Monday, June 27, 2011

The Eucharist constitutes the church

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. One of the most powerful things that I get to do as a priest is exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. That’s what we do when we set that large metal stand, called the monstrance, on the altar so that people can adore and pray in front of the Host or Blessed Sacrament, for a period of time. I find this to be an extraordinarily powerful time of quiet meditation. Yet, regardless of how profound my experience of Adoration is, there is this little uneasy dance that happens in my heart towards the end of almost every session. I begin to wonder if people are bored. I begin to worry that people are remembering days when their mother or father forced them to come and do this. I begin to worry that people are resolving never to do this again. I begin to think that I should cut it short so that people don’t get more frustrated than what they already are. But, I stick it out for the full amount of time and stand, with all these doubts running through my head, to return the Blessed Sacrament to its place in the tabernacle. I kneel with my back to the people and invite them to open to the back of the hymnal and sing that classic chant, “Tantum egro sacramentum” and I hear voices of people who never crack a hymnal at Sunday mass singing out this song that was first sung before it’s singers knew there was a North America. Then, I approach the monstrance to bless the people and, on their faces, I see looks that bespeak respect and love. Not only do the people not feel the way my heart was trying to say they do, most of the time people wish they could have adoration more often. I even had one woman openly admit that she wished it could be much longer. I’ve never had anyone tell me that they thought mass was too short but, for this woman, she didn’t have enough time to adore the presence of the Lord. I think people see in this form a prayer a memory. And, I don’t mean that people sit around and think about the good old days, I think we are reminded of the respect that we have in our hearts for what we eat and drink each week.

That is what is at the heart of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord. We are invited to focus on the Eucharist and its importance in our lives. Our readings focus on the respect that we should have for the Eucharist. The first reading from Deuteronomy reminded our Jewish brothers and sisters, just as surely as it reminds us that the Eucharist is a gift from God. Jesus, in the gospel, takes this message a step further and reminds us that the bread that we eat is his flesh and the wine that we drink is his blood. Just as God gave the Israelites bread in the journey toward the promised land so God gives his pilgrim church bread on our earthly journey.

As Catholics, we believe that the Eucharist is what constitutes the church. Without the Eucharist there would be no church and without the church there would be no Eucharist. The Eucharist connects us to Christ and to each other. It connects us to Christ because, as we heard in the Gospel today, we aren’t just receiving bread and wine. We are receiving Christ himself; his body, blood, soul, and divinity, when we receive the Eucharist. But, by receiving this gift of God, we are made a part of the church. Therefore, it connects us to one another as well. It is the great commandment we have been given to love God and love our neighbor.

Sometimes, in the church, there is a perception of a division between so-called liberals who are more social justice oriented and so-called conservatives who are more prayer oriented. This solemnity really challenges this division. I think of Mother Teresa, for instance, who would spend hours each day praying before the Blessed Sacrament while also spending hours reaching out to the poor in Calcutta. I think of Mary Jo Copeland, who runs a series of homeless shelters in the Twin Cities and prayerfully washes the feet of several of the people who come to her shelters. I think of St. Katherine Drexel who used her own personal fortune, 20 million dollars, to help impoverished African-Americans and American-Indians that society had forgotten. Yet, she would spend hours each day kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Mass is where we come to encounter the love of God, the God who laid down is body and blood for our sins. But mass also empowers us to live out that encounter in our daily lives, to be the love of God to others. We may do this by starting or serving at a homeless shelter or reaching out to someone that we know is hurting and fixing a meal for the person or organizing a group of people to help him or her. In whatever way, we feel called, let us live out the love that we feel in prayer by helping those in need to know the love God has for them.


Adam Wayne said...

Thank you!!!

Adam Wayne said...

Thank you!