This week the Church highlights the critical gift of the Eucharist. The Vatican II document Lumen gentium calls the Eucharist the source and summit of the Christian life (no.11). Based on today’s Gospel, it is not a stretch to say that Jesus intends this free gift of communion with His own self to be the source and summit of every moment of our life.
These are nice words, and nice words are all they will be if we don’t stop and think critically about how we are applying them to our life.
Source: a place, person, or thing from which something comes or can be obtained.
The Church teaches that the Eucharist is a source, and a source is a place where we obtain something. What do we obtain from the Eucharist? The YouCat (a fabulous resource!) states:
When we eat the broken Bread, we unite ourselves with the love of Jesus, who gave his body for us on the wood of the Cross; when we drink from the chalice, we unite ourselves with him who even poured out his blood out of love for us.
YouCat no. 208
We receive Jesus. We receive God. St John Vianney said:
It’s amazing. The Eucharist isn’t just a memory of a meal long ago, but the actual, real presence of Jesus Christ in the form of bread and wine.
The Eucharist is also the summit of the Christian life. The highest point of union with God is in that moment when we receive Him in the Eucharist. This mystery is core to our Catholic belief. The YouCat is full of amazing quotes, so I’ve got a few more for you.
“Not going to Communion is like someone dying of thirst beside a spring” – St. John Vianney
“In the Holy Eucharist we become one with God like food with the body” – St. Francis de Sales
“It was as though I heard a voice from on high: I am the food of the strong; eat then of me and grow. But you will not transform me into yourself like food for the body, but rather you will be transformed into me” – St. Augustine
And finally, the quote I will leave you with for this week to ponder as you prepare for Mass:
“Your life must be woven around the Eucharist. Direct your eyes to Him, who is the Light; bring your hearts very close to His Divine Heart; ask Him for the grace to know Him, for the charity to love Him, for the courage to serve Him. Seek Him longingly.” – St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Jesus tells us in the Gospel passage for this Sunday:
I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Not only is this another one of the “I AM” statements we talked about last week, but this is the basic roadmap to get to Heaven. Jesus is the Way. He is the way for all of us. Not just the ordained, not just the religious, not just the uber-religious little elderly ladies who go to daily Mass. All of us.
Jesus said He is the Way (we are going to say “way” a lot today). He is not one choice among many, He is not just the best option before us. This is a definitive statement. Before we go any further, it’s important to recognize something so basic we often over look it. We are not God and cannot put limits on Him. I know, call me crazy, but we as creatures don’t get to decide the choices of the Creator. Jesus tells us He is the Way, and if He desires that all people come to the Father through Him, He’s going to figure out how that is going to look in a world with a multitude of religious beliefs. We might not understand it, but that’s not what we are called to do. So for the sake of this reflection, let go of any concern about how others will get to heaven. YOU have heard Jesus’ words today and they were meant for you to ponder.
The question then becomes, what are we, who have heard these words of Jesus, called to do?
I’m going to throw a lot of quotes at you today, mostly because others can say this much more eloquently than I can. But I’ll toss in my “in plain speech” after to keep things very practical.
First quote: Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Gaudete et exsultate in which he is quoting Vatican II:
I would like to insist primarily on the call to holiness that the Lord addresses to each of us, the call that he also addresses, personally, to you: “Be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44; cf. 1 Pet 1:16). The Second Vatican Council stated this clearly: “Strengthened by so many and such great means of salvation, all the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord – each in his or her own way – to that perfect holiness by which the Father himself is perfect”.
Gaudete et exsultate no. 10
Every single one of us is called by God. We are each uniquely made by Him for a specific purpose, no one was made as superfluous fluff to be a filler in this world. This means God personally knows you, loves you, and desires to have a relationship with you. He wants you to become like Him in as many ways as possible. To become as close to God as you allow Him to transform you into – that is holiness.
Second quote: From the conversations between Abbé Joseph de Beaufort and Brother Lawrence, a monk in the 1600s.
That our sanctification did not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God’s sake which we commonly do for our own. That it was lamentable to see how many people mistook the means for the end, addicting themselves to certain works, which they performed very imperfectly, by reason of their human or selfish regards.
The Practice of the Presence of God, pg. 18
God made us who we are, with distinct passions, interests, talents, and personalities. He doesn’t want a hundred thousand million clones of the same perfect person. If He did, He would have created us to be. We are all different. The point of the Christian journey isn’t to lose our unique selves so that we come to be a perfect model of St. Therese or St. Thomas Aquinas or even Mary. We can do a great many good and even Saint-like things and still make no forward progress in our spiritual journey. It’s a bit like running on a treadmill. We got a lot of exercise, but we didn’t actually go anywhere. We turned the means into the ends. What, then, is the real end we should be seeking?
Third Quote: Also from the conversations between Abbé Joseph de Beaufort and Brother Lawrence.
That many do not advance in the Christian progress, because they stick in penances and particular exercises, while they neglect the love of God, which is the end…That there needed neither art nor science for going to God, but only a heart resolutely determined to apply itself to nothing but Him, or for His sake, and to love Him only.
The Practice of the Presence of God, pg. 15
Love of God. That’s the end. That’s what heaven is. To stand in God’s presence, to bask in the Creator’s light, to feel the intensity of His love for us and for our whole being to love Him back. This is what our end goal of life is. Jesus is the Way to the Father because Jesus shows us in a real and tangible way just how much God loves us. Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). Jesus is our blueprint. If we love like Jesus, we will know the Father.
The next question then is how? How do we orient our life so that we do all things for love of God? A few quotes here:
Two from St. Terese of Lisieux
You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.
Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.
St. Mother Teresa
Not all of us can do great things, but we can all do things with great love.
One more from Br. Lawrence
The time of business, does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God inn as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.
The Practice of the Presence of God, pg. 22
In real life, this means being patient and loving even when my 2 year old is being obnoxious at Mass (see the video for this week if you want quite the story). It means folding my husband’s shirts the way he likes them folded even though, in my opinion, my way is faster. Wishing the person who just cut me off on the high way a pleasant day. Getting up mid-breakfast with a smile on my face to make my 3 year old a second piece of toast that I knew he would want and offered to make before I sat down but he insisted he wouldn’t and has since changed his mind.
In case you haven’t guessed, these are all real life examples, from this week alone. And I failed in each of these opportunities to love God through the people He placed in my life.
The wonderful thing about God (there are too many to count , this is just one of them) is His infinite patience with us. No matter how many times we fail, He extends a hand to help us up. Likewise, no matter how many times we succeed, He delights in us and in our desire to be close to Him. God does not get tired of us.
So the last question is one for you. What does this kind of love look like in your life? Or perhaps put another way, who does this love look like in your life?
Holy Thursday, what a day. We heard this past weekend on Palm Sunday the Institution Narrative (the specific words Jesus used when breaking the bread and sharing the wine which we still use at Mass today for the consecration – the bread and wine becoming literally Jesus’ Body and Blood) from the Gospel of Matthew. Today, while it is the liturgically same moment, we read from John’s Gospel. We don’t actually hear an Institution Narrative on Holy Thursday, though any well formed second grader preparing to receive their First Communion will quickly tell you that Holy Thursday is when Jesus gave us the Eucharist. The Church instead, chooses to highlight the Gospel of John which is the only Gospel containing the washing of the disciples’ feet.
This Gospel passage is one of the critical pillars for the formation of the Sacrament of Holy Orders as a sacrament of service. Jesus is modeling for His disciples what it means to be a true leader, it means to serve. Today, we talk about the model of the servant-leader, someone who puts the needs of those who follow them before their own. This is rooted in Jesus’ model of leadership.
Because this reading highlights the roles and duties of ordained priests, I thought it would be a good time to expand upon that to encompass the priesthood we all take part in by virtue of our baptism. The video for today considers how each one of us, no matter what profession or life situation God has called us to, also has a priestly role to play in our corner of the world. Whole college and graduate level courses could be spent on this topic, so I hope you’ll forgive me another 9 minute video for today.
In this space, I wanted to write out for you the quotes I read in the video in full, as well as a few others that I feel support the idea that each of us is called to a priestly ministry. That’s really what this whole blog is all about, taking the everyday ordinary moments of our day and recognizing in them God’s calling to holiness. Each action, each conversation, each moment (however brief) of silence, is an opportunity to do God’s Will and take a step further in our journey of faith. When we come to the Mass, all these little moments can be united with the bread and wine offered by the community on the altar. Together, the bread, wine, and our very selves, are transformed into Christ. We become what we eat, we are transformed into Christ’s Body here on this present earth.
Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, ar marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives. (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 901)
In each celebration of the Eucharist, there are two such invocations of the Holy Spirit [the epiclesis] that are at the heart of the divine action of the sacrament. In the name of the gathered assembly, the presider invokes the Spirit to act so that their offers of bread and wine may become the Body and Blood of Christ (the first epiclesis). Then, after the institution narrative, the presider prays that the Spirit may make of this who eat this brea and wine “one body, one Spirit in Christ” (the second epiclesis). Sent by the Father who hears the church’s prayer of invocation, the Spirit gives new life to those who celebrate the sacraments of Christ. So, in their turn, Christians become sacramental realities-living signs of God alive in human flesh through the synergy of the church’s prayer and of the Spirit’s anointing.
In this context, it is not an exaggeration to say that these two invocations bring about two transubstantiations: the first is the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ; the second is the transformation of the believers into the Mystical Body of Christ (Philibert, pg 48-49).
Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ…But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:2-4; 9)
The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. Confident and steadfast through the power of God’s grace, these are the humble yet great builders of the kingdom of God in history (Pope John Paul II, The Lay Members of Christ’s Faithful People, no. 17)