Category Archives: Eucharist

Rediscovering the Mystery

Dear Folks,
In our Gospel today, people ask Jesus a seemingly simple question, “Rabbi, when did you
get here? (John 6:25).” This points to something much more mysterious. John had just
mentioned that, on the other side of the lake, there was only one boat, and Jesus did not get
in with the apostles. When other boats came, they got in and crossed, and were surprised to
find Jesus there. That lead them to wonder how He got there. We, of course, know because
we have read the Gospel and understand that Jesus walked on the water. He doesn’t tell
them, and so they are left to wonder. This should prime them to be open to mystery, to be
sensitive to the idea that there is more going on than they can see. This should have made
them more open to the Bread of Life discourse which is to follow (unfortunately, they will
still not be open enough).
Jesus prayed that His Church would be one (John 17:20-23) and so that people would
believe the Father sent Him. Unity is an essential part of our work as Church, and I suggest
that we have room to grow in that area. Recent events got me thinking.
You may have heard about Pope Francis putting out a document, Traditionis Custodes,
which severely restricts the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Mass (that is, the
way it was celebrated just before Vatican II, using the Missal of 1962). Some people are
angry and hurt, while some people are saying “good riddance.” Many, of course, don’t see
what the big deal is. It will not directly affect most of us. I’ve attended two such liturgies
as a priest, and I don’t remember when I attended it as a child.
The Pope’s stated goal is unity, moving us toward common worship, and I think that is a
good goal. The question is what is needed to accomplish it. Looking at the divide can shine
some light on essential issues with our worship.
Whatever else is needed, unity requires understanding both sides’ concerns, and that is what
is often not happening.
Pope Benedict says in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “In the liturgy the curtain between heaven
and earth is torn open, and we are taken up into a liturgy that spans the whole
cosmos.” Now I ask you, how well does the way we celebrate liturgy convey that that is
happening? People will point to the extraordinary form and say that it better led them to
mystery. The Latin language conveyed that this was different from usual conversation. The
priest facing the same way as the congregation (called celebrating ad orientum, literally, to
the east) showed that he was representing the people to God, not just chatting with the
people. They find the modern liturgy friendly, but fails to point to mystery beyond what we
see.
On the other hand, many have had bad experiences of the Pre-Vatican II liturgy. I’m told
many have had bad catechesis and had very little understanding of what was going on.
Some would pray the rosary. Someone said it was like a magic show. They were not able
to learn Latin well enough to experience what was happening, and often the priest mumbled
anyway. The revised liturgy enabled them to connect like never before, and they thought it
was wonderful. Many of them have a really hard time with the thought of going back.
So, how do we get the best of both worlds? The way many just stop going to Mass tells us
that what we are doing now is not connecting (this is not just our little community, but
nationwide). How do we connect with people and at the same time draw people to the
infinite mystery? I suggest that to answer this well will take serious brain effort.
Blessings,

Praying More Powerfully at Mass

Dear Folks,
Ancient Greek mythology talks about a wicked innkeeper named Procrustes. If you were
unfortunate enough to stay at his inn, he had only one bed. If you were too short for it, he
would stretch you until you fit. If you were too tall for it, he would chop ends off you until
you were the right length. The Procrustean bed is a classic image for trying to force
everyone into a single way of doing things whether it works for them or not.
In church, I find that many people have a good experience with a certain practice, a certain
prayer, a certain devotion, perhaps associating it with a better time or place, and decide that
everyone should be doing that particular thing. Many people say that that doesn’t work for
them, and so they rebel. It is most frustrating. An alternative approach is to have many
options, and people pick out the ones that work for them.
One of the ways we strengthen our community is by strengthening our worship. There are
many ways to do that.
Preparation:
From the moment of waking up, look at the path ahead and remember that each step is
a step toward the altar.
Extend Eucharistic fast to more than an hour before receiving communion. Two
hours? Three? More?
Fast from social media/videos/games.
Dress one step up from usual (how do you dress for something really important?).
Review the readings for the day, perhaps making a note of an idea to ponder.
Read Psalm 63:2-9, Psalm 100, or Psalm 122.
Make an examination of conscience for a more effective penitential rite.
If you have access to the hymns that will be sung, go over them and prepare to offer
them as gift to God.
Make a list of gifts from the previous week: Apostolic undertakings, family and
married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, and hardships to be offered to
the Father along with the Body of the Lord (See constitution on the Church #34 and
Constitution on the Liturgy #48).
Approach the church building, be aware of approaching the altar of God.
Entering the narthex, be aware of transition between the realm of the world and the
realm of liturgy.
Outside the church and in the narthex, we connect with other worshippers, being
aware we are the Body of Christ.
Entering the nave, have a Spirit of quiet.
Silence upon entering worship space. Shift from focusing on other people to being
united with them in focusing on the presence of God.
Pause. Recognize we are someplace special. Stand tall.
Speak softly, so as not to interfere with those trying to pray. Do that even when no
one else is there.
Walk deliberately so that simply coming to your pew is a ceremony.
Later I’ll have some ideas on how to strengthen the time during Mass and after Mass. In the
meantime, what if you tried one or more of these? Many people have success starting small
and being consistent, and then having something on which to build?
These are small things that can strengthen how we bring ourselves to God in worship, and
therefore strengthen our faith community. What do you think?
Blessings
Fr. Jim

Body and Blood of Christ

Disputation.jpg[1]

Dear Folks,
We celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. The hard part of writing this is there is so much to say, so very much, and I must select.
The essence of the Gospel is the gift of self. The Lord gives Himself to us completely and invites us and enables us to give ourselves to Him in return, that we may know the fullness of love and joy forever. The Lord, with nothing to gain for Himself, became one of us, like us in all things but sin, so that He could pay the ultimate price for our salvation. The story of salvation, indeed the whole human story, pivots around Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. He gave Himself in love’s perfect act on the cross, and we encounter that gift in a uniquely intimate way in the Eucharist. That is the center of what we do. Learning more about it over the years, and especially recently, has been especially rewarding. It is a well that never dries up.
We learn that God was working to prepare us for it from the beginning. We learn how the teachings and practices of the Old Testament lay a foundation for Jesus and His saving work. The Passover, the Bread of Presence in the Tabernacle, the teachings of the prophets and countless other elements form pieces of the puzzle.
Understanding that helps prepare us to see the connections between the Eucharist and our daily existence. It is one thing to learn the words: the Eucharistic liturgy is the source and summit of our lives as Christians (as the Second Vatican Council taught); it is something else entirely to see it at work in what we do, to recognize and appreciate that reality deep down to the core of our beings. Can we see ourselves bringing our life throughout the week to the Mass on Sunday, place it on the altar as the priest places the bread and wine, and ask Jesus to consecrate them? Can we look to the Eucharist to transform us? Can we see ourselves being sent forth from Mass to live according to that transformation, bringing the presence of Christ to all we meet?
If we want a stronger Church, let us develop a greater appreciation for the Eucharist. If we seek to be a holier people, let us grow in appreciation for the Eucharist. I know it has been a challenge that people have been separated from the Mass, but when we have special challenges is often when God does His best work. A good number of people have been working to deal with the details of the gradual process of opening up, and the hope is that we will be able to do more and more. Everything we are about is meant to bring us closer to Jesus and help others come closer to Jesus (If it doesn’t help do that, we shouldn’t be doing it). Jesus gave us unique ways of encountering Him, worshiping Him, being transformed by Him. He did it at the most pivotal time in His earthly life. He used the strongest language imaginable when talking
about this. Sharing this teaching cost Him most of His followers (John 6:48-71). What else could He have done to get us to realize this is important?
How we respond is critical (see 1 Corinthians 10 and 11). How can we respond more fully to Jesus?
St. John Vianney said, “If we could truly understand the Eucharist, we would die of joy.”
What a way to go.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Walking with Jesus

Jesus breaking bread

Dear Folks,
Today we look at the story of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35.
This is a wonderfully rich story, and it is worth taking some time with it.
Two of Jesus’ followers are walking along. One of the great images of the Christian life is a journey. We are not people who have arrived, but are called to be moving forward toward our goal, “the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).” They are talking about their experiences of the weekend. Jesus starts walking along with them, but they don’t recognize Him. This seems common in encounters with the resurrected Jesus, but it is also true for us. Jesus is always with us, but we don’t always recognize Him. He says, “What are you discussing as you walk along?” Jesus is very good at asking the right question. Their response is wonderfully ironic: “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know of the things that have taken place there in these days?” This is great, because He is the only one who really does know. The Gospels often do fun things like that. Jesus doesn’t let on. He says, “What things?” He, of course doesn’t ask because He needs to know, but to get them to tell their story. We shall see a lot of this in Luke’s sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. Most Catholics have not had practice in telling their story. If you needed to tell your faith story, what would you say? Then Jesus unpacks the Scriptures for them, and explains what these events really mean. Notice that Jesus asked them to bring forward what they had, but it is He who teaches. This dynamic is familiar. In the accounts of the multiplying of loaves and fishes, Jesus asks the disciples to bring forward what they have, but it is He who feeds. We see this again in a resurrection encounter in John 21:10-13, also with bread and fish. For now, however, Jesus is opening the Scriptures for them. They knew the stories in the Scriptures, but it is only in the light of the risen Jesus that people can see the full significance of what they mean. I would also suggest that the events of our lives can only be fully understood in the light of the story of salvation. Jesus acted like He was going further, but they urged him to stay, showing hospitality. Hospitality is tough during this lockdown, but it is something for Christians to be pondering. “Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels (Hebrews 13:2).” We see them entertaining not only angels but Jesus Himself. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me (Revelation 3:20).” We are not only called to be hospitable to Jesus by welcoming other people, but welcome Jesus directly with our prayer and attentiveness to Him, His teaching and His presence in our lives, and our willingness to examine and change our lives in His Light. Pope Benedict was fond of encouraging people to take the time to let Jesus be “our best friend.”
Breaking of the Bread “And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight (Luke 24:30-31).” The taking, blessing, breaking and giving was, in Jewish practice, how the meal was begun. I haven’t seen any commentary on this, but it seems to me that that action would be the proper function of the host, and Jesus was a guest. When something doesn’t quite fit I want to know why. I suggest this is a larger truth: when we invite Jesus in, He is in charge, He is the Host, and He is the one who feeds. Christians would associate Jesus’ actions with the celebration of the Eucharist, and of course when we gather for the Eucharist, we are not the hosts; Jesus is the host. This would remind us we recognize Jesus in the Eucharist. After He vanishes, they asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures for to us (Luke 24:32).” Once again, we don’t often recognize Jesus at work in our lives until we reflect back afterwards, and then it becomes clear.
Then they shared the story with others and got it confirmed, and they learned they were not alone. We remember the Visitation, in which Mary went to Elizabeth, and her experience was affirmed. This is one of the (many) reasons we need Christian community.
Jesus is still walking with us.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Being Present

Being present to another

One of the key factors in any friendship, in any love relationship, is how we are present to each other. What is it like to have someone give you their full attention, to act like you are important to them, that they are focusing on you? We also know what it is like to have someone act like they are barely aware of you, that their minds are elsewhere, that they are just doing what they need to do to get on to something else. It makes a big difference. And let’s be honest, there might have been some times when we were dealing with someone that we didn’t want to deal with, and we let it show.  How did we act then? When we are with someone who is precious to us, how do we act.

Some moments are more crucial than others.  Sometimes we might be doing different things, but generally aware of the other person, and that is good. Two guys in the same boat fishing, not speaking, not looking at each other, letting their minds drift, but it’s okay. It’s good to be together, but don’t need to do much. If, on the other hand, someone important to you comes and says, “After what has just happened, I’ll never be the same.”  This is not a good time to say, “Go ahead, I can listen and watch TV at the same time.”  A couple can be sitting in the same room, one reading a book, one catching up on the news, but if they are doing that during their wedding, there is a problem. Sometimes people are chattering for the joy of it, and what they talk about is not that important.  Sometimes people are sharing their most precious secrets, thing close to their hearts, and it takes a lot of trust to do that.  Then it is most important to be especially attentive.  To do that poorly with harm the relationship, but to do it well can strengthen the relationship a great deal.

God is always reaching out to us, but very often we don’t respond well. “I was ready to respond to those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said: here I am! Here I am! To a nation that did not invoke my name. I have stretched out my hands all day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own designs (Isaiah 65:1-2).”

“After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in replay, ‘Lord it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone (Matthew 17:1-8).” We get a rare moment in which the Father speaks from heaven, and His message is the importance of listening to Jesus.  Of course, these were Jesus’ disciples, and the inner circle of His disciples at that. They probably thought they were already listening, and that this message should be for others (fortunately, they had the sense not to argue).  I would suggest that we often do not listen as well as we think we do.  It is something we can grow in.

During the agony in the garden (Matthew 26:36-46), Jesus brings His closest friends, Peter, James and John, and asks them to keep watch and pray.  They fall asleep. Jesus didn’t need them to do anything except be present and attentive.  He was having a really difficult time, and needed some friends’ support.  I’m sure it hurt that they failed, and it will be remembered until the end of time how they failed.

At the Last Supper, and during the celebration of the Eucharist ever since, Jesus is sharing Himself most intimately, Who He really is, body, blood, soul, divinity. He draws us into His death and resurrection, His ultimate sacrifice of love. During this time in which people are separated from the Mass, we may want to reflect on how we tend to respond to God’s gift. It is almost a universal problem that our minds wander during Mass, but within the limits of our fallen human ability, how do we treat this holiest of moments? How might we grow in our response?