The Wonder of it All

“Prayer is a surge of the heart; It is a simple look toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” St. Therese of Liseux

This week, I was witness to God’s mystery momentarily revealed in albeit a delightful surprising way. Ministering to those with Alzheimer’s and dementia requires patience, love, and flexibility. Some days can be challenging and cloudy, and others bright and filled with amazing clarity. Being there for both makes the glimpse of memory and sudden awareness all the more beautiful. In this brief moment of grace there is a remarkable recognition of what love really means and just who Christ truly is.

“Anna” has been a resident at a particular memory care for a bit of time now. Having lost many long term cognitive abilities, she is now completely dwelling in the present. So much so, that every sentence spoken is a story unto itself. Gathered amidst this group of Catholics, as a protestant, one cannot help but notice that she actively listens. On this day, she would also actively participate.

With the first reading, she informed me that I was needed to speak louder despite my reluctance to shout. Carrying on, I noticed her attentiveness almost as if we were having a conversation with just the two of us. With the Gospel and prayers, she remained intent on savoring each word.

“Father, you are holy indeed, and all creation rightly gives you praise. All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit. From age to age you gather a people to yourself, so that from east to west a perfect offering may be made to the glory of your name. And so, Father, we bring you these gifts. We ask you to make them holy by the power of your spirit, that they may become the body + and blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose command we celebrate this Eucharist…The day before he suffered, he took bread in his sacred hands and looking up to heaven, to you, his almighty Father, he gave you thanks and praise. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said: Take this all of you and eat of it” (Eucharistic Prayer 3)

Somewhere deep inside, God then touched “Anna’s” heart prompting a truly unsolicited but appropriately beautiful response.

“WOW!…” she proclaimed loudly, “That is quite a gift!”

Instantly a sacred stillness fell, a substantive pause and recognition by all that Christ was truly present. Here, without the explanation of consecration or a discussion of real presence  “Anna” saw and experienced this tangible reality.

How is it then that though we come to Mass, expecting the gift to be given, we could very well leave Mass unchanged?  Perhaps this gift is carelessly taken for granted, not fully understood, or we simply have become too distracted by the day’s events. Nonetheless, we then fail to probe the depth of love and mercy available not accepting of the transformation that is possible in our daily lives. The real presence of Christ then becomes an unopened gift, or one put aside for a rainy day.

Take today to seize the gift of Christ’s sacrifice and be amazed by the wonder of it all!

Peace,

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“The most deadly poison of our times is indifference. And this happens though the praise of God should know no limits. Let us strive therefore to praise him to the greatest extent of our powers” St. Maximilian Kolbe

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Bread of Life: A Mutual Invitation of Participation

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“John’s Jesus has a totally different outlook. He does supply earthly bread to a crowd that hungers; but that is not the real marvel, for they will hunger again and so are not permanently better. The real marvel is that Jesus can give a bread from heaven that obviates hunger: the true (alēthinos) bread of which the multiplied loaf was only a sign”

-Raymond E. Brown, “The Johannine World for Preachers,” Interpretation 43.1 (1989), 60-61.

This quote by Raymond Brown, as an invitation for reflection on the Bread of Life discourse (John 6:22-71), has once again completely captivated me! Here, we are presented with Jesus both as the revelation of the Word, the divine teaching that holds eternal life and as Eucharist, the living bread which “provides nourishment” when eaten (NAB, Jn 6:51; Brown, A Introduction to the New Testament, p.346). What was enlightening for me in appreciating John’s portrait of Jesus, were the parallelisms with the OT understanding of Wisdom as found in Proverbs, Wisdom, and Sirach. These texts, offer us a background in which to grasp our later Christian understandings of Jesus and continuity with the OT. In Sirach, Wisdom is described as Word emanating from the “mouth of God” (Sir.24:3), and that which when drunken in provides fulfillment (24:20). In comparison, John portrays the person of Jesus as divine word, (“I am the bread of life”) to be believed and which promises not only fulfillment but eternal life (Jn. 6:35,40,45,47-48).

Yet, there are also definite Eucharistic allusions present in John 6:51-58, and likewise throughout this discourse. Especially, if we begin just prior to the Bread of discourse with the Multiplication of the Loaves, and consider the discussion on perishable food and the food of eternal life (Jn 6:26-2; Brown p.345-346). In fact, these seem to introduce the proceeding discourse and provide “two interpretations on how this is to be done” (p.346). Once again there are OT references here, in the manna of the Exodus that came from heaven, and the water to drink that broke forth from the stone. This food sustained the Israelites in the desert, yet could not promise life eternal.

In Jesus, was the fulfillment of the Word, made “flesh for the life of the world” (NAB, John 6:51). Likewise, the blood of Jesus is the “true drink” of eternal life (Jn, 6:55). There is a bit of irony to be found here in that the fullness of this meaning could not be understood by the Jews around him, who assert their familiarity with the physical personage of Jesus (Brown, p. 336; Jn 6:42). For them, they will ‘hunger and thirst again’, working for “food that perishes” unable to look past the satisfaction of their earthly hunger or for signs in which to believe (Jn 6:27; 30-32; 58).

Therefore, I would affirm that both understandings of this discourse are present and that it need not be a decision between, but a mutual invitation to participation. The observation, by Brown, that at times churches have “been divided as to which deserves the most emphasis” speaks to my prior faith experience as a Southern Baptist. (Brown, p.378). While the “Lord’s Supper” did have a place of importance in the Baptist tradition, it most certainly did not indicate more than a symbolic remembrance. Not to mention, there was a clear priority on the word of God and in particular on the words printed in red.

Yet, one of the beautiful elements that I became aware of as a Catholic catechist is the liturgical fullness given when both Scripture and Eucharist are equally emphasized. In the Liturgy of the Word, we are called to listen and respond to the Word and prayer. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist we are called to offer our lives to God, receive communion in unity with one another and go forth to share (and be) the good news of Jesus with one another. Yet, I would add that “ideal” is most fully understood when that same balance is not only liturgically placed but felt within the hearts of the believers.

Reflect:

Do I participate fully in the Liturgy of the Word, giving my full attention to both the spoken word and the words God seeks to imprint upon my heart? Am I fully present for reception of the Eucharist, understanding that Christ is fully and intimately present to me in that very moment?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: With Open Mind, Eyes and Heart

It’s Worth Revisiting Wednesday! A place where you can come and bring a past & treasured post to share, and link-up with fellow bloggers! Co-Hosted with Allison Gingras at Reconciled To You.

Though written originally for Advent, the call to reexamine our focus as we seek to live out our discipleship is our continuous invitation to conversion. This past Saturday my son and I spent the morning with our local homeless community through Matthew’s Kitchen. I am reminded that while so many have so little..God’s love and mercy for the least of these is so great!


With Open Mind, Eyes and Heart

(Originally posted December 11, 2014)

This Advent season, I find myself disenchanted with the stores, and the constant promotion of items to be bought in order to win smiles and love. Some years are like that we say to ourselves, and yet I know that there is something much profound at work. Searching, I recognize that while society hasn’t necessarily changed, I have.

The other day, I took a moment with a local homeless man just to talk. As he stood there, leaning uncomfortably against my church, I could not pass him by. That is, without sharing a smile and asking him how he was doing. Even from a distance, I noticed that the cold weather had left his skin and lips weathered, and reddened.  I suddenly realized that I had come prepared. For, inside my car were a new pair of tube socks with lotion, wipes, chap stick, toothbrush and toothpaste enclosed. Gladly, but a bit surprised, he accepted the gift.

Examples of items to include in a care kit..

This morning on my way to take my son to school again I saw him, with a huge smile on his face walking with a couple of other men. What a gift he had given me to see him enjoying a bit of happiness and company. The homeless life can be so very isolating, for mental illness and addictions have often served to distance them from relationships and even recognition. In our hurry and perhaps even fearful, we are accustomed to look straight ahead towards our destination.

Where are our eyes focused ? Upwards toward heaven, forward in completing the day’s events, or all around seeking God in everything? Are we, as Mother Teresa observed, “seeing and adoring the presence of Jesus, especially in the lowly appearance of bread, and in the distressing disguise of the poor”?  [1] Times have been difficult in my suburban community, and many more families are either finding themselves cutting back, overextended, or without.  Yet, while we can’t do or be everything to everyone we can greet, love, and support one another in whatever way we can. Today, an invitation was extended for more volunteers at our parish food pantry in order to serve more people, and provide rest for regular helpers. Maybe an hour this Advent season is a gift you too can give.

How are our hearts? If we are serious about preparing for Christ’s coming, it’s time now to think about the condition of our hearts. Are we hardened by our own circumstances, and the pitfalls we have found ourselves in? Where are my thoughts? Trusting the path and journey we are on isn’t easy to do alone, for the temptation is to seek control.

Prayer and the Eucharist– are for me the most transforming corrections for my squinted vision, stiffening heart,  and human tendencies to control my world.  In quiet prayer, I can silence the noise and hear Jesus’ voice once again. All my pretences fall away, as I stand like a child at his feet. Feeling his embrace, my heart melts and I long to stay with him. His smile reminds me who and whose I am. Created and loved I am asked to see as he does. His daughter, I am called to be ever close to him. This intimacy of the Eucharist draws me not inward but outward.

 I am called to be more than I could have ever imagined, and all that you know I can be.  “Let faith arise..open my eyes!” 

[1] Mother TeresaIn the Heart of the World: Thoughts, Stories and Prayers