Sunday, March 30, 2008

Divine Mercy Sunday

Today is the Second Sunday of Easter. In 2000, the second Sunday of Easter received the second name of "Divine Mercy Sunday." Emphasizing the message of mercy explicit in the Paschal Mystery and the Easter season, and finding a particular expression in the private revelations of St. Faustina Kowalska, Divine Mercy Sunday is a wonderful celebration of the Lord's infinite love and his restorative forgiveness.

You can find a very helpful document from the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy
(an apostolate of the Congregation of Marians of the Immaculate Conception, based at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Eden Hill, Stockbridge, MA) which discusses Divine Mercy here. Let me highlight one portion of that document that deals with the Eucharist:

Rev. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, explains to us clearly in his booklet The
Divine Mercy
: Message and Devotion another, pastoral intention that the Lord
seems to have had in promising extraordinary graces on this Feast day:

Our Lord is also emphasizing, through this promise, the infinite value of Confession and Communion as miracles of mercy. He wants us to realize that since the Eucharist is His own Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, it is the “Fountain of Life” (Diary, 300). The Eucharist is Jesus, Himself, the Living God, longing to pour Himself as Mercy into our hearts.

Why would Our Lord feel the need to emphasize this? Because so many people do
not really understand it. They either see no need to receive Holy Communion, or
they receive it simply out of habit. As St. Paul explains in his letter to the Corinthians, they eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, “without recognizing the body of the Lord” (1 Cor 11:27-29).

In His revelations to St. Faustina Our Lord makes it very clear what He is
offering us in Holy Communion and how much it hurts Him when we treat His
presence with indifference:

My great delight is to unite Myself with souls. … When I come to
a human heart in Holy Communion, My hands are full of all kinds of graces which I want to give to the soul. But souls do not even pay any attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. Oh, how sad I am that souls do not recognize Love! They treat Me as a dead object (1385; also see 1288 and 1447).

So, Our Lord’s promise of complete forgiveness is both a reminder and a call.
It is a reminder that He is truly present and truly alive in the Eucharist, filled with
love for us and waiting for us to turn to Him with trust. And it is a call for us all
to be washed clean in His Love through Confession and Holy Communion — no matter how terrible our sins — and begin our lives again. He is offering us a new start.

There is much here, but the part that most grabs my attention is: "But souls do not even pay any attention to Me; they leave Me to Myself and busy themselves with other things. Oh, how sad I am that souls do not recognize Love! They treat Me as a dead object." How true this is, for myself as well as others. I find many things to busy myself with during my days rather drawing closer to the Lord. Often times when I think about going to Eucharistic adoration I don't go because I think "I have too much to do." This is especially true when I am work. I try to get to adoration periodically on my lunch hour, but too often I don't go because I feel that there are more pressing things to do. It is also frighteningly true that we do not recognize love. Think of how often we look for love in all the wrong places, as the country song goes. And most penetrating to me is the comment that we treat him as a dead object. If only we could see him with eyes of faith. So hard to do, yet so essential.

The Gospel reading for today is taken from John. It speaks of mercy, since it includes Jesus' giving the apostles the ability to forgive sins (John 20:21-23). It also contains the passage about Thomas' refusal to believe that Jesus has risen from the dead "without putting my finger in the nail-marks and my hand into his side" (John 20:25). When Jesus comes a week later and Thomas finally sees him, Thomas gives the response that we give silently at mass during the elevation of the body and blood during the consecration: "My Lord and my God!" (John 20:28). Jesus is pleased with Thomas' act of faith, but he lets Thomas and us know that we are asked to have a still deeper faith: "Jesus said to him, 'Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.'" (John 20:29).

So hard to do, yet so essential.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Lex orandi, lex credendi

"Lex orandi, lex credendi" literally means "the law of praying [is] the law of believing." Another way that this phrase is rendered is: "How we pray is how we believe." This statement indicates the power of gesture, ritual, and symbol. These are a reflection of belief, but they also shape belief, for good or for ill.

How we enter a church is a good example of this principle. If we come in and simply walk into a pew, our gesture indicates that we do not believe (either explicitly or implicitly) that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist reserved in the tabernacle. But if we genuflect before entering the pew, and specifically genuflect toward the tabernacle (wherever that may be), then we are reminding ourselves, and acting as a witness to others, that we believe Jesus is physically there. But if we genuflect toward the front (in effect, toward the altar) when the tabernacle is not situated there, then our way of praying is a habit rather than an assent, an affirmation.

After mass, my family and I go up to the tabernacle to pray. (We never used to do this, but have been doing so for a while now.) Although we have received Jesus, although we ourselves are for the moment "tabernacles" (since we actually, really, physically carry Jesus within us), going up to the tabernacle reinforces this. Think about Jesus, at the Last Supper, where he is both physically present in his human nature and then also Eucharistically present in the bread-turned body and the wine-turned blood. That act is not redundant, it's not superfluous. Rather, it's super-abundant. But if we receive communion and immediately leave, what are we saying about what we have just received? Are we treating communion as a kind of "fast food"? Are we saying, "this is merely bread, this is merely wine"?

When my family and I pass a Catholic church while driving, we acknowledge Jesus' presence there. My wife and I make the sign of the Cross, while our children, who are 5 and 4, say "Hi, Jesus." I try to do this even when I am in a car with other people (although I am still somewhat self-conscious about it). This can be a very important witness to others, even other drivers simply passing by when you are doing this. We want our children to internalize and reinforce belief in the Real Presence. If we can instill reverence for the presence of Jesus outside of the church building, perhaps that will increase our reverence even further when we are inside the church and in close proximity to Jesus himself.

I don't mean to imply that I and my family do this perfectly and that others are don't. This is a reminder to myself that I can and need to do better, to do more. We cannot show Christ too much reverence, reverence which is due to him because of his nature (for he is God) and because of his sacrifice (for he is our redeemer).

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Glorified Body

The Gospel reading for today at mass is the passage immediately following the Emmaus account:

"Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread. While they were still speaking about this, he stood in their midst and said to them, 'Peace be with you.' But they were startled and terrified and thought that they were seeing a ghost. Then he said to them, 'Why are you troubled? And why do questions arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.' And as he said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While they were still incredulous for joy and were amazed, he asked them, 'Have you anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of baked fish; he took it and ate it in front of them" (Luke 24:35-43).

We move from the reference to Jesus' body in the Eucharist at Emmaus to his glorified body in Jerusalem with the Eleven. Both are Jesus' body; both are not what we typically expect bodies to look like. Jesus suddenly appears in their midst in Jerusalem, making them think they are seeing a ghost. We are not used to bodies simply showing up rather than walking into a room. He allows the disciples to touch him, and shows him that he can eat. Jesus' glorified body is similar to the natural body, but also is different. In the Gospel reading for mass on Easter Tuesday, we read the account in John where Mary Magdalene sees Jesus for the first time after the Resurrection. However, like the two disciples heading toward Emmaus, she does not recognize him (John 20:11-18). She thinks he might be the gardener. Clearly, Jesus looks different than he looked before his resurrection. But she recognizes him when he calls her name.

Both these passages are about how we recognize the risen Lord. He reveals himself to us through relationship and through the Eucharist. He calls us by name, and he gives us his body and blood. The Eucharist is the preeminent way that Jesus gave us to build up our relationship with him. And the Eucharist is the preeminent sign of our hope in our own resurrection and the glorified body to come.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

On the Road to Emmaus

The Gospel reading from today's mass is the story of the two disciples who unknowingly meet Jesus on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection. During their journey together, Jesus showed them how the scriptures foretold of the Messiah. Then:

"As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on farther. But they urged him, 'Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is almost over.' So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight. Then they said to each other, 'Were not our hearts burning (within us) while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?' So they set out at once and returned to Jerusalem where they found gathered together the eleven and those with them who were saying, 'The Lord has truly been raised and has appeared to Simon!' Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:28-35).

We often overlook the Eucharistic aspect of this passage. "...while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them" is very similar to the institution narratives in Matthew ("Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples" [Matthew 26:26]), Mark ("And as they were eating, he took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them" [Mark 14:22]), and Luke ("And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them" [Luke 22:19]).

It was at the breaking of the bread, at Jesus' act of consecrating the Eucharist, that the two disciples recognized him. This recognition connects well with the words of Blessed Mother Teresa which I quoted yesterday. We must recognize Christ in the Eucharist, and when we do, we will not be able to stop ourselves from telling the joyous news to others. Then, too, we will recognize others for who they are: those for whom Jesus gave his body and shed his blood.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mother Teresa on the Eucharist

Here is Blessed Mother Teresa on the Eucharist:

"Our lives have to continuously feed on the Eucharist. If we were not able to see Christ under the appearance of bread, neither would it be possible for us to discover him under the humble appearances of the bruised bodies of the poor" (Mother Teresa: Her Essential Wisdom, edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi, p. 115).

This passage is in a section of the book entitled "The Religious Life." Mother Teresa often talked about how the Eucharist (especially in Eucharistic adoration) was the source of strength for herself and her sisters, and she often distinguished what the Missionaries of Charity do from what social workers do. We should all be aware of the crucial relationship between the Eucharist and religious vocations.

However, we would also miss an important lesson that such devotion to the Eucharist is not exclusively for priests and religious sisters and brothers. Mother Teresa makes clear here that there is no dichotomy between faith and justice, between morality and social action, between piety and praxis. She so succinctly links the idea of "we walk by faith, not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7) to our interactions with others. Think of the story of the Good Samaritan,. The Samaritan did not see a Jewish person, he did not see people from communities in conflict. Instead, he saw a fellow human being, a fellow child of God. He knew he was his brother's keeper. Or think of the story of the woman taken in adultery. Jesus saw a woman who, yes, had harmed her husband, family, and the community by her actions. But he also saw a person who had wounded herself, and he could help heal her, and thereby heal the others.

Faith in the Real Presence is a gift of grace from God. We cannot will ourselves to believe or reason ourselves to "understand" it. We are generally well aware of how difficult it is to believe in the Real Presence because it seems so contrary to what our senses tell us. But we usually are not as aware of how difficult it is to see people as God sees them. We see others as petty, as annoying, as stupid, as hateful, as inferior, as ugly, as cruel. And they probably are. But we don't often see them as ill-used, as miseducated, insecure, as wounded, as lonely, as defeated, as hopeless.

Let us pray for the grace to see Jesus in the Eucharist. And let us pray to see others as God sees them. With St. Paul, let us reflect: "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Sunday

He is risen, Alleluia.

Last night at the Easter Vigil, one of the readings presents a foreshadowing (a "type") of the Eucharistic banquet: "Thus says the Lord: All you who are thirsty, come to the water! You who have no money, come receive grain and eat; come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy? Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David" (Isaiah 55:1-3).

This Easter, and every day, let us spend our time, treasure, and talent, on what does not fail to satisfy. As we eat well today at our rich fare of the food which perishes, let us remember to listen to the Lord, and to seek the food of the new covenent, which will give us everlasting life.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Holy Saturday

On this Holy Saturday, let us pray for the catechumens who will receive the sacraments of initiation tonight at the Easter Vigil - Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation. Let us pray, too, that the desire for and the joy in receiving the Eucharist which these catechumens will experience tonight will continue to inspire them the 100th time they receive the Eucharist, the 1,000th time, or the 10,000th time. And for those of us who received our first Eucharist long ago, may the fresh zeal of the catechumens help us to renew our faith in the Real Presence and open us further to the grace that Jesus offers us there.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Good Friday is the only full day of the year in which the Eucharist is not consecrated and thus there is no mass. All communion services on that day are with previously consecrated hosts (usually from mass on Holy Thursday). Mass is not celebrated again until the Easter Vigil on the Saturday night before Easter. We commemorate the death of the Lord by removing his living body in the Eucharist from its usual place in the tabernacle and not consecrating new hosts again until the Easter Vigil. A good summary of the Eucharistic practices over Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter (what is called the “Easter Triduum” or “Three Days”) was created by the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey (

Let us pray for vocations, especially vocations to the priesthood. Good Friday reminds us that without priests, every day would be a day without the mass, and after a short time every day would be a day without the Eucharist.

The seventeenth-century English poet, George Herbert, wrote a poem about Lent that on this fast day is appropriate. The last stanza of the poem reads:

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sinne and taking such repast,
As may our faults controll:
That ev’ry man may revell at his doore,
Not in his parlour; banquetting the poore,
And among those his soul.

Herbert reminds us that we give up the food which perishes to focus on higher things and to help those who fast because they do not have enough to eat. My family is practicing almsgiving this Lent by donating to Catholic Relief Services’ Operation Rice Bowl ( It has been a good experience in helping to teach our young children (ages 4 and 5) to help those in need. Each week during Lent they received four quarters; two they could save and two they had to donate to the Rice Bowl.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Why a blog on the Eucharist?

Why write a blog on the Eucharist? I have felt drawn more and more towards Jesus in the Eucharist. This blog is to help me explore that inspiration more, as well as provide a place to help others to love the Eucharist more. I want to include links to other sites that I find informative. I also want to hear from others about their experiences. Like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, we need to tell others about our journey with the Lord to help us all draw closer to him: “Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them by the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). I chose to call this site “The Food Which Endures” because of the passage from Chapter 6 of the Gospel of St. John: “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you; for on him has God the Father set his seal” (John: 6:27). Chapter 6 is the most beautiful, most profound explanation of the Eucharist in the scriptures. We can never exhaust the riches there. As we approach Good Friday, we are reminded of how Jesus gave himself, his whole self, for us, so that we might have eternal life. Also, as we fast on Good Friday, we can remember that the food which we are giving up that day perishes, but the food that is the result of Christ’s death and resurrection endures to eternal life.

I wanted to start this blog on Holy Thursday, when we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist. It is a good time to recall that we are privileged to have access to receive communion every day if we are able to do so. So often we take even weekly mass for granted, not reflecting on the miracle of grace that we are given there in receiving Jesus. When we can’t make it to mass, we can go to a church or chapel for Eucharistic adoration. If we aren’t able to get to Jesus in the Eucharist, we can make a spiritual communion. During the day I try to think of the tabernacles that I visit and briefly “go” to one of those in my mind to be with our Lord. I had a wonderful experience on Passion Sunday. I was standing in line going up to communion and in front of me was a man holding his very small and very new baby. I recently had heard someone on Catholic radio talking about how we need to think of Jesus as being truly alive in the Eucharist. So I reflected on how the Jesus who would be in my hands in a few moments would be as alive and as real as the baby in this man’s hands. I found that image very helpful.

While this blog is explicitly Catholic in its focus, I invite people of all faiths or no faith to visit and comment if they feel moved to do so. St. Paul engaged all people in dialogue. Sometimes Jesus found more faith among Romans and Samaritans than among some externally pious people of Israel, and we all need to be humbled by that fact.