Fasting from Eucharist

Mass with Pope Francis on Rio’s Copacabana beach in 2013, most of the 1+ million people could not receive because of the vastness of the crowd

Happy Solemnity of the Annunciation, when the Yes of Mary permitted the Eternal God to take on our flesh and blood and soul.

Don’t forget, Pope Francis asked all Christians around the world to join as one and pray the Our Father today at (your) noon! “…and deliver us from evil…”

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I have been reflecting lots on what are the hidden graces present in the absence of public Masses. Today, I received a gift from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. All one needs to do is quote from him, and it suffices,. No commentary needed…

In his book Behold the Pierced One (pp. 97-98), Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) wrote:

When Augustine sensed his death approaching, he ‘excommunicated’ himself and undertook public penance. In his last days he manifested his solidarity with the public sinners who seek for pardon and grace through the renunciation of communion. He wanted to meet his Lord in the humility of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for him who is the Righteous and Merciful One.

Against the background of his sermons and writings, which are a magnificent portrayal of the mystery of the Church as communion with the Body of Christ, and as the Body of Christ itself, built up by the Eucharist, this is a profoundly arresting gesture. The more I think of it, the more it moves me to reflection. Do we not often take the reception of the Blessed Sacrament too lightly? Might not this kind of spiritual fasting be of service, or even necessary, to deepen and renew our relationship to the Body of Christ?

The ancient Church had a highly expressive practice of this kind. Since apostolic times, no doubt, the fast from the Eucharist on Good Friday was a part of the Church’s spirituality of communion. This renunciation of communion on one of the most sacred days of the Church’s year was a particularly profound way of sharing in the Lord’s Passion; it was the Bride’s mourning for the lost Bridegroom (cf. Mk 2:20).

Today too, I think, fasting from the Eucharist, really taken seriously and entered into, could be most meaningful on carefully considered occasions, such as days of penance—and why not reintroduce the practice on Good Friday? It would be particularly appropriate at Masses where there is a vast congregation, making it impossible to provide for a dignified distribution of the sacrament; in such cases the renunciation of the sacrament could in fact express more reverence and love than a reception which does not do justice to the immense significance of what is taking place. A fasting of this kind—and of course it would have to be open to the Church’s guidance and not arbitrary—could lead to a deepening of personal relationship with the Lord in the sacrament. It could also be an act of solidarity with all those who yearn for the sacrament but cannot receive it.

It seems to me that the problem of the divorced and remarried, as well as that of inter-communion (e.g., in mixed marriages), would be far less acute against the background of voluntary spiritual fasting, which would visibly express the fact that we all need that ‘healing of love’ which the Lord performed in the ultimate loneliness of the Cross.

Naturally, I am not suggesting a return to a kind of Jansenism: fasting presupposes normal eating, both in spiritual and biological life. But from time to time we do need a medicine to stop us from falling into mere routine which lacks all spiritual dimension. Sometimes we need hunger, physical and spiritual hunger, if we are to come fresh to the Lord’s gifts and understand the suffering of our hungering brothers. Both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love.

Amen.

“I make all things new” (Rev 21:5)

At the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God, and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Even now we are journeying towards the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, towards our common home in heaven. Jesus says: “I make all things new” (Rev 21:5). Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all. — Pope Francis, Laudato Si’

No matter how many times I re-consider this Christian theological vision of the destiny of all creation, it takes my breath away. It is the destiny of the whole creation to pass-over into the new creation through the risen Body of Jesus, and it is in His Mystical Body — the Church — by which He has chosen to accomplish this Passover. As all creation awaited the Yes of Mary to bear God’s Word, it awaits each of our yeses to come to glory in the sabbath of eternity.

When God became flesh in the womb of Mary, He joined not just human nature but the whole created order to Himself. By His violent death, burial and resurrection, Jesus set all of creation free from the bonds of violence, death and corruption, precisely by planting infinite mercy into the finite heart of fallen creation. At Pentecost, Jesus opened up this torrential mercy flowing from His risen Body to all of humanity, inviting each of us, through faith and Baptism, to freely cooperate with Him in planting this limitless mercy into violence, death and corruption.

…and so “making all things new.”

Above all on Sunday, in the bread-wine-alms of the Eucharist offered, profound symbols of what priestly humanity has gathered in its six days of mercy-drenched secular work. In these symbols, the whole of creation is brought by us to God for a final consecration into the everlasting Kingdom. It is in the celebration of the Eucharist that Jesus draws all things to Himself, though-with-in us.

Yet…the accomplishment all of this hinges on our daily Yes to God, our feeble willingness to Ite, to Go “with the grain of God” by living in harmony with His economy, His action, His will, His plan, His Christ, to save the world by consecrating it through our beautiful, faithful, truthful, hopeful, merciful, loving, kind, just, generous, peaceful, courageous, selfless, gentle, compassionate, pure, sacrificial, humble, surrendered lives. Through lives that manifest the full range of meaning compressed into these dense words of consecration: “For this is my Body which will be given up for you; the Chalice of my Blood, which will be poured out for you and for many….”

In those words is the whole meaning of consecration, which is our one life mission.

This Christlike Way of life, this path of divine-human synergy, is what we call liturgy. Liturgy is our entry point into the divine-human labors of the God-Man, the Master Carpenter who forever labors to join heaven and earth, justice and mercy, eternity and time, God and humanity, man and man, creation and Creator…

Pope Benedict XVI captured this awe-inspiring vision in his homily to the lay faithful of Aosta, Italy:

We ourselves, with our whole being, must be adoration and sacrifice, and by transforming our world, give it back to God. The role of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality of the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host, a liturgy. This is also the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: in the end we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host. And let us pray the Lord to help us become priests in this sense, to aid in the transformation of the world, in adoration of God, beginning with ourselves.

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This is the mystical core of the “front lines” mission of the laity: to enter deep into the mortal wounds of our secular world and bring there Christ’s risen Wounds, His consecratory words into every aspect of professional and civic life, culture, economics, politics, medicine, business, agriculture, ecology, technology, marriage and family, etc.

Inasmuch as we, who are the Body of Jesus, are able to enter daily into this deep heart of the world God so loves, and then bring its salvaged wreckage with us into the Offertory of the Mass to “offer it up” into the Kingdom, “we shall find it once more, but cleansed of all dirt, lit up, and transformed, when Christ gives back to the Father an eternal and universal kingdom: a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love, and peace” (Gaudium et spes 39).

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At the end of his life, ill and dying, St. Francis of Assisi told his fellow friars: “Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up until now we have done little or nothing.”

So let’s start again, now….

 

The Meaning of Icons

I wanted to share the video recording of a lecture we had last Wednesday at Notre Dame Seminary, where I teach. It is of Fr. Maximos Constas speaking on The Meaning of Icons. It is brilliant, as Fr. Maximos always is. He gave our last annual Catholic-Orthodox lecture on St. Maximus the Confessor, and we loved him so much we asked him to return!

He’s the only rockin’ Athonite monk I know. A genius, a linguist, a theologian, a historian, a warm human being and a connoisseur of great art. The kind of man you could speak with for hours, and forget time passed. The kind of man who, when displaying his vast knowledge of nearly any subject, doesn’t make you feel stupid, but wiser. In other words, he’s a teacher.

My son Michael recorded and edited the video (note the cool way he inserted Father’s slides!). He said to say that the video is a bit grainy because Fr. Maximos wanted the light dimmed for the Power Point slides.

An Eschatology of the Secular

The laity’s unique vocation to consecrate the temporal order to God is senseless jabber if that same temporal order has no place in the age to come. — Jordan Haddad

A dear friend of mine, the A.B.D. theologian Jordan Haddad, has written a masterful article on something very near and dear to my heart: the lay vocation to consecrate the world itself to God unto a new creation.

I am convinced that the new evangelization awaits the full development of this vision for a “mundane mysticism” proper to the secular laity to finally emerge. This vision has the capacity to spiritually nourish lay “secular geniuses” who need not feel compelled to become ‘church mice’ or resemble world-renouncing monks in order to become radical saints in and for the world.

Thank you, Jordan, for this immense contribution and all future theological work you will do.

https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/an-eschatology-of-the-secular/ 

The whole thing is so bloody simple

From my Sunday journal entry:

I was helping my Mom out of the car so she could take hold of her walker and cross the street to head with me into the church for the 4:00 p.m. Vigil Mass. The sidewalk was uneven and tricky. It was hot, and she was feeling weak.

It was Ascension Day.

A kind friend caught sight of us and quickly came over to help complete this process. She was so gracious and gentle with my Mom. As the woman left us, Mom stopped walking and said to me, “I think she was an angel.”

As we got into our pew, Mom looked at me and whispered, “God planned that one.”

For whatever reason, that one sentence struck me like lightning. I thought: she summed up in a single phrase, drawn from reality, the entire mystery of faith, the whole purpose of creation and redemption. As I knelt down next to her to pray, I murmured in a low voice, “The whole thing is just so bloody simple. What I spend millions of words trying to say, she said. She was.”

During the Offertory, I thought: Jesus ascended into Heaven and hurled down the Spirit on earth to Mass-proliferate Heaven’s kindness and beauty on earth. Humble acts of great love are the real acts of the apostles. The whole work of God over the 14.5 billion year history of our universe — His “plan” — conspired toward that single encounter outside my car.

In each of such seemingly insignificant moments, opportunities which populate every person’s day, there is present in sign-language the whole of our humanity, the whole of eternity, and the holy, holy, holy of God.

And if it’s true that true wisdom is innocence regained on the far side of experience, which I believe it is, my Mom is supremely wise.

For we are his workmanship [poiēma], created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. — Ephesians 2:10

Okay, where did He go??

The Ascension of Jesus to the Father, forty days after the resurrection, is often lost on the Christian imagination. What exactly is it? Is it a mere dramatic exit from the stage of history for Jesus, who leaves us behind to now get our sea legs and fend for ourselves? Or is it Jesus’ escape from this world to go prepare a better place for us, so we too can also one day finally escape to heaven?

No!

The Ascension is the definitive rescue of creation from sin, corruption and death. The Ascension is the return of all creation, by Christ’s priestly humanity, to the Father as an ongoing event of liberation, thanksgiving and joy. The Ascension means that the human heart of God now forever beats in the eternity of the Trinity! In fact, countless human hearts now ever beat there, since Christ in the Ascension brings back to the Father something He did not have when He first “came down from heaven” — our humanity. Christ brings us back with Him as members of His risen Body.

The Ascension brings all history to its final End. You see, in Scripture the drama of history can be summed up very simply: all things come from God, and all things will return to God. Like it or not, believe it or not, this is an inexorable law.

But here’s a key point: God created us in His image to be the hinge, the point of return on which history pivots God’s gift of creation back toward Him as a grateful return. This is the deepest meaning of the priestly nature of humanity. I might say more specifically, our freedom is the real priestly hinge, the pivot (Heb. 10:5-10). And we are allowed by God’s majestic gift of freedom to either say Yes or No. Tragically, the Original depraved ingratitude of our No — of sin — crippled our freedom, unhinged the hinge, tilted the pivot off center, and plunged creation headlong into death by means of our stillborn priesthood.

But God, over-filled with compassion, became Man to rescue us, to empower us and to restore us with us! By becoming Man, by living, dying, rising as a Yes (2 Cor. 1:19), and establishing the Eucharistic Sacrifice as the new Hinge, new Pivot and everlasting Vocation of humanity, Christ reconstituted and perfected our priestly calling (John 19:30).

Then, by Ascending to the Father as the event of Final Return, and sending to us His fiery Spirit at Pentecost, Christ opened up His Priesthood — our priesthood — empowering us to co-fulfill this titanic Vocation with Him. Hallelujah!!!

When I see the heavens, the work of your hands,
the moon and the stars which you arranged,
what is man that you should keep him in mind,
mortal man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him little less than a god;
with glory and honor you crowned him,
gave him power over the works of your hands,
put all things under his feet. – Psalm 8:4-7

The Church, Christ’s Body, has been called and empowered at every moment to be uplifting, raising, dragging, offering Upward all of creation back to the Father through, with and in Christ in an ongoing Ascending rescue mission of Return (Phil. 3:14).

My God, it’s going on right now as you read. Can you feel it quaking in you?

But how can one see signs of that liberating, compassionate Ascension empowering humanity to say Yes and embrace her priesthood again? See Church….

Creation playing to an empty house: Never!

Photo my wife took while I was watching the sunset

We are here to witness the creation and to abet it. We are here to notice each thing so each thing gets noticed. Together we notice not only each mountain shadow and each stone on the beach but, especially, we notice the beautiful faces and complex natures of each other. We are here to bring to consciousness the beauty and power that are around us and to praise the people who are here with us. We witness our generation and our times. We watch the weather. Otherwise, creation would be playing to an empty house. — Annie Dillard

Not unlike many people who were children before the age of smartphones, my very first memories are connected with noticing things in nature that seemed to the adults around me hidden or unimportant — things like ants, bees, spiders, mites, butterfly eggs, tadpoles, damselflies, or the wildly complex ecosystems hidden under rocks and logs. My dad used to love to remind me that, when I was two or three years old, I would spend countless hours sitting beside ant mounds, transfixed in rapt silence. I do remember vividly, in fact, how I took the greatest pleasure in noticing the work each ant did in the colony, excavating grains of sand, dragging in freshly killed insects, or guarding the mound entrance from intruders.

I had (and retain) a deep seated drive to discover and rejoice in things that, I imagined, no one would ever notice if I didn’t. In each moment, it always seemed to me, there were a thousand million things around to notice, each more fascinating than the other. Never to pass this away ever again. So, until I lost this awareness in my teens, I never ever once remember being bored.

I also recall as a child hearing Matthew 10:29 read aloud at Mass, and thinking: that is my place in the world, my place with God.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.

May I be never apart from the God notices, too. The God who notices, and who loves.

For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for you would not fashion what you hate.
How could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O Ruler and Lover of souls,
for your imperishable Spirit is in all things! — Wisdom 11:24-12:1

Yesterday I was out at the beach with my family, and I waded out a few hundred yards into the shallow Gulf waters. In the silence of that vast space, I was unexpectedly overcome by prayer. More specifically, I was overwhelmed by an intense awareness that, as a priest of nature and of grace, it was my dignified office in that moment to look at creation with God’s delight and joy, and give voice to creation’s grateful delight and joy in God. Created God’s image, humanity alone on earth can offer logikēn latreian, “rational worship” (Rom. 21:1) to God on behalf of every non-rational creature. We alone can say to the Father, “Thank you for calling us from non-existence into being!”

Like a crazy man I shouted into the sky, over the waters — with fish literally jumping out of the water all around me! — a line from the Catechism (#1047) that I have memorized because of its mind-blowing beauty:

The visible universe, then, is itself destined to be transformed, so that the world itself, restored to its original state, facing no further obstacles, should be at the service of the just, sharing their glorification in the risen Jesus Christ.

Surrounded by a horizon-less sea, I sensed so clearly that all is sheer gift, none of it is my possession. The universe, my body and soul, my family on the beach. All of it must be (and will be!) returned to God. But my calling is to do that in an act of absolute submission, with thanksgiving and praise, in trust, out of a non-possessive humility that acknowledges in every moment: existence is never deserved, only to be gratefully received and gratefully returned.

Only in returning all, letting go in a quite absolute way, can I receive all back. For only then is all no longer a possession, but all is gift.

I saw a dead horseshoe crab floating by me, and thought:

Death opens out into life only when it is offered Up in an act of grateful return, of non-possessive surrender to the Father from whom all blessings flow. This is what makes the death of Christ the consummate act of creation. His death on the cross is the only final and perfect return of all to the Father. And the Resurrection is the Father’s response to Christ’s priestly return. This is why the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the fulcrum for our priestly service to all creation through, with and in Him.

So please, please, never be bored! For around you is a world that did not have to be, but is. A world that awaits your noticing, your rapt attention, your lifted voice, your bodily offering in creation’s name to its Maker, singing a new song of praise and blessing, of thanksgiving and joyful worship.

Look around you! The world is ablaze in divine fire! You only need stop, be silent, and notice that you are being Noticed.

Pope Francis gets all this so well:

The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.