A while back, as I was returning to my seat in the pew after receiving Communion, I suddenly became aware that I couldn’t recall standing up, walking forward in line nor the moment I received Him in this most Holy Sacrament—I was too distracted. What was worse is that I couldn’t even recall what I was thinking about during those moments! I had traded in my attention and gratitude to our Lord and His unbelievable gift for something not even worth remembering a few moments later. I felt horrible! I prayed that God would forgive my distractedness and have since received Him more mindfully at Mass.
“How many times have I treated you as a dead object?” — Vinny Flynn
Maybe you can relate to my experience. Each week, we stand, go forward and receive the very Lord of creation, the Savior of the world, and we do it all the while thinking about what time the football game starts, what we will have for lunch, or wondering why so and so didn’t shake my hand at the offering of peace. We are distracted. And if we don’t realize what is actually happening, we certainly cannot have the appropriate response!
Perhaps a good way to envision going to Communion is to think of a greeting line. As we approach the host of the banquet, we are thinking of what we will say to him, deciding what we will share of ourselves. When the moment arrives, there is joy at being recognized—of being known and welcomed. The host is so grateful for us celebrating with him, and likewise we are so grateful for having been invited. There is a mingling of what we share and likewise, what is shared with us. Now imagine that this banquet was for all those that the host has saved from death; that he has offered a chance at new life. How focused would we be on the moment we get to greet the host? And yet, that is exactly what happens each Mass. Even more than that, this Host not only shares Himself with us, he desires to become one with us! Wow!
There are many great books written about the Eucharist. One of them seems applicable to our tendency towards distraction. It is entitled 7 Secrets of the Eucharist, by Vinny Flynn. The first of these secrets is that the Eucharist is alive. Flynn laments, “how many times have I treated you as a dead object?” As Catholics we know that the bread and wine truly become Jesus’ Body and Blood. But even to acknowledge this reality is not enough. Flynn asserts, “The Host we receive is not a thing! It’s not a wafer! It’s not bread! It’s a person—and He’s alive!” Eucharist is truly His Body and Blood, but not some inanimate body—He is alive! The more we become aware of this reality, the more we can have the appropriate response—thankfulness (the word Eucharist means thanksgiving). As we go forward this Sunday, and every Mass afterwards, may we be truly excited to greet the host of the banquet, to receive the Host that has truly become the Living God!
Washing of Feet, by Giotto Scrovegni (1267-1337)
As we enter into Holy Week, we see Christ entering Jerusalem with the people saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David…hosanna in the highest.” They put branches on the ground and are expectant of what he will do. The memory of the raising of Lazarus—the Gospel we heard last weekend—is still fresh in their mind and many have come to see Him as the long-awaited Messiah. By the end of the week, however, many people will be shouting on Good Friday, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” For them, Jesus had not fulfilled their expectations of what the Messiah would be. He ate dinner with sinners, cured on the Sabbath and dared to decry the hypocrisy exhibited by the chief priests and scribes. It is a tragic moment—the most tragic moment of all time—when we condemn our God to death. It is a most stark contrast to the reception Jesus receives on Palm Sunday.
The crucifixion was brutal, there is no doubt about that, but if all we see is the pain and suffering we are missing the point. This is the same Jesus that enters as the Son of David—in other words, as a king, the king—to the greetings of “hosanna!” To see Good Friday as simply tragic is to miss the reality that Jesus longs for us to see. It is the reality He strove to make crystal clear to His apostles. On Holy Thursday, Jesus not only links the Old Testament covenant of Passover with the new covenant of the Eucharist by His own blood, He also links His kingship with His Passion. To be king is to be servant of all.
“So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist.” (John 13:2-5)
What was it that Jesus does when He is “fully aware” that His Father has put “everything into his power”? He serves. Wow…
Jesus’ kingship is one of the Suffering Servant
If I had all the power in the world, if I were king, would I choose to wash my friends’ feet or stretch out my hands and be nailed to a cross? Would you? Make no mistake; Jesus does not want to die in His humanity. He prays that the “cup pass from me,” but He submits Himself to the will of the Father and was obedient even until death. To be a king is to be a servant, and to be a servant is to be a king. As we go throughout Holy Week and we see the many responses to Jesus, from “Hosanna in the highest” to “Crucify him” let us realize that they are the flip side of the same coin. Jesus’ kingly glory is His suffering; Jesus kingship is made present in His servant hood.
Lord, teach us to enter into service with Your Son, so as to enter into His glory. Thank You for Your Passion and Your resurrection. Amen.
Veronica’s Veil by Domenico Fetti (1618 or 1622)
On Friday evenings we gather for the Stations of the Cross. This traditional meditative prayer is designed to help us see what the Way of the Cross would have been like for Jesus. In a word, it was brutal. But Lent, and the way of the cross, is so much more than that: it is also pure love. To grapple with this reality,We need to see ourselves in the story. Let us reflect on the many conflicting feelings, the stark contrasts between a love beyond understanding and such burning hatred. Let’s see ourselves as characters in the events of that day, for Jesus’ Passion is our story, too:
Perhaps we are like the Roman Centurion, whose duty it is to enforce the laws of Caesar that Pontius Pilate, the governor, puts forth. Maybe like him we are filled with awe at Jesus not pleading for his life but, rather, laying it down—something we would never consider doing ourselves. Maybe we are more like many of the indifferent people who Jesus passed by on His way to Golgotha. Like them, maybe we see Jesus as a nice enough man who seemed to care about others but who didn’t know enough to do what the Pharisees and Chief Priests asked of Him. Living as God asks us seems too risky.
Or perhaps we are more like John, the Beloved Disciple, who saw the tears in Mary’s eyes as she beheld her Son and had her heart pierced by the sword. Maybe we are filled with grief at the capacity of the human heart to cause and bear pain as we stand with others in their suffering. Possibly we are more like Simon of Cyrene who comes along for the journey grudgingly at first, slowly coming to realize the incredible grace of being asked to help our suffering Lord in all we meet. Perhaps we are like the angry thief, lashing out at Jesus, our words filled with anger at why He won’t take away our pains and sufferings. Maybe we are like the repentant thief, recognizing our sinfulness and begging for His mercy. We might be like the Roman soldier whose job it was to hammer the nails; like him, we might feel we have no choice but to comply with evil or we might as easily suffer the same fate. Possibly we are like the High Priest who feels the weight of trying to protect everyone from false prophets and in our fear we are blinded to the Truth. Maybe we are like the many other persons there that day.
We are likely a composite of the characters in the story, filled with emotions and motivations that are often at odds. As we continue our journey through Lent, let us take time to see how we fit into the story, for it is THE story. It is one that we all participate in, whether we are conscious of it or not. Christ offers us His forgiveness and love this Lent, how are we responding?
Blessings on your Lent!
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation–the day that Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb. We of course celebrate His birth 9 months later at Christmas, but we often forget the incredible importance of Mary’s “yes” to God that took place at the Annunciation.
“Mary’s human cooperation led to our divine salvation and the opening of the gates of heaven.” –Homesteaddad.com
I found this short article that made me take a moment and think a little more deeply about her “yes” and the many opportunities I have to say yes to God throughout my days. Check it out at homesteaddad.com.
Detail of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Guido of Siena, circa 1270
At Mass today we hear of how the Holy Family made the trek to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the law that “Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord.” It’s quite the scene: the Temple is busy with activity. All kinds of sights, sounds and smells bombard the senses. It is easy to fade into the background in such an environment. People are coming and going offering prayers and sacrifices. As Mary and Joseph carry the infant Jesus, Simeon enters the scene. He sees beyond the hustle and bustle. He has come prompted by the Holy Spirit, seeking the Christ, and through the eyes of faith he sees in this baby the fulfillment of all of God’s promises. How beautiful! But this encounter also brings about something in Mary and Joseph as well. Simeon prophesies and blesses them and says to Mary, “…you yourself a sword will pierce—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” It seems to be a strange kind of blessing!
We too are asked to make an offering. We too are to look beyond the hustle and bustle of our busy world. Though none of us will stand on the steps of the Temple holding this infant, we present Jesus to all we encounter. We do this in how we live our lives and speak our words. The Holy Spirit reaches out to us, calling us to greater blessing. The question is, are we ready to hear the blessing that God desires to give us? Can we see through the eyes of faith that the sword is truly a blessing; that a change within is what God desires? In the first reading, Malachi tells us that the Lord will refine “them like gold or like silver.” It is through conversion of heart that God prepares us with the sword. It is through deeper conversion that we are granted the greatest blessing imaginable—union with God!
May the Lord purify us and draw us unto Himself. May He find hearts pliable in his hands and faith that is firm. May we seek greater conversion of heart, so that at the end of our days we may say in the words of Simeon: “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.”