Tag Archives: Eucharist

The Eucharist

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.”

___

Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

* paraphrased from Abp. Fulton Sheen.

Remain in Me

Before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was “breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord,” and yet today we remember him as a great evangelizer and prolific New Testament writer. What happened? Nothing less than an inbreaking of divine grace.

For the powers of humanity, there are a great many situations that are beyond hope: souls that have been irrevocably corrupted, systems that are beyond repair. But for God, no one is beyond hope. No matter how hardened a person, God can break through any barriers to offer them mercy and an opportunity for transformation. He stopped Paul right in his murderous path, turned him away from Damascus and out into all the world a changed man. He channeled Paul’s zeal toward its natural, rightly ordered purpose: building up the Kingdom of God. In the same way, our own human purpose can only be understood through an encounter with the divine.

Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood remains in me and I in him (John 6:56).
Jesus has given Himself to us in the Eucharist as an opportunity for encounter with Him, that we too might be transformed by His grace. He instituted this sacrament so that we might share a radical intimacy with Him. Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati understood this deeply—he received Communion daily, meeting Jesus every morning and carrying Him throughout the rest of the day. This is the key to his sanctity: not Pier Giorgio’s own goodness, but his openness to divine grace, to deep intimacy with and vulnerability before God.

“I urge you with all the strength of my soul to approach the Eucharist Table as often as possible. Feed on this Bread of the Angels from which you will draw the strength to fight inner struggles.”
—Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati

Conversione_di_san_Paolo_September_2015-1aThe great things that Paul achieved after his conversion stemmed from this intense closeness with God and awareness of God’s perfect love. This is what opened Paul’s heart to allow God to work through him rather than imposing his own will. When the scales fell from his eyes and he saw his life with sudden clarity, he fell to his knees in humility before God. Throughout the rest of his life, as he wrote and preached and converted a great many souls, he was ever aware that it was all due to God working in him: It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me (Galatians 2:20). Paul knew all too well the cold, cruel man he would be without God, and thus he was able to recognize that any good fruits that flowed from his work were not due to his own power or talent or goodness, but from Jesus Christ working through him.


1. Domenico Morelli, Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US
2. Caravaggio, The Conversion of Saint Paul / PD-US

Originally posted at Frassati Reflections.

Pier Giorgio Frassati’s Life of Grace

By guest writer Lauren Winter.

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.

___

Originally posted on Instagram.

Lauren Winter is a mother of three and owner of the apparel brand Brick House in the City, designing inspirational clothing for Catholic women as her contribution to the New Evangelization.

Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus

By guest writer Catherine Sheehan.

The image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is one of the most common images associated with Catholicism. Numerous Catholic churches and schools are named after the Sacred Heart and many churches contain an image or statue of the Sacred Heart.

But how often do we stop to think what the devotion to the Sacred Heart is actually all about? What was Christ communicating to us when He revealed His Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in the 17th century? Why did the Church establish a feast day devoted to the Sacred Heart and does this devotion still have relevance for us today?

For human beings, the heart symbolizes the very center of our being since it is the organ that keeps us alive by pumping blood around the whole body. It also symbolizes the depths of our feelings and therefore our capacity for love. We speak of being ‘heart-broken’ when something tragic happens to us, when someone we love dies, a friend betrays us or our love is rejected. When we desire to be close to others we refer to ‘speaking from the heart’ or having a ‘heart to heart’ conversation.

All of this tells us much about why Jesus desired a devotion to His Sacred Heart. He wanted to be close to us, to reveal to us the depths of His love for us, and to call us to respond to this love by loving Him in return and extending that love to others. Indeed He gave the commandment to His followers to ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15: 12).

Since St. John told us that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), devotion to the Sacred Heart is nothing other than acknowledging and reinforcing this revelation of who God is, and asking us to enter more deeply into his love.

From 1673 to 1675, Our Lord appeared several times to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitation nun, in the French town of Paray-le-Monial. The first apparition took place on 27 December 1673, the feast of St. John the Evangelist. Interestingly, it was St. John who was called the disciple ‘whom Jesus loved’, and who rested his head near Christ’s heart at the Last Supper (John 13: 23).

Christ showed St. Margaret Mary His Sacred Heart which was crowned with flames and a cross, and encircled by a crown of thorns. She also saw that His heart was pierced. This corresponds with the fact that Christ’s side was pierced with a lance when He hung on the cross (John 19:20).

Jesus expressed to St. Margaret Mary His desire that a devotion to His Sacred Heart be established and a feast day on the Friday after the octave of Corpus Christi.

As part of this devotion, Jesus asked that people receive the Holy Eucharist on the first Friday of each month for nine consecutive months, in honor of His Sacred Heart. This is known as the First Friday devotion.

The feast day of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus was officially established in 1765 and in 1899 Pope Leo XIII consecrated the entire world to the Sacred Heart.

In his encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart, Haurietis Aquas, Pope Pius XII wrote:

… Christ Our Lord, exposing His Sacred Heart, wished in a quite extraordinary way to invite the minds of men to a contemplation of, and a devotion to, the mystery of God’s merciful love for the human race … Christ pointed to His Heart, with definite and repeated words, as the symbol by which men should be attracted to a knowledge and recognition of His love; and at the same time He established it as a sign or pledge of mercy and grace for the needs of the Church of our times.

He further wrote: “The Church gives the highest form of worship to the Heart of the divine Redeemer.”

Let us celebrate the great feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus with particular fervor, since it announces to the world the unfathomable love and mercy of Jesus Christ. His Sacred Heart burns with love for us each and every day!

The 12 promises of Christ to those who have devotion to His Most Sacred Heart, as revealed to St Margaret Mary:

(1) I will give them all the graces necessary in their state of life.
(2) I will establish peace in their homes.
(3) I will comfort them in all their afflictions.
(4) I will be their secure refuge during life, and above all, in death.
(5) I will bestow abundant blessings upon all their undertakings.
(6) Sinners will find in My Heart the source and infinite ocean of mercy.
(7) Lukewarm souls shall become fervent.
(8) Fervent souls shall quickly mount to high perfection.
(9) I will bless every place in which an image of my Heart is exposed and honored.
10) I will give to priests the gift of touching the most hardened hearts.
(11) Those who shall promote this devotion shall have their names written in My Heart.
(12) I promise you in the excessive mercy of My Heart that My all-powerful love will grant to all those who receive Holy Communion on the First Fridays in nine consecutive months the grace of final perseverance; they shall not die in my disgrace, nor without receiving their sacraments. My divine Heart shall be their safe refuge in this last moment.

___

Catherine Sheehan is an experienced writer and a journalist with The Catholic Weekly.

Music at Mass: Fewer Guitars, More Chant

By guest writer Sarah Coffey.

This is a post that’s been brewing for months but I didn’t quite have the right words to say until recently. In the past year, I’ve gone to several Masses at several different parishes (which are wonderful parishes, by the way) and the music was altogether disappointing. Loud. Overdone. Reminiscent of a Protestant revival (seriously).

For example, at one, the “worship band” extended out IN FRONT of part of the sanctuary. There were no fewer than four singers, 2 guitarists, a pianist, and a guy on a full drum set. When I walked up to receive communion at this Mass, the music was so loud, I could not even hear the Eucharistic Minister say “The Body of Christ” before I received Jesus. I left that Mass exhausted because of the constant noise, noise, noise that the Church had been subject to for the past hour.

At another Mass at a different parish, there was yet again an example of the recurring trend of having at least four singers, two guitarists (one acoustic and one electric!), a pianist, a drummer; and this one included a tambourine, too. The only way to describe every time this group started playing and singing is that it was oppressive. Call me an old lady who hates noise but the volume was so incredibly loud I couldn’t hear my husband speaking to me in a normal-level voice as he was sitting right next to me.

Even the Lamb of God was made to sound like part of a Matt Maher concert.

In both cases, the sheer number of participants in the “worship band” and most especially the high volume of the music made it so that the Eucharist was not the focus; the music became the focus. How could it not have been when it was so loud and marked by constant concert-esque flourishes? In true concert fashion, this Mass was marked by people swaying to the Alleluia with their hands in the air, and the congregation cheering – yes, cheering – the band when the recessional hymn ended.

Again, I left exhausted. And frustrated as it had been nearly impossible to pray or focus on Jesus.

Contrast this with my experience last weekend attending the priesthood ordination Mass at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis. This city is blessed with a beautiful and very large cathedral – a church in which the size of both those worship bands may have be appropriate, only in terms of size.

But instead of a Catholic jam session, we were blessed (THANK GOD) with the Cathedral choir and organist, who provided absolutely STUNNING hymns and chants in both Latin and English. Just by the music, one could tell that this ordination Mass was a special occasion – and it was, of course. Two amazing men gave their lives to Christ and His Church. It was solemn. It was quiet in some parts. The voices of the choir sounded angelic as they sang the parts of the Mass. And the focus was the Eucharist.

I left that Mass having been able to focus on the prayers, the parts of the Mass, the beauty of the rite of ordination, and my own silent prayer and reflection because the music was COMPLEMENTARY to the Mass itself. It didn’t try to insert itself as the main focus, but provided a backdrop conducive to worship, prayer, and a spirit of reverence.

Of course, this was a special occasion. A special Mass. But shouldn’t every Mass be like this?

Shouldn’t we come to every Mass prepared to create the most reverent possible atmosphere for the moment when the bread and wine is consecrated on the altar and becomes the BODY and BLOOD of Jesus Christ?

But how can we do that when the music is so loud that we can’t hear ourselves think? How can we focus on the mystery and the miracle when the music demands all our energy and attention, robbing us of the silence we need to truly appreciate the depth and beauty of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

The short answer is that we can’t. You can’t hear the Holy Spirit speaking to you in the recesses of your soul when the excessive sound of drums and guitars and tambourines are drowning out His voice.

Robert Cardinal Sarah, a great and holy man of the Church, wrote recently in his book on the topic of silence, “Sounds and emotion detach us from ourselves, whereas silence always forces man to reflect upon his own life… wonder, admiration, and silence function in tandem.”

There was absolutely a sense of wonder at Mass at the Basilica. It felt like I was experiencing a very small piece of Heaven on Earth – because that’s precisely what the Mass is.

And it’s sad when we aren’t able to have that very same wonderous atmosphere every Sunday at Mass in our parishes because the music is just too loud or too excessive.

I’m not saying we should not use any contemporary music at Mass. My wedding liturgy had several Matt Maher and Audrey Assad songs! But I’m saying the music at Mass should not try to thrust itself into the forefront of our minds; it should not distract from the real reason we are there – to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist and to let His grace work within us.

It should pave the way for our hearts to seek and find Jesus at the altar, at the foot of the Cross. And it shouldn’t distract us from hearing what He is trying to say to us.

In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Jesus becomes really and truly present on the altar. Let me reiterate: Jesus Christ, God incarnate, the Creator of the Universe, becomes present on the altar and we receive Him.

The music at Mass should serve as a backdrop for receiving Our Lord and creating an atmosphere conducive to worship; but it can never make that reality – the reality of the True Presence of Christ – more “cool” or “hip,” or more entertaining. And it doesn’t need to.

_____

Originally published at Sarah Coffey.

Sarah Coffey is a convert to Catholicism who enjoys delving into Church history and the Theology of the Body. She is blessed with a wonderful family, husband, and a cat named Stella (as in “Ave Maris Stella”, of course).

Image: PD-US

Road to Emmaus, Part 2

The following is an excerpt from the manuscript of a novel that I have been working on for a year and a half.

Neither could say just how long the stranger had been standing near them. He was tall, a little above the average, but other than that not very out of the ordinary. He wore an ordinary homespun travelling cloak over a linen robe of decent quality and excellent craftsmanship. He carried no staff or bundle. It was hard to tell how old he was, for his face was full and his limbs vigorous, even powerful. On the other hand, his eyes and forehead and the corners of his mouth were lined with wrinkles. There was a depth of wisdom and compassion in his eyes, such that Clophas was at one moment sure he was in his thirties, and at other times thought he must be at least sixty.

“Good evening, friends,” the stranger said, inclining his head and smiling at them. When he smiled his whole face crinkled up and his eyes shone with merriment as if he understood some joke that was known to him alone.

“I am sorry, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. I have only heard a little of it, but I have been very intrigued by what I heard. What is this event that you have talked about so loudly and with such feeling? And why does it make you so sad?”

“I am sure you know all about it already,” Clophas answered, feeling a little annoyed at the stranger’s familiar manner. “I see that you have come from Jerusalem, and by your accent you hail from Galilee. Are you the only visitor to the city this Passover who does not know the things that have been happening there?”

“Tell me,” the stranger answered. “What things?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” Clophas answered shortly.

The stranger seemed not to notice the old man’s annoyance, or not to care, for he asked, “Who is this Jesus of Nazareth?”

“Do you know nothing?” Miriam asked in amazement. “Not to know who Jesus is!”

“Who do you say that He is?” the stranger repeated.

“He was a prophet,” Clophas answered solemnly and impressively. “The greatest of all prophets that ever were, mighty in word and deed before God and Man. He spoke the truth fearlessly, but some folks don’t want to hear the truth, and some of those folks are powerful men. Our chief priests and elders brought shame upon Judah by turning Him over to the cursed gentiles. They tried Him, beat Him and crucified Him like a common criminal, who never in His life did any evil, but only good for all.”

The stranger listened to this statement with a strange, indecipherable expression. His eyes were sympathetic, but there was also an expectant attitude, as if he were waiting for Clophas to say more. There was the air of a schoolteacher who has listened to his student’s reply but has not yet heard the answer to his question. There was even a hint of amusement, as if his student’s incomprehension was somehow a bit comical.

“There’s more to it,” Clophas went on. “We had hoped… we, His followers, I mean… we hoped that He would be the One. You know, the Anointed One who was to restore Israel.”

The stranger arched his eyebrows ever so slightly.

“I thought He was the Messiah,” Clophas finished.

The stranger smiled and asked, “But didn’t your wife say something else? Something even stranger?”

“Well, sir, since you ask, there is more. Some women of our company, my wife among them, went to the tomb early this morning, this being the day after the Sabbath. You understand, this is the third day after He died, but they say that the tomb was empty and that there were angels standing there who told them that Jesus is not dead, but alive.”

“Is this true?” the stranger asked Miriam directly.

“It is, sir,” Miriam replied. “And some of our men went after us and saw exactly what we saw, except for the angels. The tomb open, the linens empty, and no Jesus.”

At this, the stranger’s eyes crinkled shut and his lips spread into a wide smile. He threw back his head and laughed as if he could no longer contain his mirth. “Oh foolish, foolish children of men,” he cried. “Foolish sons of Adam!” He turned back to them and beckoned them to walk with him. “Foolish men, so slow of heart to believe what the prophets said! Did you not know that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer all these things? How else was He to enter into His glory?”

“I don’t understand,” Clophas said, rather stiffly, half inclined to send this impudent fellow packing. However, for some reason he could not explain the stranger’s words filled him with excitement and he could not tell him off for his impertinence. Instead, he fell in step beside him, and Miriam followed right along with him.

“Think about it,” the stranger invited. “Go all the way back to the beginning, to Adam’s sin in the Garden. Did not the Almighty One promise then that the Messiah should come, born of the woman’s seed? Did He not warn that the serpent would strike Him upon the heel? Yet what would be the consequence of that for the serpent?”

“The Christ would crush his head.”

“So it has been! The serpent struck, and sank his fangs in the heel of the Son of Man, and got his head crushed for his pains!”

Clophas and Miriam were silent for a while, digesting this. Then the old man spoke. “Your words are strange, and you speak with authority. I am not sure I understand you, but… Tell me more! How was the head of the serpent crushed?”

As they walked the stranger spoke to them, taking them back to the very beginning, and speaking of the sin of Adam, which brought death into the world as its result, punishment and remedy. He spoke of the suffering of the innocent: from Abel whose sacrifice pleased the Lord and who was then sacrificed by the jealousy of his unworthy brother; to Zechariah son of Barachiah, the High Priest and faithful prophet who was slain in the very temple itself. He spoke of Isaac, the young man who in obedience to his father carried the wood for his own sacrifice up the mountain and would have offered up his life had not the angel of the Lord spared him and substituted for him a ram.

He spoke of the lamb of the Passover, whose blood smeared on the doorposts spared the children of Israel from the angel of death. “Not of their own worth did the death of the lambs save Israel, but only by looking forward to the death of the true Lamb of Passover, the Son of Man.”

He spoke to them of the thousands upon thousands of sheep, goats, doves and cattle killed every year in the temple, whose blood could never satisfy the demands of the Law, for they all belonged to God anyway. Lebanon itself could not have sufficed for fuel nor its flocks for a worthy holocaust for God, who created them all and maintained them in existence. He spoke of the suffering of the righteous prophets at the hands of the unrighteous and of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “By His sufferings my servant shall justify many.”

“Even the very history of Israel will speak to you of the suffering of the Christ, for when have not the Children of Israel been persecuted at the hands of the nations? Truly you have been a holocaust, that the mercy of God might be extended throughout the earth and all nations might find redemption.”

Clophas frowned. “There are not many in Israel who would want to hear you say that, sir. I perceive you are a rabbi, and so you undoubtedly see things differently than the rest of us, but it sounds to me like you’re saying our sufferings at the hands of the Romans are for their sake.”

“I tell you, you are subject unwillingly, because of your sins, but that this suffering is for the glory of God and shall be the means of redemption for all who will accept it.”

“Then God subjects us to suffering against our will for the sake of others?”

“You subject yourselves and each other to sufferings by your own evil ways, but God will not be turned aside and will make use of your evil to bring about your good.”

“What has this to do with Jesus of Nazareth?” Clophas asked.

“But do you not see? All the lambs, goats, and cattle could not bear your iniquities. How could they? The Son of Man, this Jesus of whom you speak, is the Righteous Servant who needs no justification and so can willingly give Himself up for your justification. And I solemnly tell you, that is what He has done. He bore your stripes, and took upon Himself the punishment that will make you whole.”

“But He was only one Man,” Miriam said. “How could He take on the sin of the whole world?”

“He was not only a man,” Clophas answered. He stopped walking and let his jaw hang slack as his eyes stared at the stranger. “This is what you are saying isn’t it. He is what Cephas said He is.”

The stranger did not answer.

“He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

“We have reached the inn,” the stranger said.

Clophas blinked and looked around him, and saw that indeed, they had. He had not remembered entering the town, but he had been so engrossed in the conversation that he had not even noticed where their steps had led them.

“I bid you good evening. Peace be with you,” the stranger bowed as if he was taking his leave.

“Sir! Do you go on from here tonight?” Miriam asked in astonishment.

“I do,” the stranger answered.

“But it is many miles to the next village. Have you a place to stay?”

“I have nowhere to lay my head, not even a fox’s den or a bird’s nest.” He said this cheerfully, as if it did not concern him in the least, and his eyes twinkled as if there were some joke in that statement that he was waiting for them to get.

“Sir, if we have in any way found favor with you, let me prevail upon you to accept our hospitality,” Clophas said. “God has been good to me, and He bids us share our bed and board with those who have none. Our Master, Jesus, would have bid us do the same. For His sake, will you not stay with us this night, and continue on your way in the morning? Then we might continue our conversation, for I must say, my heart has not been this excited by words since I last heard the Master speaking to us. I long to hear more.”

“As you wish. I will never refuse to accept hospitality where I am offered it,” the stranger laughed.

Clophas led the way into the inn and greeted the landlord, who was a friend of his. He paid for a room for Miriam and himself and the stranger, and asked that food might be brought to them.

“Certainly, Clophas. It will be up as quickly as we can prepare it. What will you have?”

Clophas turned to the stranger. “What would you like to eat?”

“Some bread and wine will suffice,” he answered, smiling.

As they walked up the stairs Clophas remarked, “I don’t suppose you are aware, but Jesus was more than only a Rabbi and Master to me. He was also my nephew, the son of my brother’s wife. I loved Him as dearly as any of my own sons, and I don’t mind telling you, somehow, that His death… well, it hit me hard. Not just because of our hopes for Israel, but because He was such a good man. He was more than a good man. The favor of God was upon Him.”

They reached the upper room where they were to stay for the night and laid aside their cloaks and staffs. Clophas went on. “And now I see that He was more than a good man. He was the Son of God!”

He dropped onto a cushion and sat with a look of astonishment on His face letting the revelation sink in. “How could it have been? How could we not have seen?”

“Cephas saw it,” Miriam answered. “Perhaps, the others of the twelve? I am sure His Mother knew all along.”

“What must it be, to know your own son is also… I don’t know. We have looked upon the Face of God and lived!”

“I have scolded and berated Him,” Miriam marveled. “What must He have thought!”

“He loves you,” the stranger answered quietly.

“What you say is strangely like the sort of thing Jesus used to say,” Clophas remarked. “Who are you?”

There was a knock on the door, and a servant entered bearing the bread and wine. He set them on the table in the center of the room, bowed and left.

“Come. Recline and eat with me,” the stranger invited.

Without comment, as if it was the most natural thing in the world that this stranger should invite them to join him at the meal that they had bought and paid for, Clophas and Miriam moved to the cushions by the table. The stranger sat reclined at the head, and reaching out His hand He took the bread. Raising His eyes to Heaven He thanked God for it, Blessed it and Broke it, saying, “Take this, both of you, and eat. This is my Body, which is given up for you.”

Without warning, Clophas felt terror welling up in him at these words. In response to them there flooded to his mind all of his sins, every one of them as far back as he could remember. He saw thousand upon thousand acts of petty cruelty, uncounted lustful glances, less than honest statements to business associates, snubs and jibes and cruel words to his wife, to his sons, to complete strangers. He saw them, and could not hide. “All of these I have done,” he whispered.

Then he saw more, not things that he had done, but things he might have done but chose not to do. He saw beggars, orphans and widows that he had turned aside from, restitution for wrongs that he had never made, truths he had never spoken. He saw the countless times he had withheld words of praise or kindness or love to his family and those closest to him.

He wept in sorrow, and he saw that Miriam beside him was weeping also. He looked back to the stranger.

Clophas had heard the Master speak of the infinite compassion of God, and it had seemed to him a beautiful idea, but not one that he really needed or understood. Now he saw that he needed it. He needed it with all his being.

He understood it, now, because he saw it. It had never occurred to him to wonder what infinite compassion would look like formed on a human face. He probably would have thought it impossible, but this Man was looking upon him with more love than he had known in his entire life. It

That face! The eyes, the mouth, the beard, they were all His. The pierced hands were holding out to him a torn chunk of bread, and He was saying, “Take it and eat.”

But it was not bread, really. The stranger had changed it. “This is My body,” he had said. Clophas believed and because he believed he hesitated. But the stranger continued to hold it out to him with that same look of love.

Clophas took and ate, and gave some also to his wife.

 “Who are you?” he asked.

Jesus took the chalice, blessed it, and raised it over His head saying, “This is my Blood, the Blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Clophas threw himself flat on his face and he felt Miriam doing the same beside him. “Jesus! My Lord, my Savior, my God. Have mercy upon a poor, foolish sinner.”

“Take the cup, Uncle,” Jesus told him. Clophas could hear the twinkle in His eye and the laughter in His heart. He raised himself up and reaching out, received the cup from his nephew. Jesus smiled at Him, wrinkling up His brown eyes until they almost shut, just like He always had. He had smiled just like that while they spoke on the road, but they had not recognized Him.

“Take it and drink, and give it to Auntie as well.”

Clophas obeyed. He raised the cup to his lips and drank, and then handed it to Miriam who did they same. When they had finished it, they turned back to where Jesus had been sitting.

He was gone.

“Jesus!” Miriam called out. “Where have you gone? Do not go away.”

“He hasn’t, Miriam,” Clophas laughed for sheer joy. “Did you not hear? ‘This is my Body. This is my Blood!’ He has not and never will leave us as long as there is a follower of His anywhere in this world.”

“How did we not recognize Him?” Miriam asked.

“We did not believe,” Clophas answered. “But still we recognized Him without knowing it. Didn’t your heart burn when He explained the scriptures to us? Who but Jesus could speak like that?”

“He spoke as if He were the Master of the Scripture itself! Just as He always used to, when He confounded all the scholars.”

“Because He is! He is Master of the Scriptures and the Sabbath, and the storms and winds, and everything else, just as He was always saying. Even death!”

“Only we were too stupid to listen,” Miriam laughed. “I shouldn’t be laughing because it’s a terrible thing. Only I don’t suppose it matters to Him anymore, so why should it matter to us?”

Clophas leapt to his feet. “Grab your cloak, Wife. Let the landlord keep the money, but we will not be sleeping here tonight. We must get back to the others and tell them everything.”

“I declare! I feel young enough that I could run the whole blessed way!” Miriam danced around the room like a little girl.

They snatched up their cloaks and ran down the stairs. They paused only to bless the innkeeper and the few guests in the common room, before skipping out into the gathering darkness. Hand in hand, with light in their hearts and psalms on their lips, they began the long walk back up to Jerusalem together.

What’s Cooler Than Getting Ashes on Your Forehead?

Ash Wednesday is a fairly busy day in many places. People cram into churches and receive ashes in the form of a cross (or a big blob, depending on who is distributing them) on their foreheads. Many churches offer small midday services with readings from Scripture and a distribution of ashes for people who cannot attend Mass that day. Also, as controversial they may be, some places offer “drive-thru” ashes so that people don’t even have to leave their cars to receive ashes!

Photo Credit: “Ash Cross” by Myriams-Fotos via Pixabay (2017) CCO Public Domain

I find it admirable that so many people begin Lent by receiving this outward sign of our sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. Yet, I think it is important that we place our enthusiasm in the right places. I have heard a variety of stories in which Catholics focus more on getting ashes than receiving the Eucharist, and these stories make me a little sad. Then, I think about the times in my own life when the main motivation to get myself to Mass on Ash Wednesday was that afterwards, I would be able to compare foreheads with my friends—and I realize that I do not appreciate the gift of the Eucharist.

Many of us get enthusiastic to receive ashes each year as Lent begins, but we pay no attention to the fact that we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ each week—or several times a week. Should we be proud of this fact?

Personally, I am ashamed of myself. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with taking Ash Wednesday selfies or comparing foreheads with others, but if I’m placing more of my focus on this external marking than on our Eucharistic Lord, I think there is a problem. I cannot count how many times that I have focused more on ashes or some other external aspect of Mass than the gift of the Eucharist!

Ash Wednesday is long gone, and we won’t receive ashes again for many months (that’ll be a nice Valentine’s Day present in 2018!). Yet, while we won’t receive trendy crosses on our foreheads for quite some time, we have the opportunity to receive Jesus Christ. Will we open ourselves up to the graces that He wants to pour out on us? Will we let ourselves be changed as we eat His flesh and drink His blood? The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that:

“Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant’s union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving this sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.” (#1416)

Isn’t this amazing?

Receiving ashes on our foreheads is cool, but consuming Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is infinitely better.

Seeing God

Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.
John 20:29

A friend of mine was disappointed when he visited Nevers. There was a massive crowd around St. Bernadette’s incorrupt body, whereas the adoration chapel was almost empty.

We humans are more easily drawn to things we can sense. We are also more easily drawn to things which are out of the ordinary.

However, God chooses to come to us primarily through humble, ordinary means. He is there in the very fabric of our existence, which we take for granted as the only reality we know. He came to us as a little baby who grew up into a simple carpenter from the backwater town of Nazareth. He comes to us in the guise of the people we meet each day.

He is there in the Blessed Sacrament, an everyday miracle which we may also take for granted.

A Protestant ex-Catholic friend of mine longs to believe in the Real Presence, but cannot see the scriptural justification for It. He is scandalized by Catholics who skip weekday Mass in college, choosing instead to lounge around before lunch.

Let us open our eyes to God’s presence in the humble forms we take for granted – our families, our friends, others we meet in daily life, and in the tiny white Host.

Image: Pinterest

Heart-to-Heart: A Look at the Pain of Love

If you love me, you will keep my commandments.[1]

On the face of it, Christ’s words seem obvious: of course we’ll obey Christ because we love Him! Yet, when it comes down to it, loving the Lord and living His commandments feel like two entirely different propositions.

Well, first off, we, as Christians, are defined by His Love. Jesus said,

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.[2]

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.[3]

We know we are broken and desperately in need of the Love of Christ, and we love to be loved by Him, enjoying the warmth of His Love pouring down upon us from His Heavenly window through His Presence on earth in the Blessed Sacrament.

But His Presence and Love are also most truly keenly felt in the Cross. As He was “obedient unto death, even death on a cross,”[4] so we also are called to the same perfect obedience by living in true accord with the commands of Christ. What are His commands? He gave us two: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[5]

How do we love God and our neighbor? Telling them we love them, and thinking about how much we love them, are a fine start, but do thoughts and words alone constitute genuine love?

According to St. Paul, love is manifold.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends… So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.[6]

The essence of love—what love is—is the union of the multiple qualities of virtue. Look at all those active verbs St. Paul uses to show what love is all about. Love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” What can’t love do? Only one thing: love can never end. In some translations, this is rendered: “Love never fails.”

Love this strong, this pure, this beautiful is utterly invaluable. How awesome that we can share in the very essence and Life of God Himself, Who is Love[7]. Yet Love, though freely chosen, is not without a price: since the Fall, Love is uniquely and intricately bound up with suffering in this world.

Love a person, and they may deceive you, abandon you, deny you, betray you. Love any mortal creature, and again you are risking much: they can hurt you, disappoint you, test you, and even the most perfect will, sooner or later, die.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, “There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.”[8]

Love hurts. Sacrifices and sufferings freely accepted out of love cost us much, and the cost seems heavier than the reward when Heaven seems so far off in time and space (appearing to confine us here on earth). But this kind of an approach to love, as though we could ‘earn’ our way to Heaven, seems shallow. At the end of the day, when we tally up our good deeds and (if we’re feeling especially confident!) nod contentedly because they so clearly outweigh our sins, do we find the joy and peace for which we long in this score-keeping with God?

No, not really.

Our hearts want something else. Something more. The sufferings we endure: are they really to be borne indifferently for the sake of love? If so, they seem to only have value insofar as we can ‘convert’ them to proofs of love. But what if the very moments of suffering, though apparently loathsome and difficult in themselves, are not merely the means, but the very essence of the Christian Life, the moments when we meet our Beloved Lord Heart-to-heart? What if this moment of trial and terror is not merely to be offered up and set aside as quickly as possible, nor again to be relished with a ghastly ‘heroic’ delight, but seen and embraced as the Cross of Christ, given to us? What if these moments of suffering, offered for love, are the very stepping stones to sanctity?

If this is the case, then everything has value. Getting back to the words of St. Paul, love literally embraces absolutely everything. Yes, love means suffering so often in this world, but no suffering, however great, can detract from the overwhelming share in the Life of God which we embrace when we love.

Why endure the pain of Love? Because we are, by nature, called into communion with the One Who is Love, and the pain is the price of the great joy fulfilled only in Him, for Whom we long. For, “You have formed us for Yourself,” Dear God, and truly, “our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.”[9]

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: Revised Standard Version, (John 14:15), National Council of the Churches of Christ, 1971, accessed 17 December 2016, https://www.biblegateway.com.

[2] (John 15:12 RSV)

[3] (John 13:35 RSV)

[4] (Philippians 2:8 RSV)

[5] (Matthew 22:36-39 RSV)

[6] (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, 13 RSV)

[7] (1 John 4:8 RSV)

[8] C.S. Lewis, “Charity,” in The Four Loves (Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1960), 121.

[9] Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, I, 1, 1, at New Advent, www.newadvent.org.

Read the Bible By Going To Mass

I remember an impactful talk given by Dr. Scott Hahn in an Atlanta home a little less then a year ago. In it he compared Catholics’ knowledge of the Bible to children’s knowledge of the streets in their hometown, not so much by knowing the street names, but from the memory of walking through them their whole lives. He underlined how the Liturgical hermeneutic, reading the Bible in the Mass, allows us to experience and know the Scriptures.

St. Paul authored the first Letter to the Thessalonians, the first document from the New Testament to be written down, around A.D. 51-52. This means that there were about 19 years in which the only Scriptures the early Christians had was the Old Testament. The New Testament would come about by Christians writing down the teachings and events of the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus, with some explaining these things through letters, like First Thessalonians.

The importance of Scripture is highlighted in the Catholic faith, as it is one of two modes of transmission of the Divine Word of God, His Revelation of Himself to man so that we might not just know about God, but know Him personally. The Scriptures, along with Oral Tradition, the other means by which we have received God’s Word, allow us to come into contact with God’s Revelation of Himself. These two unique communications of this Revelation meet in the Mass, where the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist form together for mankind the highest and most meaningful prayer.

Therefore we can accurately say that in the Mass is the best place to read the Bible. An analogy may be drawn with the works of Shakespeare. While for some, Shakespeare’s plays are a little confusing at times, they are nonetheless wonderful stories to read. Moreover, an interesting aspect of these stories is that they were not only meant to be read in a book. They are meant to be acted out on a stage. To be seen live in person, with the words heard as they are pronounced in iambic pentameter.

So too are the Scriptures meant to be performed, not at a playhouse, but in the Mass. In the heart of the Church, with the Source and Summit of Grace, the Eucharist, we are able to experience the Scriptures. The Mass is drenched with the Bible. From the prayers of the priest to the responses of the people, and the very actions within this Holy Celebration, we see the Scriptures brought to life. We might not see the Centurion and his servant when we quote Matthew 8 crying out, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed”. Okay, we say soul, he said servant, but the message is still the same. Furthermore, we hear the Word proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Word.

In fact, it was the Holy Spirit guiding the Early Church in choosing which readings of that time should be proclaimed in the Liturgy of the Word that helped to form the Canon itself. We can say that the New Testament was assembled in the Mass. And if we look at the direction in which both the Old Testament and the New Testament go, both separately and united, we can see that we are guided by the Scriptures to the Mass. The Israelites were formed and eventually brought to the Promised Land, and were given a Temple to worship in. The Temple Life was active around the time of Jesus and He was very happy with most of what was going on there. However, He came to give us more, and the Scriptures bring us to what He does in the Upper Room. Moreover, Acts 2:42 gives us a glimpse of the life of the Early Church after Christ’s Resurrection: “And they held steadfastly to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.”

The Breaking of Bread refers to the Eucharist. At least that’s what St. Paul communicates in 1 Corinthians 10:16, “The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the Body of Christ?” Holy Mass

The Scriptures lead us to the Mass and the Mass gives us the Scriptures. The relationship between the two highlights the heavy celebration of the Word of God by the Catholic Church. It also connects us to the Scriptures as we participate in the Heavenly Liturgy we read about in the Book of Revelation.

And so we see that not only is attending Mass a great way to read the Bible, it is irreplaceably the best way to read the Sacred Page. Or better yet, to breathe the Sacred Page as we truly act out the Bible by going to Mass. In fact, in the Mass, the whole person experiences the Scriptures, body and soul.

In each part of the Mass, the human person is either standing, sitting, or kneeling. And in each part of the Mass, the human is either praising God through His Words, adoring God with His Words, or Reflecting on God in His Words. When we stand we pray and receive God through the Scriptures; when we kneel we adore and exalt God with the Scriptures; and when we sit, we reflect and meditate on God in the Scriptures.

Furthermore, through our responses taken directly from the Bible, we allow for the Scriptures to move through us, using all three powers of the human soul, the memory, the intellect, and the will. In this way, we are not merely passive in the Liturgy, but are actively participating.

With the memory, we memorize the responses to recall and proclaim and further remember the stories of Scripture as they are read to us again and again over the course of our lives. We are assenting to the Scriptures with our intellects, receiving them and reflecting on them as they too are proclaimed back to us throughout the Mass. Finally, we use our wills to choose to participate through the responses with the Holy Words of the Scriptures, and honor God through them. This last part is true love, attaching the heart to the mind’s and body’s participation.

The Scriptures are then breathed in and out of the Mystical Body of Christ at every Mass united together throughout the whole World. Moreover, we have the same Scriptures at every Mass to drive the heartbeat of the Church to one rhythm filling our veins with grace, as we not only allow God’s Word to once again build us up from clay, but also to cover our bones with the flesh of dignity, and then redeem us through His sacrifice and Resurrection. This same Mystery, proclaimed to us in the very Word, is again and again re-presented to us in the Mass, while the words that first inform us and remind us of it are actually proclaimed.

In this way, we see the greatest method to read the Bible and know its truths. In the Mass, we are not simply given a map of the Bible, not even a street view, but in a mystical way, an experience of the Bible. In the Mass, we breath, we speak, and sing the Words of the Sacred Page as actors in the Liturgical Play. Let us continue to commit ourselves to giving our best in each performance. May God be with us all.

‘As the Mass moved on, however, something hit me. My Bible wasn’t just beside me. It was before mein the words of the Mass! One line was from Isaiah, another from the Psalms, another from Paul. The experience was overwhelming. I wanted to stop everything and shout, “Hey, can I explain what’s happening from Scripture? This is great!” Still, I maintained my observer status. I remained on the sidelines until I heard the priest pronounce the words of consecration: “This is My body… This is the cup of My blood.”‘
The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass As Heaven On Earth by Scott Hahn (former Presbyterian minister)

Image: Signum-Crucis

The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

Happy Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord.  This feast brings to our attention the prophet Elijah, who was one of the two prophets to perform the miracle of resurrection.  He raises the son of the widow of Zarephath.

The book of Jonah names him the son of Amittai, who is not mentioned elsewhere.  Who is he?  Who is his family?  He prays in the belly of the whale, “I cried to the Lord, and he heard me in my distress.”  The ancient rabbis believed Jonah was the son of the widow of Zarephath. that Elijah raised from the dead.  He describes being freed from the nether world before the Lord speaks to the fish and it vomits him upon the dry land.

If any city deserved just punishment from God, it was Nineveh, capital of Assyria.  The Ninevites perform an amazing fast which includes their animals and infants.  Jonah is angry that God forgives them.  The book ends with God asking Jonah, “Shouldn’t I save this people and also much cattle?”

Jonah, if he is the widow’s son as the rabbis believed, died in the course of a great famine.  God sent Elijah to a Sidonian (Zarephath belongs to Sidon), not a Jew.  What happens when you survive a terrible tragedy?  What is your purpose?  God gives Jonah a job, and he can’t bring himself to do it.  Why did Elijah bring Jonah back to life?  To live a life that bears witness to great mercy.  God is the only lover of mankind even in great trial.  Jonah was brought back from the dead so he could show great mercy and compassion.

The Eucharist is our resurrection, the widow’s little bit of meal and oil.  Elijah has been sent to us unexpectedly, not because we were clever enough to find the true faith.

On the other side of resurrection, we have to find a way to show mercy without begrudging it like Jonah.

Resurrection is traumatic.  The disciples are often full of fear, confusion, repentance, and tears after the Resurrection.  Some even doubt at the Ascension.

The Resurrection is not just a victory for our side against everyone else.  Jesus tells the Nazarenes, “There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, when there came a great famine over all the land; and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow.”  When he says this, everyone wants to throw Him off a cliff.

We encounter the resurrected Lord in the Eucharist.  He gives it to you freely—rejoice!  And tremble.  You must forgive others and bear witness to His mercy and compassion.

 

These thoughts are taken from a homily by Father Daniel at St. Basil’s Byzantine Catholic Church in Irving, Texas, on July 20, 2016, Feast Day of Saint Elijah the Prophet.

The Visitor

I don’t know what to make of these
Conjugal visits of ours,
Whether they make things better
Or worse between us.
I have suffered more than you know
To make them possible
And it would break my heart
To see them end,
But do they really do any good?
Can we really sustain this relationship
On one hour a week?
(One hour? Rather less. I am lucky to get
45 minutes) Especially when
You never write, or call,
Or even answer my call,
Anymore.

I sometimes wonder why,
Why you even bother
Since when I speak you are not here,
Not listening, your mind awash
With details of your routine
The business of living
Day to day, or football,
Or movies, or dust on the floor.
Your mind is full of everything
Except us. You don’t even talk to me,
You mutter incessantly
To yourself.

And when the visit winds down
And only minutes remain
Ticking off on the clock on the concrete wall,
You insist (God knows why) on taking my body
Though you have not received my heart
Have not listened to my mind.
Still you take me in your hand,
Your mouth, your body,
Mechanically like a hooker,
Never looking me in the eye,
Glancing at the clock on the concrete wall,
Anxious to be gone, anywhere.

Why? I offer myself to you because
You are my bride, and you insist,
And this is a conjugal visit after all.
But why do you insist on it?
What do you get out of it,
When you don’t see me,
Or even look for me.
Religiously you take your pill
Every day like a novena,
And still I hear you mutter
“God I wish he would use a spiritual condom,
The pill is far from perfect,
And I’d certainly hate to bear much fruit.”
And afterwards you have no more
Use for me.
You collect your things
Without a backward glance
And rush for the door,
Eagerly returning to your cell.

I hang crucified once more
Above the altar, watching you leave,
Entombed in the solitary
Tabernacle.

Oh God in Heaven, How I love her!
Why does she not care?

The Lord of the Universe, contains Himself in a little wooden box.