Catholic Girl Journey

The patience of God

God’s patience is on display throughout the whole of the Bible; however, this past Sunday’s continuation of the Bread of Life discourse really underscored just how much He is willing to suffer our hard-headedness as well as our hard-heartedness.

The gospel picks up when the crowd finds Jesus after being fed with the loaves and fishes. They are astonished that He would flee from their intention of making Him king (at least an earthly one). But Jesus cuts off their question by telling them they are seeking Him wrongly, not “…because you have seen signs but because you have eaten your fill of the loaves…”(John 6:26) Their response of “What must we do to perform the works of God?” (John 6:28) makes it appear that they are paying attention to what Jesus is saying. Jesus gives the definition that has become the standard for all Christianity: to have faith in the One whom the Father has sent.

In the most ironic turn of events possible, the Jews ask Him, “What sign can you do that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert…”  (John 6:30-31). Jesus’ initial proclamation to them, is ringing true: they have not seen the signs. Hello, didn’t they just eat the bread that was multiplied to the point there were leftovers? How could they ask for a sign like eating of bread when they experienced it first hand? If the seriousness of salvation wasn’t at the heart of this, it would almost be comical. And then Jesus’ loving, and may I say merciful, patience instructs them that it wasn’t Moses who provided the bread, but the Father. God the Father sees to all our needs, not our wants, but what we truly need. First and foremost is a relationship with Him. Despite the grumblings of the Israelites in the desert, God teaches them He can be relied on to sustain them. Jesus uses a very similar miracle to lay the foundation for what will be instituted on Holy Thursday: the Eucharist.

I must admit that in the 40+ years of hearing this story, it was only this year that I caught on to the depth of blindness displayed by the Jews. It now feels like I have a spotlight on my life to see where I am being blind and dumb to how the Spirit is trying to lead me. We have countless saints, both in example and insights to Jesus and yet we still ask God to give us signs. As this incident illustrates, God does not cast us off and leave us to our ignorance, but oh so patiently answers us, teaching again and again His ways. Let us pray for open hearts and minds to accept the answers He provides instead of insisting on our own.  

Catholic Girl Journey

Transformed

Which word would you use if you wanted to convey permanence: change or transform?

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, while the word transform is defined using the word change, change has three synonyms to convey subtle differences in meaning: alter, transform and switch. Defining change using the word transform includes a more precise nuance: to make radically different. And for “transform” itself, the definition is to change completely. This past Sunday’s gospel was the beginning of the Bread of Life discourse in John’s gospel.  It sets the stage for the next four weeks as Jesus teaches this difficult concept. We know it today as the Eucharist, but reaction of the people to Jesus’ proclamation was anything but welcoming.

How can He give us His flesh to eat? It’s not about puzzling the technicality of it, but rather thinking how utterly revolting the thought of eating the flesh of another human being would be. It was hard for those who had just feasted on the bread and fish that Jesus multiplied to hear they would need to eat His flesh one day. Many remained faithful in spite of this, learning only later how this could be accomplished.  It has never been an easy concept. Even after 2,000 years people can still find it hard to believe the little, white wisp of bread is Jesus: body, blood, soul, and divinity. It is not the priest himself who changes the bread into the Body of Jesus. Rather it is the priest using his ordained faculties, in the person of Christ, calling down from Heaven for the hosts to be transformed, to be changed completely, to be radically different than flour, water, and the juice of grapes.

As Catholics we believe that once the bread and wine are consecrated, they become and remain the Body and Blood of Jesus. From an outward appearance, they still look like bread and wine, but they have been permanently changed. Some Protestant denominations believe in this change, but they think of it as only temporary, lasting for just as long as the worship service. As I was reading a reflection about Sunday’s gospel, one of Jesus’ directives caught my attention, “Gather the fragments left over, so that nothing will be wasted.” (John 6:12) I don’t think this was Jesus just being frugal. The leftovers in this case were not transformed into Jesus’ Body and Blood, but they were the result of a miracle, and a miracle should not be tossed away in the trash or given to the animals to eat. Likewise when at Mass more hosts are consecrated than are needed, they are gathered up and stored in the tabernacle.

If we truly believe in Jesus’ permanent presence in the Eucharist, can we expect to stay the same person we are today after we receive Him? While our transformation may happen slowly over time, we can’t expect to believe, receive and stay the same. Jesus will never force us to change, but just a little opening in our heart to welcome Him in the reception of host and chalice is an opportunity for grace. Little by little, we too will not just be changed, but will be transformed, will be radically different, doing God’s will rather than our own will.  

Catholic Girl Journey

The first Eucharist

Oh the smell of freshly baked bread; it makes one feel at home. In ancient times, one did not go to the store to buy bread, it would have been made at home. I wonder who made the bread for the first Eucharist?

I love receiving Jesus in Holy Communion and I equally enjoy spending time with Him in adoration, but the perfect round host is vastly different from what was used at the Last Supper. It was an unleavened bread, but was it round or oval/rectangular? Did it have any flavoring to it, like some olive oil or honey? Was it large, like pie-sized, or small, like a dessert plate? While the details may not matter in terms of belief, thinking about them can draw us closer to Jesus, especially to His human nature.

The month of May seems to be popular for children receiving their first Holy Communion and is synonymous with Mary, as she is often crowned during May processions. These two ideas collided in my head and made me wonder if Mary made the bread for the first Eucharist? We know she was in Jerusalem, since she was at the foot of the cross. And being Jesus’s mom, I’m sure she helped His earthly ministry in whatever ways she could. It almost seems like a logical progression: she gave birth to Jesus, and thus provided Him with His human body, so who else would be the one to make the bread that would become the first Eucharist, the transubstantiated presentation of Jesus Himself? And did she continue making the bread that was used for the Eucharistic celebrations after Jesus ascended into heaven?

Picture the scene at that Last Supper when Jesus picked up the bread made by Mary with a mother’s love, and blessed it, performing the first consecration, and then shared it with the people He loved the most, the men he called to follow Him. Now wrap that all up into the host the next time you receive Communion or are in adoration. It’s food for thought and prayer.

 

Catholic Girl Journey

Empty and full

On Good Friday, the church is filled with people who come to commemorate the Passion and Death of Jesus. The tabernacle door is open wide and it is empty. The sanctuary candle next to it: extinguished. The familiar visible signs of the presence of God are absent.

We read the Passion from John’s Gospel. The leaders of the Jewish community are filled with hate for Jesus. Full of pride for their position as respected officials, these learned men seek the utter destruction of Jesus. The Roman soldiers are filled with violence, finding and outlet in the abuse of Jesus; mocking him as the King of the insignificant local community. Jesus empties Himself completely, not just by dying on the cross, but in the spilling of the precious Blood and water which flowed from His side. In a surprising fullness of courage, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus claim Jesus’ body and where it fills the void of the tomb that awaited a body.

The tomb could not hold Jesus. He would rise and leave it empty for his disciples to find. The tabernacle cannot stay empty for long, as the Easter Vigil Mass fills it with the newly consecrated hosts. The church is filled with Easter decor of flowers and incense as she welcomes new members to God’s flock. And the song of Alleluia fills the building and echoes off the walls.

The starkness of the Good Friday liturgy heightens our awareness of the Eucharistic presence of God. In the emptiness and fullness it exemplifies the destruction of sin in our lives when we choose our will over God’s will for us. The fullness of Easter fills the empty places, even that of the tomb, with joy of God’s presence among us. The light of Jesus’ example is not merely like that of a candle, but rather like that of the sun on a cloudless day. It reminds us that even if we have to suffer to do God’s will, we can rejoice because Jesus rose from the dead and in the fullness of time, He will come to take us home to heaven with Him.

Catholic Girl Journey

Just Him and me

My eyes closed. My head bowed. I was still. It was just Him and me.

During the homily, the priest mentioned that the founder of the Community of St. John wrote we are most ourselves when we are in adoration of God. That was a rather powerful statement; it resonated with me throughout the rest of the Mass.  The Community of St. John has been an inspiration to many, even aiding in conversions. The humility of all the members is evident in  the way they don’t just kneel, but bow down, even to the point of lying prostrate before the Blessed Sacrament. They know they are the created and He is their Creator.

While I do make an effort to concentrate when I attend Mass, it is very easy to get distracted. This time, I just kept thinking that I was there to adore God. It was the one and only reason to be there. Going up to receive communion, the choir was singing, “Lead me to the cross.” As I was waiting to receive, I was thinking the song was more of a Lenten song than one for a communion procession.  After receiving, I came back to the pew with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes knowing I was a vessel containing Jesus. I do often close my eyes when praying after communion; it helps to block out the distractions. This time was different; closing my eyes heightened my hearing to listen to the song. Now, it seemed very appropriate, as Jesus offered his Body for us on the cross. This same Jesus was present to me in the host as I recited the Anima Christi prayer, “…Water flowing from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me.” It was like I was there at the foot of the cross, praying. It was just Jesus and me.

The brightness of the lights as I opened my eyes brought me back to church. A precious moment with such intensity is a rare occasion. I wish everyone could, at least just once in their lifetime, have a similar experience, feeling Jesus’ presence, not just physically in the host, but spiritually in the soul.

Catholic Girl Journey

Open hands

Little hands are open, palms facing up. There is a fading blue marker stain in the middle of the palm looking like it is slowly being washed and worn off. The young girl looks up at me, her face solemn as she says her “Amen.” Her fingers are long for such a young one, and more importantly, unstained. I instinctively  place the host on top of her fingers rather than in the marked palm. Some might object: she should receive in the mouth if her hands were stained, but she is a youngster and probably figured if she washed her hands, they are clean. Others might object: a communicant has the right to decide how to receive; it’s not my place to judge the cleanliness of her hands any more than I would want her to judge the cleanliness of mine.

It is always a privilege to distribute Holy Communion to my fellow congregants. But the thought of this little girl with the stained hands stayed with me long after Mass ended. The more I pondered it and my reaction to her, the more it made me think of my relationship with God. Specifically during the Mass when we say, “we lift them [our hearts] up to the Lord,” I have often felt something lacking. It’s as though I wish I could brush off the imperfections from my heart before I lift it up. I do lift it up anyway, as is, with hope in God’s mercy. Why do we lift up our hearts to the Lord? It is right and just. We render, or give back, to God what God has given to us. Although we should not expect any payback, God gives us His Son in the Eucharist. And so we open wide, either our hands or mouths, taking in the most holy of sacraments. And God accepts us with stained hands, hearts and all.

Catholic Girl Journey

The Same but Different

It was the same order of Mass, the Eucharist was consecrated and distributed, yet it was different. While in Washington DC, I attended Saint Luke’s at the Immaculate Conception. It is a parish of Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter. Basically it is an Anglican parish that has been received into the Catholic Church, but it retains elements of the Anglican heritage. It was a beautiful Mass and I was very glad to be part of the congregation, since it was my first Catholic Mass that was not of the Roman rite.

The first thing I noticed was that five deacons were assisting the priest and the priest was wearing a hat as he processed to the altar. The hat may have a special name and have Anglican roots. I believe in previous years priests of the Roman rite may have also worn one, but that was a bit before my time (or memory). The priest faced the altar for many of the prayers. While for some that may hearken back to the Latin Mass, again for me, this was new since I am only familiar with the Mass as it is today.

After  the procession, everyone kneels. I was glad they had booklets for me to follow that included the required postures, as this was a new one for me. We knelt from the sign of the cross until the Gloria. The penitential rite began with a set of responses between the priest and the people from Psalm 43. The priest then said the prayer “I confess to Almighty God…” by himself, which was a twist for me. The people responded to that prayer with, “May Almighty God have mercy on thee, forgive thee thy sins, and bring thee to everlasting life.” What an incredible moment to pray for the priest before he consecrates the sacrament! All too often we forget that the priests are human too, and need our prayers just as much as we need his. The people then said the “I confess to Almighty God…” prayer and then stood for the Gloria.

The liturgy of the Word was very similar to the Roman rite, as was the liturgy of the Eucharist, with the exception of some different prayers and definitely more singing by the choir (which alone would have made my attendance there a joy!). There was one prayer in particular that  was recited by all after the Lamb of God/Agnus Dei, but before Communion:

“We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.”

I found it such a beautiful prayer to say before receiving Communion, that I took a picture of it so as to remember the words. One of the added blessings in attending this Mass, is that it increased my awareness of the routines of our own Mass.  We sometimes  lack the appreciation and attention this special encounter with our Lord deserves. This particular prayer really focused my attention on the gift I was about to receive.

Another first for me was receiving Communion at the altar rail. After Communion the priest and people all recited a prayer of thanksgiving for receiving the sacrament. Although I don’t include the words here, it  was of equal beauty to the one before Communion. While the concluding rite seemed to be the same, the curve ball came when the last Gospel was read, after the sign of the cross. The passage is the beginning of John’s Gospel. How appropriate now that we had received Communion to be reminded before we left that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It was truly a blessing to receive the same Jesus and participate in a Sunday worship just a bit different from what is familiar to me.