the greatest event of forever and He’s playing peek-a-boo with His followers: in Matthew, He has his angel tell the women: “Now toddle along, and He’ll see you in Galilee…Don’t just stand there gawking, shoo…you’ll see him there.” [A literal translation (chortle) of Mt 28:7]

And then, as if Jesus can’t wait that long to see them, He pops up anyway: Then they went away quickly from the tomb, fearful yet overjoyed, and ran to announce this to his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them.[1]

The women’s response is not only touching, it is very telling: They see him, they approach, embrace his feet, and do him homage. [Mt 28:8] It’s the same with Mary Magdalene…she just says: Rabbouni [Jn 20:16] and hugs Him. Complete love, complete recognition, complete trust, complete faith.

But all the men, except John [Jn 20:8], seem much more skeptical. When two of his disciple walk with Him miles on the road, not only do they not recognize Jesus immediately as the women do, but they don’t really hear him in the intonation of his speech when he hails them, questions them, chides them and then interpreted to them what referred to him in all the scriptures which must have been quite a long monologue. They don’t even see that its him until He does something familiar.

The same with the apostles: instead of joy and exuberance, they are startled, terrified and think that they are seeing a ghost. [Lk 24:37] Jesus has to encourage them to look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have… they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed. [Lk 24:39,41] So finally he asks for something to eat, and take the fish and eats it in front of them. [Lk 24:43] So they’re finally convinced and tell Thomas “We have seen the Lord.”[Jn 20:25] Does he believe the at least ten witnesses…nope: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” [Jn 20:25] Now, Jesus is very patient and invites Thomas to do just that, in order that he might not be unbelieving, but believe. [Jn 20:27]

Even when Jesus meets them later during their fishing expedition in Galilee, they still don’t recognize him, none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” but his actions speak louder than simple visual recognition and they realized it was the Lord. [Jn 21:12]

The men don’t get it…there’s none of the complete love, complete recognition, complete trust, complete faith we see immediately in the women, but instead startled fear, terror, continued incredulity, even downright total skepticism. You would think that the guys, especially those who had been with Him from the beginning, from the witness of John the Baptist, from the fishing nets. But no childlike faith on their part. They think they’ve been around the block a few times, they know what’s real and what’s fishy. They’re cued into the flight or fight instincts. And, since they don’t “understand” this, since this appearance of a totally dead man, not only crucified, but skewered with a lance through the heart, is “not possible,” they are going to need a lot of convincing to get them to believe…so there!

Anyway, back to the women: Note how comfortable Jesus is with their oohing and ahhing. To wit, He says: “It’s ok now, it’s alright, dry your tears. I’m here. Now run along and tell the guys to go to Galilee. I’ll meet them there.” [Another literal translation (chortle)…Mt 28:9]

Would that I were more like the women and John than like the men from Missouri!

[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.”

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The valley of the shadow of death: in honor of Holy Saturday

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff comfort me. [1]

A good topic for Holy Saturday. Indeed, the world today walks through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus is dead; You are dead. You are in the tomb. You are not here. Even in our Churches, the tabernacles are open and empty. As callous as it seems to say it, we can take it if one of us dies. But we had pinned our hopes on You; we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel [Lk 24:21]. If this isn’t the “valley of the shadow of death,” I don’t know what it.

Even today, two millennia later, with knowledge of the end of the play, this is a rough day. We are left bereft. We’ve just been through the forty days of Lent, we’ve just been through Holy Thursday, we have just commemorated Good Friday, why the waiting, can’t we get on with it? Why wait a day? Couldn’t You have risen the next morning and saved us all this grief.

A number of reasons present themselves. And without real death, there can be no true resurrection. It seems that God wanted to make sure there was no doubt You were dead: You die on the cross, Your friends, followers and family see you die, the soldiers see that You are dead, but just to make sure, one of them lances Your heart, Pilate confirms that You are dead before he releases Your body, Joseph, Nicodemus and the women and John certainly see that You are dead and prepare Your body for burial, You are put in the tomb, the Chief Priests and Sanhedrin believe You are dead and seal the tomb and post a guard lest someone take Your body, and finally, You were dead three days, the criterion at that time for someone really to be dead. Thus, the preponderance of evidence point to the fact that You were truly and really dead.

Second, it is the Sabbath. And the Sabbath is a commemoration of the ending of Creation, not the beginning. All was complete. In a sense, You verified that not only was the Passover, new and old, but that your work on the new creation was complete; Your hour had come and Your task was complete and You needed to return to the Father. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. [Lk 23:46] Even God rests on the Sabbath. So, in a sense, it is a validation that You are God, both in the resting and in the providential God-timing of Your resurrection.

According to our creed, today You “descended into Hell.” The Fathers interpreted this as going to gather all the Patriarchs, prophets, followers of God, the good people from ancient times and raise them from Sheol and bring them into the Heavenly Bliss. Perhaps at the same time, perhaps all the ancient souls were together and those who had not been good saw what was going on and wanted to go also…but could not…and that is what is meant by Hell, never able to enjoy the presence of Love, of Peace, of Truth, of God. That truly would be Hell.

So, what do You wish me to learn from today? Everything You do is motivated by Your Love of me, of us, so this, too, has a hidden surprise of Love, it is an “S” for us to find and be delighted. Not just a silver lining, but a golden egg to cherish and await its revelation.

Perhaps the most difficult but important gift is patience. Patience arising from trust, from faith, from hope, from complete and utter acceptance of Your Goodness and grace at all times. All these other gifts, in a sense, predate patience, but patience is the present manifestation, the present actualization, the present incarnation, embodiment of them all, holding them, relishing them, savoring them.

Patience, not an easy gift to master. Please grant me patience, not just today, but every day of my life, for it is the gateway to obedience, to acknowledging Your will, Your preeminence in my life, Your Way. Mary, pray for me that I may have the patience You exhibited in your pregnancy, in taking on the task at hand and leaving the rest, as dire and as bleak as it might seem initially, to God.

Thank You for the gift of Holy Saturday.

[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 Eucharist? In honor of Holy Thursday

Am I any different when from attending the Eucharist or not? To be honest, it’s a good question. A fair question. Another way of asking the same thing is: does the dint of repetition so dull my appreciation of what it is that is happening that I am totally unphased by its reality and intended impact on my life? The honest answer is both probably and at least sometimes.

There are three aspects of the Eucharist which should have an effect on my life, Sunday after Sunday. They are the Community, the Word and Communion. And they should affect me, and the effect should be the way the 1st great Commandment says I should respond to God: with my whole heart, my whole soul, my whole mind, and with all my strength.

Community: I cannot celebrate the Great Thanksgiving, the Eternal Sacrifice, alone. Even priests, by canon law, are not allowed to do so, except under extreme circumstances. It is a communal celebration, a community response to our Loving God, a gathering, a coming together for a meal of the Faithful, i.e. those who Believe, those who have said Yes to Jesus, those who have endured the joys and sorrows of life and look to God to make sense of it all. I cannot know what faith is until I learn about it, until I experience it in community. Though I read all the tenets of the Church, study the Scriptures, delve into the history of the religion, ponder the lives of the saints, if I do not have viscerally experiential faith, lived faith as witnessed to and experienced in community, until I am an “Intentional Disciple,”[1] committed body, heart, mind and soul, I have nothing. Faith is the step beyond all the books, the study, the pondering. It is the Yes to the Mystery of God, not just in Church, but in everyday life. As Hebrews says: Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen. [11:1][2] Faith comes from the heart, the gut, but it encompasses the entire me; it is the bedrock of my existence, the source of all my strength, the keystone of all my actions, the touchstone of all my thoughts, the philosopher alchemist’s stone that turns the lead of ordinary life into the gold of Divine Life.

The interaction of the community, their support of my faith by their very presence, is singularly important to my maintaining my grip on God. It is not just their presence, but their own faith manifested through their words, yes, but, during the liturgy and beyond, primarily through their actions, their reverence, their piety expressed in their facial ecstasy or agony, their burdens brought before the Lord for Him to bless, to lighten, to reassure, to strengthen, to encourage, to be in silence alongside each as each picks up her or his cross and renews commitment to carry it for another week, another day, another hour. It is this acting out of faith, this living out of faith before the LORD, the offering of oneself as one’s only worthy sacrifice to be placed on the paten with Jesus, which imperceptibly causes a spiritual earthquake registered in heaven, a tectonic shift in the world toward the ever proximate eternal Kingdom of You, God. That is the first evidence of what effect the Eucharist has on me.

The Word: But, like the necessity of community at the Communal Feast, The Great Thanksgiving, the Eucharist, while I cannot gain, keep, insure and pass on my faith in isolation, neither can I hope to learn of my faith alone, or only from the actions of the community. “I believe in God,” but what then? What forms that substance of the “hoped for,” the “things not seen.” Granted they are not seen, hoped for, but they must be known, at least partially, to even be seen as worthy of hope.

Things that I was told at my mother’s knee, memorized in Religious Education, absorbed in many other ways in my life, these are reinforced, renewed, reexamined with reverence and joy each Sunday, first in the readings, the recording of God’s word and work on earth and in heaven.

I cannot keep true faith on my own, for my mind wanders where it will. I conjure up multiple interpretations of each and every verse and have no idea, no external criterion, as to whether I am right or not. As in a court of law, I cannot be both the accused and the judge, both present the evidence and then judge it impartially, particularly if the evidence in itself can be contradictory, inconclusive, uninformed, and, since I am fallible and limited in intelligence, experience, understanding, resources, time, and perspectives, often wrong. I need an exterior reliable source of the Truth, for I cannot verify anything on my own absolutely.

Part of this Truth is the revelation in the Scriptures which are read to me at the Eucharist. The Liturgy of the Word, God’s Word, God’s revelation to us of Himself, is the mental substance of my faith. But just as the Word was passed down from the Apostles, formulated in the Early Christian Community, until, some years later, it was written down, not just by one person, but by multiple persons, as in the case of the four Evangelists, and written about by many others, some of whom are included in the New Testament, e.g. Paul, Peter, John, James, the Author of Hebrews, just as this happened in the Early Christian Community, it continued through the centuries. The Apostolic Tradition was passed down from generation to generation within the Church, guarded by the deliberations of its leaders, its understanding refined and formulated into what today is called the Magisterium or Teaching of the Church. Since Jesus himself said that the Holy Spirit was the one who would guide us in the truth, teach us everything and remind us of all that he taught [Jn 14:36; 16:13] and that both Jesus, himself, and the Spirit would be with us forever [Mt 28:20; Jn 14:16], this process called Tradition reveals the Truth even today and has the guarantee of God Himself.

The homily or sermon “breaks open” the scripture for me, shows me what’s inside the readings, what they mean to me today. I like the personal stories that illustrate how this passage is manifested today, in this world. It helps me see the connection with my own life. Granted, each verse, each word is grist for the etymologists, the scholars, the exegetes, the biblical historian to place in the context of the day, of the author’s audience, of the implications on the rest of Scripture, of Tradition, of doctrine, of the entire Magisterium. But the practical implications of the verse here and now is something I can take out with me into the world and proclaim by my words, my actions, my life.

The Sacrifice and the Meal

For many, Sunday service stops here. Loving community, preaching the Word…that’s all they have. Granted, that’s a lot. God’s there in their midst [Mt 18:20], Jesus and the Holy Spirit are with them always, even to the end of the world [Mt 28:20 and Jn 14:16,26], but it’s not enough. I need more, we all need more to not just survive but to thrive as God’s sons and daughter, witnesses and molders of the Kingdom in the midst of the world.

But what if they were right…what if there were no Eucharist…no Last Supper…No Body and Blood to eat and drink? What if the reenactment of the Last Supper were just a memory, were just to be pantomimed in the present as a reminder, were just a pleasant spiritual experience but nothing more?

The spiritual and institutional implications are staggering. On the spiritual level, there would be a desert, the desert of the world, between baptism and death, and I would have to cross it without any sustenance, any spiritual food, without the manna of the New Exodus, to keep me going, to keep me growing, to heal and comfort me when I was damaged by sin, to accompany me when I picked up my cross each day and prepared to follow You, Jesus. There would be nothing worthy to offer You, Father, to extend Your sacrifice on the Cross into now, into eternity, Jesus. We would not be taken up into You and be able to offer ourselves with You, now as a worthy sacrifice to the Father in reparation for my sins. We would not have the opportunity to visit You, to experience your “Divine Radiation Therapy,” to just sit in your company when we have no where else to go[3], to know you are here now with me, not just an historical figure of 2000 years ago. We would not be able to see You as the Cosmic Christ, the sum and substance of the universe, and be part of Your entrance as King of the Universe into the presence of the Father, that entrance which extends from Your Ascension to Your Second Coming.

And Your Church on earth would have no focal point, no physical presence around whom to gather, no meal to share, no table at which to be. We might have built some churches, but for what reason…they would be empty hulls, devoid of Your presence. The community would be fragmented with only Your Word to hold them together, and as many interpretations of that Word as suited the person, the time or the place. The meal, the breaking bread together, would no longer weld us to You and to each other. Our cohesiveness would depend solely on human ties, which are easily broken, damaged, severed, rejected, and ignored. There would be no unity, no oneness as a sign of the true Church. There would be no true holiness, for even with Reconciliation to tied us over during our desert sojourn, our inherent moral weakness would soon crumble and disintegrate. Nor would we have any ‘boots-on-the-ground” Companion, Savior and Leader in each community to hold a world-wide, catholic, universal body of the faithful cohesively and continually together; we are too much control freaks to put up with that without the intervention of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Jesus to call us back to the essential obedience to the Father, obedience unto death [of self], even to death on the cross. [Phil 2:8]

Ultimately we would all perish from our sins, for Jesus made it very clear: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. [Jn 6:53] There would be no way around it; He was gone, ascended. We could not eat His flesh and drink His blood, so we would not have life in us. And although Jesus would have been raised, only whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and so, not being able to eat and drink of Jesus, He would not raise us on the last day. [Jn 6:54] So we would be faced with a Savior who came to save us from our sins, but we would not be able to access that salvation, we would not be eligible to be saved, the tantalizing goal in sight but unattainable, beyond our reach. It would be as if Jesus were not raised…the ultimate Catch-22. As Paul rightly pointed out: If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. [1 Cor 15:19]

The result: a desolate world, without hope, without a future; we would join the world in ultimate personal despair, silent screamers, unheard, unheeded, deserted by an unloving, unknown, evil God.

But the Last Supper happened. Do this in memory of Me was pronounced as part of our Great Commission and governs for all time. And we have a very, very, very, very loving and caring God who is with us here, now and will be until the end of time and forever. A God who sent his only Son to become man, to show us how to live…and die…and feeds us Himself that we may rise renewed to live forever.

To do this we must become Him, and God used the most elemental physical transformation as a vehicle for the most divine spiritual transformation: we must become what we eat and drink. Only he and she who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. [Jn 6:54] By eating His flesh in the form of host and drinking his blood in the form of wine, He enfleshes us with His flesh and pumps His blood through our sinful veins. We now have the blood of the New Covenant which is given for us and many for the forgiveness of the very sin into which He came.

But that’s not all there is; there is so much, so much more. “The Christian word for all reality is Incarnation. The Word (the theory, the theology) became ‘flesh’ because words can’t get you there, only experience can.”[4] When Jesus said: Do this in memory of me, [1Cor 11:24; Lk 22:19], poieite means “be doing!” It is the present active case, i.e. “do it now!” Being in community and hearing the Word can be very humbling, very spiritual, very sanctifying, but they are also very receptive, very passive activities. However, the clarion cry, the rallying cry, the command: “Do it now!” leaves no one behind. We all must rise up, we must participate. There is no going back!

In this eternal Sacrifice, Jesus is ready once again to be offered to the Father in obedience, in worship, in reparation. But He wants me with Him, He wants me to join Him in offering myself right along with Himself. But what do I have to offer? A few bucks in the collection basket? God certainly doesn’t need that nor does He want just that. What does God want from me? What could He who created all from nothing, is totally self-sufficient, indeed, is the provider of all that we have, not visa-versa, what could we possibly offer to Him which He does not already not only have, but created. The one thing that I have, that is totally mine, that He gave me by, through and from birth, is my self, “my way” as Tony Bennett and the world would have it. He gave me a free will, and, in order that it be free, in order that it remain free, He holds it sacrosanct and will never ever force His will upon me.[5]

It is the same thing He has always wanted. It is what He wanted Adam and Eve to freely choose to give Him and He didn’t get, what holiness consisted of throughout the ages, what Mary and Jesus offered to the Father: not my will but Yours be done. [Mk 14:36; Lk 22:42] OBEDIENCE, ob-audiere, listening to God’s will and doing it, regardless of whether He is asking me to build an ark in the middle of nowhere, to leave my homeland and travel to a foreign country, to defy the might of Pharaoh, to dig holes through the city wall, to become an unwed mother, to die the horrible, painful death of a criminal which I, of all people ever born or ever will be born, don’t deserve. OBEDIENCE, plain and simply, obedience now, obedience then, obedience forever.

For this reason, when he came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me[6]; holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight in. Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.’” [Heb 10:5,7]

Am I ready to give God the one thing he wants? The one thing that would cement our relationship of love for all eternity? The one thing that that He did not ask of me before He asked it of Himself in the person of His only Begotten Son? The one thing that will require me to die to my control-freakish existence and place all that I am, sins, warts and all, and all that I “can be,” my entire future, all that control, all those choices, all that suffering of the severing of selfishness to be born again is selflessness, to place all of me in His Love, His Hands, the same hands which spread themselves on the cross to accept the nails. Is it that lingering fear that when Jesus says Follow me, it will certainly not be a romp in the park, but a life without a place to lay my head, that future being with Him always is achieved by picking up my cross daily is, not just carrying the cross but being stripped, being laid on it, being nailed to it, and hanging there with Jesus from 9 am to 3 pm[7] each day, every day, again and again, until I die?

Yes, but this is the Way, the Truth and the Life. If I want to be with Him, I buy into the whole ball of wax, the whole magillah.[8] What Jesus is asking me at each Eucharist is, literally, self-sacrifice, i.e. the sacre-facere, the making sacred or holy, of my very self, by offering me in unity with Him to the Father, in worship, in reparation, in love.[9]

But not only does Jesus invite us to join with Him in offering ourselves to the Father. He then turns around and becomes our sustenance, our life-giving food. 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. 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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. [Jn 6:51, 53-54]

As discussed above, Jesus is very clear. The Jews are trying to force him to recant, to take back these words, to mollify, to soften the bluntness, the starkness of these words by modifying them, by saying: “Well, I really didn’t mean actual flesh and blood, only their spiritual equivalents.” The problem with that is that, in a sense, if He would have said that, He would have denied His very Incarnation, His becoming flesh and blood. We can’t have it both ways. Either we don’t believe He is the Son of God, or, if He is, then what He says is Truth itself and, if we want to be part of the action, part of Him, part of His life eternal, we have to accept what He says on face value.

Now Jesus does not reveal how they are to eat His flesh and drink His blood until the Last Supper and then only to those present, not to those who heard his words in the Temple. Only later does the world know that the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of the Bread, [Lk 24:35; Acts 2:42[10]] is the vehicle, the means by which we eat His flesh and drink His blood. Yet, later on, it is the Lord himself who reveals this fundamental, critical revelation to Paul: For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you [1 Cor 11:23], the most ancient version of the words of consecration, predating the evangelist’s written versions.[11]

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. [1Cor 11:25-26] Not only are we to eat this bread and drink this cup, not just any bread or any cup, but we are to do it, proclaiming His death until He comes. His death is the sacrifice, His resurrection is the result. What we consume is what we become, part of the very sacrifice is what we offer, that, as Jesus sacrificed Himself for our sins, we, the sinful, join in that sacrifice. The result is that we might have eternal life.

Paul verifies this: For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him…Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as [being] dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus. [Rom 6:5-9,11]

Judge for yourselves what I am saying. The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?[1Cor 10:15b-16] Paul knows that Jesus takes this very seriously, and hammers it home: Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. [1 Cor 11:27] “If the Corinthians [and we] eat and drink unworthily, i.e., without having grasped and internalized the meaning of his death for them, they will have to answer for the body and blood, i.e., will be guilty of a sin against the Lord himself. (cf. 1 Cor 8:12)[12]

The purpose of Communion is communion, i.e. union with Jesus, with God, with each other. Now union without love can vary from tolerated to frightened to angry and frustrated: stuffed in an elevator union, thrown in with a bunch of misfits union, to a police holding pen union, or closer to home, it may be even having holiday dinner with the whole family, including the parties you don’t like union. But what if you took on Christ, took on Jesus’ eyes of the heart, took on God’s so-loving-the-world point of view…

From the wisdom of Caryll Houselander:

“Just as we cannot depend upon feelings to know that Christ is in ourselves, we cannot depend upon appearances to know that He is in others. That which is true of the Host is true of people. We cannot discern God’s presence through our senses, but faith tells us that we should treat one another with the reverence that we give to the Host. We need to bring other people faith like that which we bring to the Blessed Sacrament. It is really as easy to believe in one as in the other. We have exactly the same reason for believing in both: the word of Christ.” The Reed of God, 152.

But, you object, “He can’t be talking about communion with those types of people. They’re not like me!” And Jesus says to me: “What you did to these, the least of my brethren, you do to Me. Are you not that sinner, THE sinner for whom I suffered and died to give you a chance? Are you not like them, my loved ones, the least of my brothers and sisters? Do you really wish to do to them what you never thought you would do to me? But you crucified me, you joined the crowd and called for my crucifixion, you taunt and spit on me…every time you turned your back and left me, disobeyed me, swelled up with pride, wanted everything around you, found yourself herding pigs and wanted to eat their corn husks.”

“We should never come to a sinner [including myself] without the reverence that we would take to the Holy Sepulchre. Pilgrims have travelled on foot for years to kiss the Holy Sepulchre, which is empty. In sinners we can kneel at the tomb in which the dead Christ lies.” The Reed of God, 170-1

“And this include you. You are the sinner in whom I lie dead. I, JESUS, THE CHRIST, LOVE YOU, so much that I became a man, showed you how to live, and then I suffered and died for you. But you don’t love yourself enough to love Me.

“When I come to you in Communion, our union, I want to know you, to love you, to be with you…and with all around you who have eaten and drunk Me…and I want you to know, to love and to be with them too.”

That’s how consuming His Body and Blood is suppose to change me. Granted, it doesn’t always, make that “usually,” work that way, at least with me. But that’s not His fault. If I put up barriers, am distracted, thinking of the things I am going to do after Church, that is not His doing, His thoughts…He stands at the door and knocks. I must let him in.

When I do this, and it is often, and when I come to, when I awake from my day dreams and realize what I am doing, where I am, Who is with me, the only thing that I can do is throw myself on His mercy, rely on His Love for me, know that, in His goodness, He waits for me no matter where I am, goes and finds me and brings me back and rejoices over me. He has walked through the valley of the shadow of death for me, and protects me, even there, with his crook to bring me back to Him, and his staff to ward off all that would harm me physically and spiritually. Then Jesus and I laugh at me and say: “That’s you, Paul, all over. The dreamer, the ponderer, the sleepy-head.” And He says: “I’m glad you’re back.”

Sometimes We have so little time to be together during those moments that I just have to say: “Do Your thing. I have to get up and pray the final prayer and move on.” And He says: “I will. Go, I am with you always, even to the end of the world…and beyond.”

The priest echoes his sentiments in the final words of the Eucharist: “Go, the Mass is ended.” Some paraphrase the words: “Go, live out the Eucharist in the world.” Jesus, the Word, is received, His message was passed down to me and it is my responsibility to pass it on to others. For my response, I’ll take a cue from Mary’s response to her receiving Jesus: “Here I am, Your servant. Let it be done to me according to Your will.” “Is Mary’s ‘let it be’ just passive acceptance of her fate or is something lost in translation?…The Greek phrase ‘let it be’ denotes more than passive acceptance; it carries also the desire to fulfill God’s will. In today’s vernacular, a modern-day Mary might say ‘Bring it on!’”[13] With her, and with her help, let me always say: “Bring it on!!!”

[1] See Sherry A. Weddell, Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus (Huntington, IN, Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, 2012)

[2] 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.

[3] Once I read a story about St. Jean-Marie-Baptiste Vianney (The cure’ of Ars) a 19th century French priest who once noticed a peasant come in to the church and stay for hours in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. The Saint asked this man what do you say during all that time before Jesus in the Eucharist? The Peasant replied, “Nothing, I look at Him and He looks at me.”

[4] R. Rohr, OFM, Jesus: Human and Divine: A Map of Reality; Thursday, March 19, 2015

[5] Note that this is exact the opposite of my instinct to control, not only myself, but everything and everyone around me so that they will do my will. It is the ungodly explosion of this innate will to control that is behind all sin, all evil, all violence, all oppression, all imposed suffering in the world. And it is this innate will to control that all who obey, from Noah and Abram through Mary and Jesus through the Church and the Saints, voluntarily give up in deference to God’s will.

[6] “As usual, the author follows the Septuagint text. There is a notable difference in Heb 10:5 (Ps 40:6), where the Masoretic text reads “ears you have dug for me” (“ears open to obedience you gave me,” NAB), but most Septuagint manuscripts have “a body you prepared for me,” a reading obviously more suited to the interpretation of Hebrews.” NABRE Note for Heb 10:5-7.

[7] “Mk:15:25 It was nine o’clock in the morning: literally, “the third hour,” thus between 9 A.M. and 12 noon. Cf. Mk 15:33, 34, 42 for Mark’s chronological sequence, which may reflect liturgical or catechetical considerations rather than the precise historical sequence of events; contrast the different chronologies in the other gospels, especially Jn 19:14.” NABRE, Note for Mk 15:25.

[8] The Hebrew word for ‘scroll’ is megillah…thus, the whole Salvation saga as it was written in the Scriptures and continues to work itself out in our world today.

[9] Mt 5:23-24 speaks of wanting to offer my gift at the altar and recalling that my brother has something against me and the need to be reconciled first and then come and offer my gift. The Holy Spirit revealed to me that for me at this time, the “brother,” the person with whom I must be reconciled is my very self. If I am not truly myself, if I am but an onlooker, not willing to realize my sin and do something about it, not willing to recognize the God who dwells in me, that “He who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood abides in me, and I in him.”(Jn 6:56), if I do not recognize myself as a temple of God, am a coward unwilling to face myself and take responsibility for all of me, if I prefer to place a façade before the world, if, in essence, I am outwardly preening myself for my false humility while inwardly cowering and not recognizing and utilizing the gifts that God gave me, then I am not reconciled with myself, brought my true self in line with myself, made whole again with myself…and I cannot truly offer that one gift that God wants of me, my very self, to Him, for I do not first possess me myself.

[10] 10. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42)

[11] “[11:23–25] This is the earliest written account of the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament. The narrative emphasizes Jesus’ action of self-giving (expressed in the words over the bread and the cup) and his double command to repeat his own action.” NABRE, Note for 1 Cor 11:23–25.

 

[12] NABRE footnote on 1 Cor 11:27.

[13] Howard Craig, Daily Inspiration from JesuitPrayer.org, March 25, 2015

Time out for the Assumption

You were/are perfection. As you point out, through no effort, no wisdom, no “doing” on your part, you were born perfect, without sin, the new Eve before the fall, the baptized without baptism, the mitzvahed without mitzvah, the one chosen, the chosen one, the created one who would help create the God-Man.

Throughout your life, you prayed, you talked to the Lord, you asked His will, you asked for his help, you offered yourself in service to your God.

“Be it done unto me”…the phrase raises hackles on your American family, today’s listeners…we don’t like anything done unto us. We are the “controllers,” at least we think, we work, we manipulate, we envision, we dedicate ourselves to the idol of perfect control of us, of our environment, of our world, our universe. But there is a hierarchy of “us-es,” some us do not control, do not manipulate, not because we do not buy into the illusion that this is the ultimate nirvana, but because we are the bottom of the ladder. In fact we may have fallen off the ladder and lie in the ditch, bruised and battered euphemistically “by life,” realistically by the rest of the “us-es,” who have stolen their birthright, stolen their dignity, stolen their bread, their water, their land, their homes, in then end, their very selves.

“Be it done unto me” and you joined the untouchables, the outcasts, the social pariahs, the lepers and tax collectors of our society, an unwed mother, forgotten, forbidden, forlorn, shunned, slandered, stultified.

And yet you had the courage, the gumption, the backbone, the faith to face your rumormongers, back-biters, whisperers and cheerfully go off to help your senior-citizen cousins birth their long awaited and yearned-for baby, just on the word of an angel.

How did you know if what he told you was true? Of course, he told you that as proof of what he had said before, to prove “nothing is impossible with God.” So, while you don’t know the pregnancy by sight, by touch, by witness, by the tangible, you know it in your heart, your soul, your very being…and that is faith.

It is the same faith that brought you through the birth, the flight, the prophecy, the finding,…it got you through “Woman” at Cana and “Woman” on Calvary…it got you through the fear of insanity and the sorrow of the pieta…it got you through the reuniting and the leaving…and it brought you to today.

Were you asleep and then in heaven, was it a quiet, hushed assuming, or did Elijah send his flaming chariot stealthily through the night sky to whisk you up to meet your Son? Whichever it was, your response was the same: Be it done unto me, according to Your word.

Thank you, Mary, for giving us the model of perfect obedience, of perfect faith, of perfect hope. You could not have endured what you endured without these bearing you up on their divine wings. You would have crumbled, broken down, been unable to cope…and yet, throughout His life, which you lived every second, every moment as he did, not just as any mother does of her child, but more, much, much more, for you knew you had a stake in the outcome of this divine experiment, this “outside society” “experience” of redemption, salvation, forgiveness. You held, you lived that stake for all of us, you bet your life that He would win in the end…and when you thought you lost, you won not just the jackpot, but eternal life, raised life, changed life, your life now. Amen. Alleluia!!!

The glorious freedom of the children of God. Rom 8:21

On this birthday of the United States, when we celebrate our freedom, I was thinking about the  freedom that Paul speaks of in Romans…the glorious freedom of the children of God.[1]  What does this “glorious freedom” entail. I look around me and don’t see any significant change in my status on earth, my milieu, my weltanschauung.

That’s because I have only considered the surface, the secular, the worldly level.  On the spiritual level, a vast new creation has opened up for us with the incarnation of our God, the obliteration of our sins and the resurrection of our bodies.  These are cases of already-and-not yet.  Jesus has become man and started the evolution of man becoming incorporated, i.e. embodied, into his mystical body of divinity.  Our sins were nailed to the cross, but until we acknowledge them, realize the devastation, pain and suffering they have caused, not only to us but even to the whole of creation, repent, seek forgiveness by giving forgiveness, only then will our sins and their residual stains of corruption and death be truly gone from our lives.  And, finally, while Jesus lead the way in the resurrection and eternal life of himself, the God-Man, the final resurrection of the dead to eternal life is a known in the Father’s mind.

So our freedom of our spirits, our souls and our bodies have yet to be completely achieved, but they are works in progress.  In the meantime, for freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery. Gal 5:1  To what slavery might we be subjected?  Scripture seems to reference two. The most obvious is sin: For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. Gal 5:13 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, occasions of envy, drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Gal 5:19-21.

But Paul also ties sin to the law: What then can we say? That the law is sin? Of course not! Yet I did not know sin except through the law, and I did not know what it is to covet except that the law said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, finding an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetousness. Apart from the law sin is dead. I once lived outside the law, but when the commandment came, sin became alive; then I died, and the commandment that was for life turned out to be death for me. For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it put me to death. Rom 7: 7-11.

“The apostle defends himself against the charge of identifying the law with sin. Sin does not exist in law but in human beings, whose sinful inclinations are not overcome by the proclamation of law. Far from improving the sinner, law encourages sin to expose itself in transgressions or violations of specific commandments (see Rom 1:24; 5:20). Thus persons who do not experience the justifying grace of God, and Christians who revert to dependence on law as the criterion for their relationship with God, will recognize a rift between their reasoned desire for the goodness of the law and their actual performance that is contrary to the law. Unable to free themselves from the slavery of sin and the power of death, they can only be rescued from defeat in the conflict by the power of God’s grace working through Jesus Christ.” [NABRE Notes: Rom 7:7-25]

So it is a freedom from the Law, the 613 Mitzvot (commandments) which Paul points out are impossible to obey perfectly; it is freedom to obey God by obeying His Ten Commandments which are an expansion of the Two Great Commandments of Love of God and love of neighbor.  For the flesh has desires against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you may not do what you want.  The point being that through God’s grace working through Jesus Christ, we can be both helped to live a good life and forgiven when we are not able to perfectly do that.  Thus, if you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Gal 5:17-18  You are free to act in accord with God’s will, i.e. guided by the Spirit. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 2 Cor 3:17

Free at last, free at last, Thank the Lord, I am free at last. Be free, yet without using freedom as a pretext for evil, but as slaves of God. 1 Pet 2:16  The one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what he does. James 1:25 So speak and so act as people who will be judged by the law of freedom. James 2:12

Please God, I need help.  I keep running back to the law to see what I am suppose to do.  Grant me your grace, the guidance of You, Holy Spirit, that I may obey the Father through following the example, the words, the Way of Jesus, and thus be truly free at last, free at last, and I will thank the Lord, I am free at last!!!  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.

 

 

 

My Body, My Blood: A Corpus Christi Contemplation

Why did Jesus leave us His Body and His Blood to eat and drink?  Perhaps this was the only way to convey to us human beings the reality of and make us pay attention to our Spiritual Life as distinct from, though part of, our physical life.  As Jesus is the God-Man, one person and two natures, so, in a sense, we are one person leading life on seemingly[1] two planes, the temporal and the spiritual plane.

To show us this reality, Jesus became this reality, even more than He already was/is: All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. [Jn 1:3] Taking ordinary bread and ordinary wine, He transforms it, recreates it, changes its essence, its substance, from bread and wine into His Body and His Blood.  Temporal reality becomes eternal reality.  The ordinary becomes, literally, extra-ordinary. The created becomes divine.  The best of both worlds to feed us who are citizens, participants, creatures of both worlds, the people of God, the adopted sons and daughters of the heavenly family.

We are not trapped souls trying to flee our bodies.  Jesus made this very, very, very clear by doing exactly the opposite, taking on our humanity, becoming human.  He is the one who teaches us what it means to be human, how to live the lives we were/are destined to live, how to be ourselves.  And He left us Holy-Makers, i.e. Sacra-ments, to addresses our human needs,

  • cleansing our selves in the sign of cleansing our bodies with water,
  • feeding our selves in the sign of feeding our bodies with His flesh and blood,
  • curing our selves by the forgiveness, the real freedom from our past faults and failings,
  • providing us with a rite of passage into our lives in the world as a sign of our adult commitment in the Spirit,
  • the binding of our family units as a sign before God as well as men,
  • the calling forth of our priesthood as a sign of  His enabling us to offer worthy sacrifice to our Heavenly Father, signed by the obedience and honor we give our earthly father and mother, and
  • the curing of our spiritual ills as a sign at the time when our bodily ills remind us of our journey, our temporary residence here and our permanent residence with Him.

It is not easy for me to be “in the presence” of the Lord. I’m amazed, awe inspired, I worship Him that 2000 years ago He created this sacrifice, this presence so that today, I can be as close to Him as His apostles were at the Last Supper.

But that’s not my problem.  I know He is there, but perhaps that is the point, knowing is not feeling, knowing is not loving, knowing is not desiring, knowing is not resting. Knowing is not comfortable, not relaxed; it is “objectifying,” whether the knowledge is received through the senses or through faith.

I get antsy, I want “to do” something, anything.  It seems part of the whole Law-vs-Faith syndrome; we cannot act/adhere ourselves into heaven, we must believe ourselves into heaven. This is part of my cross, to realize, to grok in the depth of my being, that while God IS, I am becoming; while God creates, I am being created; while God is in charge, controls, orders all things, practices providence, I am not in charge, I do not control, I receive all things, I am a product of providence.

Again, both Jesus and Mary showed me the reality of my position, of my stance, of my posture, of my response to God’s call: “Be it done UNTO me according to Your word.” [Lk 1:38] “Still, not my will but yours be done.”[Lk 22:42]  One would think that having the examples of the perfect human being and the God-Man stating very clearly exactly what I have to do, that I would get it, that I could sit quietly in His presence and let it be done unto me.  That I could avail myself of this spiritual “radiation therapy,” allowing God’s grace to flow over, around and into me, healing, soothing, calming and comforting me with His constant assurance, “Fear not” [Is 41:10; Mt 14:27; Mk 6:50], you have chosen “the better part” [Lk 10:42] and it shall not be taken from you.

That I may become entirely, totally and fully ready to have You, God, remove these defects of character, these inhibiting habits, these cringing crutches.  Amen. Alleluia!!!

1] “Seemingly,” because the trick is to see them as one, united, together, fused in God. Having eyes but not seeing, ears but not hearing, mouths but not speaking is a constant refrain in Scripture [Ps 135:16; Is 6:10; Jer 5:21; Mk 8:18] We need spiritual eyes to see; tuned in ears to hear, blessed mouths to speak the sacred, the spiritual. Perhaps that why some many blind people were cured by Christ [Mk 8:22-25; Lk 18:35; Jn 9].  Perhaps that is the meaning of the enigmatic dialogue of Jesus with the Pharisees at the end of His curing the blind man in John: Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains. [Jn 9:39-41] 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 Sine Qua Non: unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood

A meditation for Corpus Christi 

The “that-without-which.” The indispensible, the absolutely required, the necessity: 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. [Jn 6:53] [1]

Let’s not beat around the bush.  When Jesus says “Take and eat; this is my body,” [Mt 26:26] this substance which looks like bread, tastes like bread, smells like bread…is no longer bread,…is no longer the proverbial duck.  It HAS BECOME Jesus’ body.

And He has instructed us to eat it.  This may initially seem repulsive, even cannibalistic, under the influence of which we may categorize it as unnecessary and optional…but that’s not what Jesus said.  And when Jesus speaks, God speaks.  And we better listen up…when God tells us to do something, we can refuse, but only with explicit and inevitably dire consequences. It is always to our benefit, to our greatest happiness, to listen and obey.

Likewise with the wine: Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. [Mt 26:28]  If we wish to be part of the New Covenant, part of the new relationship, the new bond, between God and His people, we better “drink from it,” this, His blood which He will/has shed for my sins, His obedience for my disobedience, His forgiveness for my self-serving insolence in the face of God’s goodness.

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me. [1 Cor 11:25]  Now let’s deal with the Pauline-Lucan version’s “remembrance” issue, perhaps the source of all the misconception that this was a play, a pantomime, a raising the glass to the memory of Jesus and that is that.

How one can be selective in what one believes of Jesus statements is baffling.  Either He’s Truth or He’s not.  Either He’s God or He’s not.  This smorgasbord “take what you like and leave the rest” may work in the Anonymous Programs, but when I deal with God, I am dealing with the one who created the world, who placed the laws of nature, of morality in my heart, in place for me to stumble over and discover, laws which were true when cast in Adam, are true now and will be true eternally, this is not a smorgasbord God, not a “take it or leave it” God, but a “take it because I AM and I say it’s the only real game in town” God.

Certainly there is an element of harkening back to the momentous moment in salvation history when God became present in a new way for the first time.  There is the aura of the impending passion and death woven into the very words of shedding blood.  There is the eminent recollection of the sacrifice that Jesus underwent to liberate us from the guilt burden of our sins.  There is also the priestly template of blessing, breaking, giving which has been passed down from Him to his Apostles, from them to their successors, in an unbroken line, generation to generation, through the laying on of hands and ordination.  And Jesus intended and intends to remind each of us of all of these each time He, through His priest, blesses, breaks and gives once again to us. But, unless we understand that He is really present as both Priest and Sacrifice, as present as He was with His first disciples at the Last Supper [which perhaps is a misnomer, since it became the First Supper] unless we understand the reality of the Offerer, the Victim in the form of the Host, the Food which He gave to His disciples then and which He give to us at each Eucharistic celebration throughout the centuries to today and beyond, then we will have, with excruciating [literally, “from” the “cross”] blindness, missed the whole point.

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. [Jn 6:51] Exegetes remind us that the multiple “I am” phrases in John’s Gospel harken back, indeed remind us, of the name God calls Himself, the “I am who am” He told to Moses.[2] [Ex. 3:14]

When God says something that appears to be one thing is another thing, it is. What God speaks, is…it becomes…it is created, no if, ands or buts.  And Jesus is God.  Therefore, when Jesus uses these words, He is not equivocating, but identifying Himself as God…and here as God, the living bread that came down from heaven.  Again, you eat this bread, you will live forever; the implication being that if you do not eat this bread, you do not live forever but die forever.  And, yes, this bread is His flesh for the life of the world.  How many times and how many ways does He have to repeat the same thing before we get it?

Do we think that Jesus didn’t mean what He said?  That’s certainly not the indication he gives in the Sermon on the Mount where, if anything, he increases the severity and scope of the Pentateuch’s mandates.  Indeed, He calls Himself the Truth…the Word of God…and if you can’t believe God’s Word,…well, to put it another way, are you willing to pit your knowledge and understanding of reality against that of the One who created it?  Anyone who predicts His own gruesome passion and death three times, each time more vividly than before, and then lives out the reality of His prophecy is someone whose statements should be taken as fact…don’t you think?

The choice is ours, God is a stickler in His respect for free will.  If we choose to leave, or its modern day equivalent, consider this simply a bit of play-acting to remind us of Jesus, a nice memorial service to think back on the “good times” and not get tied up with reality, a charade where we don’t really have to eat Flesh and drink Blood, we’ll just substitute grape juice and crackers…mustn’t get our hands dirty, after all…we will follow those who left before: As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. [Jn 6:66]

 In the end, Jesus says to me and to you, “Do you also want to leave?”I pray we all have the faith and the courage to answer with Peter: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. [Jn 6:67-68]

[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] For an excellent explication of the different types of  42 “I am” statements in John’s Gospel, see Fr. Felix Just, S.J.’s “I AM” Sayings in the Fourth Gospel, http://catholic-resources.org/John/Themes-IAM.htm