The Eucharist is the summit of Christian life and worship.
When I was 11, I heard a priest telling me this:
“You are what you eat, and the more you partake of the Blessed Sacrament, the more you grow in God’s goodness.”
Of course I never understood it back then, but I used to get all excited because there would be fun, games and food every time the Feast of Corpus Christi drew near — my parish had her feast day on Corpus Christi because it’s called the Church of the Blessed Sacrament. The excitement I had as a kid growing up towards this feast day was merely for superficial reasons.
But if I come to think about it, for some strange reason I was always drawn to the Mass as a kid and would always sit down in front of the Blessed Sacrament in adoration whenever I had time. I don’t even remember why, but I just did. For a period of time, I did leave the Church (I wasn’t always faithful) but even when I left the Church, it was the Eucharist that drew me back.
I don’t think these are mere coincidences, and everyone’s got something that REALLY connects them with the faith. For some it’s a special devotion to Mother Mary, for some it’s a devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For me it has to be the Eucharist.
I am simply grateful.
A priest once said in his homily, and I will never forget this for the rest of my life:
“The greatest love story ever told lies in a white piece of consecrated bread.”*
God is love. And by taking on humanity, dying for us and asking us to participate in His Being by His presence in the Eucharist, it is God saying: “Be with Me; commune with Me. I would rather die than spend an eternity without you.”
This morning I listened to the always enlightening Bishop Barron talk about Frassati. First of all, Bishop Barron is a national treasure and I 10 out of 10 recommend the Word on Fire Show. Secondly, let’s take a minute to talk about our boy, Frassati.
Frassati’s life is an example of how grace and faith can grow in the most surprising places. Frassati wasn’t raised in a faith-filled home like so many of the Saints. His father was a prominent Italian politician and his mother a well-known painter. His father was agnostic, and his mother was *vaguely* Catholic. Frassati wasn’t given a spiritual upbringing but found one for himself instead.
Even from a young age and without any humanly prompting he was captivated by the Eucharist and the liturgy. He would disappear for hours at a time and visit the chapels for Eucharistic adoration causing his parents to frantically search for him. (Now where have I heard that story before? *cough cough* finding at the temple *Cough cough*)
Similar to his surprising devotion to the faith, he also had a devotion to the poor. He gave all his money and all his time to the poor. He was truly a man of the poor. He was both their caretaker and their advocate. His love of the poor was so brilliant that when he died of polio at the age of 24 his funeral was a HUGE event. It wasn’t his prominent parents’ friends who overwhelmed the event, but the poor. His funeral was a massively-attended event because of the massive amount of people he attended to and cared for while he was living.
When we hear about mountain-climbing Frassati’s “Verso L’alto” we are reminded of his acceptance of grace and his determination to climb closer to Christ. Frassati was a man of action. First, he accepted grace into his life and then boldly ACTED. May he be an example to us all. To the heights!!! Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati, pray for us.
In keeping with my recent posts about the fruits of the mysteries of the rosary in our daily lives, today I want to tackle the Luminous Mysteries and their fruits.
The first Luminous mystery is the Baptism of Our Lord in the Jordan, the fruit of which is “Openness to the Holy Spirit.” At first this seems pretty obvious; when we are baptized we are brought into the family of God, children of His by adoption, we become members of the Body of Christ, the Church. However, I think this mystery goes beyond simply meditating on our own baptism (which is a good and worthwhile thing to do). If we consider the number of times we renew out baptismal promises each week, every time we enter and exit the Church for example, we suddenly become aware of the number of opportunities we have to crack the door of our soul open just a bit more to the workings of the Holy Spirit.
Even more than just renewing our baptismal promises, think of all the times the Lord desires to shower us with His grace – “baptize us in the Holy Spirit,” as it were. Our Lady of Guadalupe once said that the fingers in the painting of her that do not have rays coming out of them signify all of the graces that are available to us that no one asks for. Perhaps if we come to love our baptism and the promises that come with it, we will develop a new openness to the Holy Spirit, thus allowing ourselves to be spiritually “baptized” in His abundant graces each day!
Indeed, opening our souls to the Holy Spirit then allows us to turn for even greater help to those in Heaven. Which, coincidentally, is the second mystery and fruit – the Wedding Feast at Cana and the fruit “To Jesus through Mary.” When we open ourselves to the workings of the Holy Spirit, we become more malleable to the ways the Lord longs to bring us to Him. For those who are cautious about getting to know Mary, opening ourselves to the Holy Spirit may be the first step in trusting her to get us to her son. After all, she didn’t receive her son until she opened herself (in every possible way, mind you!) to the Holy Spirit. Maybe she knows a thing or two about the workings of Our Lord in The Spirit and the two of them, spirit and Mother of God, can work together to bring about wonders in our soul!
Which brings us to the third mystery, The Proclamation of the Kingdom and its fruit: “Trust in God.” Only when we become a true instrument of the Lord through His Spirit can we begin to evangelize the world. Yet, evangelization only works if we place all of our trust in Him: that He is the one evangelizing, not us, that His work will be done if we remain humble. Yet we need the Holy Spirit and Our Blessed Mother to help us reach those who have yet to be reached. Who better to ask for help than the Spirit, who gave the apostles tongues to evangelize, and Mary, who brought Jesus to the world for the first time?
In the fourth mystery, we see how the act of opening ourselves to the graces of the spirit, asking Mary for guidance, and bringing the gospel to others begins to have a profound effect on us. For, just as the mystery reflects on the Transfiguration we too are transfigured into a true reflection of Christ in the world. As we grow in this holiness and radiate the Lord to others, we find that our “Desire for God and Holiness” deepens.
Finally, our spiritual life culminates in the fifth mystery: the Institution of the Eucharist and the fruit of “Eucharistic Adoration.” As the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Church, so too is it the source and summit of our life as Christians. As our desire for holiness grows in response to the workings of the Holy Spirit within us, we are necessarily drawn to the One who can make us Holy: Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. In adoring Him, we are given the Holy Spirit and a new openness to His workings in our life, and the whole circle begins again.
Indeed, the spiritual life, it seems, is not linear, but rather a series of overlapping circles that build on one another to make a beautiful pathway to holiness. As we again grow in openness to the Holy Spirit, our desire for Mary’s intercession awakens and we are transformed by our desire for holiness, which again brings us to the Eucharist.
People like to say that running in circles in pointless. Well, maybe, it’s not as pointless as it seems!
If you are a warm-blooded, sentient, and rational American who desires to love and be loved, then you have probably experienced at some point in your life a profusion of emotions in the days leading up to and on Valentine’s Day. How could you not? From the time of our youth and continuing all the way through adulthood, there is a cultural pressure to either judge how well you are loved by another or show your love for your crush/beloved/spouse by the type of chocolate, gift, dinner, or special night that can be experienced together. More to it, what if I don’t receive anything from anyone?
If we take a step back, however, and reflect upon the love of God and the love we are meant to share with others, then we must ask ourselves the important question of “Why?” Why, if I am single, must I judge my self-worth by chocolate delights and the special love of my crush? Why must a special night consist of fancy dinners and pre-written cards? Why must I show my love for that special someone on this particular day and not everyday? These are important questions that we would all do well to take to prayer and our beloved.
It is my belief that we fall prey to these pressures because it is hard for us to see any other alternative to what has been presented to us as normal and ordinary for a 21st century American. In this article, however, I would like to offer some healthy alternative mindsets and practices with which to approach Valentine’s day, whether you are single, dating, engaged, or have been married for a life-time.
1. Reflect well upon the love of God for you.
St. John Paul II, a hero to so many of us, was very passionate about teaching the world about the self-identifying love of God. I would like to share with you an excerpt from a particularly powerful and impassioned homily of his that has stayed with me for many years:
We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son.
It is in this universe-creating love that we are all called to plant ourselves. It is with this love and this love only that we can identify ourselves, i.e., draw forth our name, our personality, our worth. This is the only love present in and outside of the universe that will never falter, never fail, never change. I believe this is the fundamental reason why the famous John 3:16 quote that we see all over NFL and college football games is so incredibly piercing and powerful — “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Furthermore, it is only in this love that we should understand the various human loves that we will experience throughout our life.
2. We are all made for communion but not explicitly for marital communion. God has created us in the image and likeness of love but that does not mean that we are all called to the love shared in holy matrimony between a husband and wife. There are other instances of love that are equally important for each of our own developments into the person that God created us to be. Such loves include that which is shared within a family and between friends.
Love is not limited to marital and dating relationships. For those people who do enter into the Sacrament of Matrimony, however, that love is incredibly important and irreplaceable in their own personal vocations. Nonetheless, the love experienced in family and friendship is invaluable and ought not to be overlooked and taken for granted. Therefore, instead of feeling an intense anxiety about receiving and needing the particular love experienced in marriage or a dating relationship, appreciate and delight in the love of friends and family — for that is true love — as St. Thomas Aquinas betokens to us:
There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.
3. Take time to visit Jesus in adoration. Regardless of your state in life or relationship status, we would all do well to take time on Valentine’s Day (or any day for that matter!) to visit and commune with our Lord who is present in the Most Blessed Sacrament. It is important for us to keep in mind that discovering God’s will for our life is only one very small part of our life-story. The actual day-to-day living out of his will in love is what is most important of all. To fulfill God’s will for our lives can only come to fruition if we are spending time with him in consistent and authentic prayer. How can we hope to see Jesus in the people around us if we cannot see him where is he fully and substantially present in the Eucharist? The vocations to marriage, religious life, and holy orders, after all, are not ends in themselves but ways in which we are called to grow in love and service to one another. The only way we can grow in love and service, however, is to grow in love and service to Jesus!
Perhaps there is no better way we can spend our time on Valentine’s Day either by ourself or with our loved ones (friends included!) than by spending some quiet, quality time with Jesus in the Eucharist. Bl. Mother Teresa speaks precisely to this point:
We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.
4. Don’t spend your time trying to find the most expensive or glamorous present for the person you care about. Instead, spend your time trying to find the perfect way to demonstrate to the people around you on Valentine’s Day that you genuinely and authentically care about them. In this way you can make your Valentine’s Day more person-centered than thing-centered. This will usually take the form of action but could very well include a special gift. The emphasis, however, is not on how much you spend or the “thrill-factor” that accompanies it but the thought and intentionality you put into buying this particular gift for this particular person.
Ultimately, the greatest gift we can each give to someone we care for, whether that be a friend, family member, significant other, or spouse, is our time, care, and attention directed toward their true and lasting good. This love, which opens up and develops our own true identity, in turn has the potential to grow and blossom into even more love than can be given simply on Valentine’s Day. Gaudium et Spes #24 speaks directly to this paradoxically dynamic and multi-faceted experience:
Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, “that all may be one. . . as we are one” (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.
When we give ourselves to others, it purifies and perfects us, allowing us to give even more love than was previously thought possible. Bl. Mother Teresa, once again:
I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.
5. Don’t limit love to Valentine’s Day. We Catholics and Christians don’t need the media and economy to tell us when to express our appreciation and love for the people around us. A very helpful piece of advice I have received once and been reminded of often is to reflect upon the singularity and uniqueness of each day in light of our eventual death. This might seem a bit morbid, but in light of the hope of the resurrection, it grants great freedom. If we live each day with the belief that it might be our last, then we will not allow opportunities to show and express love for those around us to slip by. Instead, we will approach each day with the light-heartedness but seriousness that it deserves — light-heartedness because life and love triumph over evil but seriousness because we cannot re-write or re-live what we have allowed to slip into the past. In love the universe is created by God and through love we allow the universe to be re-created through us.
So, my advice is not to ignore or flee from Valentine’s day but to embrace it and purify it with your friends, beloved, or spouse. Let us reflect well upon the love of God, the love of those around us, the preeminent place Jesus ought to occupy in our lives, and how to show true love day in and day out. If and when you feel the nervous tension that will ultimately accompany Valentine’s Day, simply remember what true love is and offer the following prayer to God: “Father, may I be satisfied with your love and the love of others in my life right now. May I love others as you have loved me.” Do not fear love, but instead embrace this most powerful force and allow yourself to be authentically transformed by it. To close, I would like to leave with you a powerful message from our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, a personal hero of mine, which continues to inspire my mind, heart, and soul:
My dear young friends, I want to invite you to “dare to love”. Do not desire anything less for your life than a love that is strong and beautiful and that is capable of making the whole of your existence a joyful undertaking of giving yourselves as a gift to God and your brothers and sisters, in imitation of the One who vanquished hatred and death for ever through love (cf. Rev 5:13).
Love is the only force capable of changing the heart of the human person and of all humanity, by making fruitful the relations between men and women, between rich and poor, between cultures and civilizations. (Message for the 22nd World Youth Day: Palm Sunday, 1 April 2007)
I was in the adoration chapel and I had an urge to tweet. I was so enthralled by Fr. Robert Barron’s eloquence on the life of St. Thomas Aquinas that I couldn’t hold it in. I just, couldn’t help myself, I HAD to project this moment of celestial clarity through the closest means digital evangelization possible.
“It pleased God to save those who believe by the foolishness of our preaching.” #AquinasGotJokes
But as “tweet sent” brandished my screen, I suddenly felt all filthy. Was I supposed to tweet in the adoration chapel? Would Jesus approve?
I then took my uneasiness to the interwebs of had friends and mentors weigh in on exactly what was acceptable and what was not acceptable when it comes to using technology in the adoration chapel.
Here’s what we came up with:
I found this on one parish website:
Please do not use cell phones, pagers, electronic devices. Adult adorers are permitted to have these devices for emergency use only (e.g. if they are at adoration in the middle of the night, are a doctor or nurse on call, etc.) and only in silent/vibrate mode. Under no circumstances should children or teens have any hand held email/web devices, small computers, cell phones, pagers, electronic games/toys, or other electronic devices in the adoration chapel. (source)
Suffice to say, I think this rule goes too far. To negate the use of technology for the group that most often uses it could potentially lead to lower adoration attendance from that age group. I know I’m a techie and the majority of the spiritual books I read are on my kindle, I use the Divine Office App and I sometimes jot down some Godly notes on Evernote.
Does that distract me from the True Presence?
The truth is, I honestly don’t know. St. John Paul the Great and Blessed Archbishop Fulton Sheen used to spend hours in front of the Eucharist with pen and notebook in hand. Sheen himself said in his autobiography that there isn’t a word he wrote that didn’t see its birth under the observance of the Sacrament.
And still, the questions remain. Sure, advances in technology have made it easier for us all to access truth, but what if Truth Himself is right in front of you. Does the knowledge He wishes to impart unto you come from the reflection of your smartphone or the glass encased beam that strikes your eye from the monstrance?
The Diocese of Marquette answers:
“One of the challenges of Christian spirituality in our society today is to avoid the heresy of activism on the one hand and escapism on the other. The practice of perpetual adoration should lead the faithful to a sense of gratitude for God’s tremendous love and a response of reaching out in the spirit of love to their neighbors and the community, especially to the poor. Pastors should be attentive in their preaching and catechesis to encourage the people of the parish to ponder Jesus’ teaching in their hearts and put it into practice. Parishes may want to place prayer cards throughout the adoration chapel which remind the people to pray for the parish, the community and our brothers and sisters around the world, especially the poor and the oppressed.” (source)
When all was said and done, I came to the following conclusions:
Tweetingin an adoration is unacceptable.
Reading and writing the old fashioned way (using pen and paper) is fine, but proceed with caution.
Reading and writing using technology? Use only as a last resort. Books still exist in their natural papyrus form. Our brains have been programmed to respond to physical texts since the invention of written language. We’re still trying to figure out what to do with digital text.
Listening in silence is best spiritual investment possible as it allows for grace to enter, the heart to swell with Love Himself, and the soul to manifest said Love in deed as one leaves the presence of the Most High. (Unless you are Blessed Fulton Sheen or St. John Paul II who could simultaneously do all of this because of their heroic piety).
What about you? What are your thoughts about the use of technology in the adoration chapel?
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