Intimacy and Change

Many years ago, I was on plane with my friend Jen, heading back from a wedding in Minnesota.  As we boarded, we were joined in our seats by a young man whose name I’ve forgotten—I will call him Steve.  I remember only that Steve was cute, and that he was Christian, but not Catholic.

During the flight, Jen and Steve became involved in a friendly debate about the Eucharist.  Steve held that it was only a symbol, whereas Jen defended the Catholic position: that it is in fact the true Body and Blood of Jesus.

Sitting in the window seat, I could hear the discussion but was not an active participant.  I had in fact been trained in apologetics, in how to defend from Scripture the Church’s teaching on the Eucharist.  But as I listened, I was surprised to find rising within me a strange sense of pain.  I admired Steve’s Christianity, but I could feel for just a moment the heart of Jesus.  Could a symbol have shown greater love than the Real Presence?  If the idea of the Real Presence was a mere human invention, did that not suggest that human imagination was in fact greater than God’s actual love for us?  Steve clearly loved Jesus, but could he recognize the depths of Jesus’ love for him?

The Gospel this week recounts what is known as “The Bread of Life Discourse” in the sixth chapter of John.  After the feeding of the five thousand, the crowd has come, hungering for more, but thinking only of food.  Jesus offers Himself as the answer to their hunger: “I am the Bread of Life.”   He compares Himself to the manna which the Israelites were given in the desert, but says of His own flesh: “Whoever eats this Bread will live forever.”

The manna given in the desert was not only the daily sustenance of the people; it was tinged with the taste of honey—a foreshadowing of the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  Similarly, the Eucharist, uniting us with Jesus, is a foretaste of the more perfect union we will experience in paradise at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

I recently attended a talk by Sister Marie Pappas, CR, in which she spoke about experiencing the Mass as the Wedding Banquet.  She noted that a wedding connotes intimacy; that even stronger than the intimacy between husband and wife, is the intimacy which Jesus desires with each one of us.  This intimacy will be perfected in Heaven, but begins now and is real in each Mass.

In the Mass, Jesus comes to be with us, but also invites us to offer ourselves, to be with Him.  This intimacy can be enhanced by our preparation and participation, notes Sister Marie.  While her talk covered each part of the Mass, I will present just a few observations.

“Intimacy requires nakedness” she said. This means that we come before God as we truly are, without posturing and pretense.  “It is not like a job interview”—or a posting on social media, in which we want to present ourselves as perfect, without flaws, having it all together.  Intimacy requires true, honest, self-exposure.  Therefore, rather than hiding our faults, we acknowledge them, publicly and out loud: “I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…’”

At the Offertory, we bring to Jesus not only the bread and wine to be changed, but also our hearts, with our insufficiencies, our brokenness, our prayers, needs, hopes and dreams.   When we place these on the altar with the Bread and Wine—we pray that these too may be transformed.

We then watch prayerfully as the priest standing in persona Christi repeats the sacred words from the Last Supper: “This is my Body…This is my Blood.”  When God speaks it happens.  When He said, “Let there be light..” there was light.  And when through the priest Jesus says again, “This is my Body…:This is my Blood” it becomes indeed His Body, His Blood.

Why?  So that receiving Him in Holy Communion we can be united in an actual unity more profound even then the consummation of marriage.

This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?

The Opposition Voice from the beginning has tried to change the Word of God.  When he does—it is always to suggest less than God’s desire for us.

“He doesn’t really love you—maybe He loves the Person You Ought to be, but not you…”

“Did He really say, ‘This is my Body?’ He can’t have meant that—He must have meant ‘This represents my Body’ or ‘This is a symbol of my Body.’”

“Do you really believe that Jesus wants to be within you?  One flesh with you?—Get real.  He couldn’t possibly want to get that close to you.  You’re just for the friend zone!”

But to each heart Jesus calls: “The Bridegroom is coming!”  “I have loved you with an everlasting love.”  “I will be with you always….”

 

eucharist elevation resized

Photo by Shalone Cason on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

Due Process

*Note: A disclaimer about today’s writings – I spend some time reflecting on the ways and ceremonies by which some denominations practice their faith. I am very poorly-versed in this arena. I don’t know which jargon is fair game and which is horribly offensive. My musings are my own, as are any possible (probable) heresies. I will answer for them, I’m sure. I just hope what I’m saying even makes sense at this time of day and I’m sending this out in faith that the Holy Spirit found His way in there somewhere. -ab

Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers,
“Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice,
you cannot be saved.”
Because there arose no little dissension and debate
by Paul and Barnabas with them,
it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others
should go up to Jerusalem to the Apostles and presbyters
about this question.
They were sent on their journey by the Church,
and passed through Phoenicia and Samaria
telling of the conversion of the Gentiles,
and brought great joy to all the brethren.
When they arrived in Jerusalem,
they were welcomed by the Church,
as well as by the Apostles and the presbyters,
and they reported what God had done with them.
But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers
stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them
and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.”
The Apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter.
—Acts 15:1-6

The book of Acts is a gold mine.

The Bible is full of unspeakable depths of beauty and wisdom, and God is His goodness not only teaches us about himself through Scripture, but He also gives us invaluable examples of what it means to be living as a Church in the A.D. world.

Today’s reading makes me proud to be a Catholic. I know our Mother Church doesn’t have the only claim to a “due process” of sorts in theological matters, but in no other church is today’s first reading so faithfully and literally lived out.

I recently had the opportunity to attend one of the largest churches in my hometown of Brainerd. It is a non-denominational church with multiple services on multiple campuses every weekend. The music was wonderful, the sermon was scriptural and sound, and then they began communion. I was confused. Why does a church like this celebrate communion? Every part of the service was so carefully crafted to be accessible, attractive, and modern, and this ritual performance seemed jarringly out of place. Now, I’m Catholic (surprise!), so I have no question about why somebody would want to celebrate the Eucharist! The closeness with Christ and your fellow partakers is unmistakable. But why would a church that was working so hard to establish an identity based on “spiritual, not religious” (one of the songs even had a lyric about God breaking down their ‘religion’) maintain this practice that is historically rooted in Catholicism? A cynical explanation: they want something that feels familiar to all of the ex-Lutherans, ex-Presbyterians, and ex-Catholic in attendance. A more hopeful explanation: even with all of its lack, this celebration with bread and grape juice speaks to the congregation in a deep, yearning that invites them to be truly one with Christ one day in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

Now the whole point of this anecdote is not necessarily to examine the theology behind their monthly practice of celebrating communion (which really is fascinating!), but to examine the process by which they crafted their weekly services. When you’re planting your own church and eschewing “stale tradition”, you’re writing your own ‘liturgy’. Who makes the calls? A group of elders behind closed doors? A public vote once a year? The one pastor who founded it all? Who decided to keep this part of tradition when “tradition” and “ritual” are so anathema to your target audience?

No matter how much you might try to avoid having any stances on any issues (a huge part of the “spiritual, not religious” moment), any church that claims a shared identity will eventually have to take some. There will be disagreement, and there needs to be a way to arrive at a consensus. That’s how science, effective democracy, and a healthy church work. Now how do we get there?

See the above reading.

One last, unrelated note that struck me:

“They were sent by the Church…” and “they were welcomed by the Church…”

Paul and Barnabas are fundamental examples of heroic pastoral ministry. Today’s readings, along with many others in Acts and the epistles, show that these saints were servants in every sense of the word. They were cloven to Christ, the true vine, and servants and pruners of His Church, the branches. They were practical, logical, and yet wildly, radically faithful. They were attentive to their flock, saw their needs, and moved quickly to respond to them. They sought the one Truth, hence their need to come to a consensus.

Let us pray to receive Jesus’s Truth in our hearts and trust in the process He and his disciples established.