Wednesday, April 29, 2009

God and Bread

I found out about this quotation today from Mohandas Gandhi:

There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.

This is a good reminder to us of the following:

  1. We have an important obligation to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters. As James reminds us, "If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Go in peace, be warmed and filled,' without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." (James 2:15-17)
  2. When it comes to evangelization, we need to learn what people need and feed them. The Catholic faith is a banquet; we should feed others from the table what it is they most hunger for, not necessarily what we most want to give them. One of my favorite expressions for evangelization is "one beggar showing another beggar where the food is."
  3. Finally, the Eucharist is God in the appearance of bread. The Eucharist is literally what Gandhi is describing here, although it is not what he had in mind. The world is so hungry for God, He comes to us as bread and wine, that our hunger might be fed and our thirst might be quenched.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Jim Burnham on Evangelizing the Real Presence

Jim Burnham appears regularly on the Catholic radio show, Catholic Answers. Click here for a brief clip of his April 6th appearance on that show. I found this clip courtesy of James Swan at Alpha and Omega Ministries, a Protestant website. Swan is trying to use the clip to argue that the Catholic Magisterium is not more effective at preventing confusion than the Protestant doctrine sola scriptura or "scripture alone."

The argument is itself a confusion. While there may be confusion among the Catholic laity for a variety of reasons (poor catechesis, difficulty accepting such a mysterious teaching, outright rejection of the doctrine of the Real Presence, etc.), there is not confusion in the Church's teaching on this point. Nor does the unwillingness or inability of some Catholics to believe this central teaching have any bearing on the truth of the teaching.

Burnham's audio clip is a moving invitation to learn more about the Eucharist and to take that teaching to others.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Reflections on C and Es

Before I met my wife, I had never heard the term "C and Es" before. For those who may be as unfamiliar with the term as I was, it is shorthand for "Christmas and Easter" Catholics, that is, those who only attend mass at those holy days.

Such people are what are commonly referred to as "cultural Catholics," or what I have called "heirloom Catholics." While the fact that some people go to mass only on Easter and Christmas and don't attend the rest of the year is certainly tragic, this situation also offers hope. True, their Catholicism is something apart from them rather than integrated into their lives. However, they do have this tug, this tie, to something that they don't understand, and they still retain the sense that there is something important about their Catholicism.

That faint light can be used to show them the way to the full glory of The Light of World. Rather than referring to such people as "Christmas and Easter" Catholics, perhaps we should change the "C and E" to stand for "Come and Encounter." Those of us who attend mass regularly need to invite and catechize those who do not attend regularly. Catholics who can stay away from the mass do not understand what the mass is, or they would move heaven and earth to be at mass regularly. Rather than looking at the speck in their eyes, perhaps we need to think about the log in our eyes; what are we not doing to help our brothers and sisters see what they are missing? Are we showing them what they can encounter at mass? Do our lives and words reflect the joy, the transformation that is the Eucharist and the Gospel? Are we welcoming?

How did Jesus welcome the woman taken in adultery, or the Samaritan woman at the well? With truth and love.

What did the Samaritan woman do after speaking with Jesus? She left her water jar (that is how excited she was) and went into the city telling people, "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" (John 4:29). Are we that excited about what we have found in Jesus? Do we invite others to "Come" to Him?

Let us pray to Jesus for the words, the courage, the humility, to invite others to Come and Encounter Him.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday

He is risen. Alleluia.

Today I think of my patron saint, St. Peter, running to the empty tomb looking for Jesus. We are often like Peter, looking for Jesus in all the wrong places. But we know from Jesus that if we seek we shall find (Matthew 7:7). So let us, like Peter, run to Jesus, trusting that even if He is not where we go to find Him, He will make sure that we get directions to where He is.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday

Today is the day we remember Jesus in the tomb. We remember the grief of His blessed mother, of His followers. We remember, like the seed growing beneath the ground, His "harrowing of hell" so often depicted, especially in the Middle Ages.

What I am reminded of today is baptism. My wife and I help with baptism preparation at our parish, and I always begin those sessions with reading Romans 6:1-11. Most pertinent for Holy Saturday is this part of that passage:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)

By our baptism, we were buried with Him. Especially when baptism involves immersion, we see the symbolism of this burial. We share in His time in the tomb, as we die to sin, die to self, so that we may experience the Easter joy of a resurrection with Him.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

I'm slowly working my way through Fr. Richard John Neuhaus' Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross. In the first chapter, Fr. Neuhaus reflects on "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34). In one part, Fr. Neuhaus writes:

Every human life, conceived from eternity and destined to eternity, here finds its story truly told. In this killing that some call senseless we are brought to our senses. Here we find out who we most truly are, because here is the One who is what we are called to be. The derelict cries, "Come, follow me." Follow him there? We recoil. We close our ears. We hurry on to Easter. But we will not know what to do with Easter's light if we shun the friendship of the darkness that is wisdom's way to light (p. 2).

So much is here. We are eternal beings who forget that we are eternal beings. Christ on the cross shows us who we are and who we are called to be. Fr. Neuhaus frequently refers to Jesus as "the derelict." We typically think of a "derelict" as a homeless person or vagrant, often someone spurned by society spurns (and sometimes we think such a person is spurned for good reason). But here, Fr. Neuhaus reminds us that Jesus is the one who calls the spurned to follow him. In today's reading from Isaiah's passage on the Suffering Servant, we hear: "He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem" (Isaiah 53:3). "Derelict" comes from a Latin word meaning "abandoned." From the cross Jesus called out, "'Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?' that is, 'My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?'" (Matthew 27:46). But we recoil from the drunk, the homeless person, the dying person, for we recoil from the man of suffering--and we recoil even more profoundly if we are being called to join in this suffering. "Friendship of the darkness"? What could be more repellent?

Fr. Jim Willig took a different approach on the cross and friendship. Fr. Willig, who died of cancer in 2001, wrote candidly about his experience in Lessons from the School of Suffering with Tammy Bundy:

One day as I meditated before the cross of Christ, I began questioning the Lord: "Why is it that I have cancer? And why did it have to be renal cancer that offers such little hope of any cure? Why do I have to suffer so much? Why? Why? Why?"

In the silence of the church, I could hear clearly in my mind the words that the Gospel of Matthew had reported Jesus saying to his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me" (Matthew 16:24-25). I let those challenging words sink in a bit and then I responded honestly to the Lord, "Instead of being your follower, how about we go back to being just good friends?" There is something in each of us that naturally resists the cross and the sacrifice that life sometimes asks of us. It was then that I realized Jesus has many good friends, a church full of them. But I wonder, "How many followers does Jesus have?" (pp. 20-21)

For a long time I abandoned The Derelict. But He did not abandon me. That is what makes this Friday Good. Because He is Goodness itself.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Holy Thursday

Today is Holy Thursday, the day we recall the Last Supper - which was actually the first supper in terms of the institution of the Eucharist. It was also the time of the institution of the Christian priesthood.

In his encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope John Paul II told us about how Baptism and the Eucharist are linked through Jesus' body, how the Eucharist brings his followers closer together, and how the Eucharist gives us the capacity to take Jesus to those who do not know him:

22. Incorporation into Christ, which is brought about by Baptism, is constantly renewed and consolidated by sharing in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, especially by that full sharing which takes place in sacramental communion. We can say not only that each of us receives Christ, but also that Christ receives each of us. He enters into friendship with us: “You are my friends” (Jn 15:14). Indeed, it is because of him that we have life: “He who eats me will live because of me” (Jn 6:57). Eucharistic communion brings about in a sublime way the mutual “abiding” of Christ and each of his followers: “Abide in me, and I in you” (Jn 15:4).

By its union with Christ, the People of the New Covenant, far from closing in upon itself, becomes a “sacrament” for humanity,39 a sign and instrument of the salvation achieved by Christ, the light of the world and the salt of the earth (cf. Mt 5:13-16), for the redemption of all.40 The Church's mission stands in continuity with the mission of Christ: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (Jn 20:21). From the perpetuation of the sacrifice of the Cross and her communion with the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, the Church draws the spiritual power needed to carry out her mission. The Eucharist thus appears as both the source and the summit of all evangelization, since its goal is the communion of mankind with Christ and in him with the Father and the Holy Spirit.41

Perhaps most comforting to me is the pope's statement: "We can say not only that each of us receives Christ, but also that Christ receives each of us. He enters into friendship with us: 'You are my friends' (Jn 15:14)."

Let us enter into the Upper Room this night, being received by Christ as we receive him, finding solace and strength in his friendship.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Palm Sunday

Today is Palm (or Passion) Sunday. We celebrate Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of the Paschal Mystery.

I think of how the crowds which cheered Jesus on Sunday just a few days later called for his crucifixion on Friday. In less than a week, Jesus went from hosannas to heckling. The adulation comes and goes. I think about how we are the crowds in both cases. We have eyes, but we do not see; we have ears, but we do not hear; we have minds, but we do not understand.

Sic transit gloria mundi - "thus passes away the glory of the world." This phrase was used during the procession of the papal installation, last used when John XXIII became pope. The pope would be carried on a chair (sedia gestatoria), and three times the master of ceremonies would say, Sancte Pater, sic transit gloria mundi ("Holy Father, thus passes away the glory of the world"). Three bundles of tow (fibers before being spun into yarn) were burned to demonstrate the fleeting nature of earthly honor. I am impressed that in the very midst of tremendous pomp and circumstance, the Church reminded the new pontiff not to be blinded by the trappings of his position. I think the papal procession makes for a good counterpart to Jesus' procession into Jerusalem. The sedia and the colt, the adulation and the rejection: the successors to Peter are called to follow in the footsteps of Christ, to wherever those footsteps lead.

At the Cincinnati archdiocesan seminary, there is a huge painting of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem just outside the seminary's chapel. My daughter was immediately taken by it when she first saw it. What strikes me about it is that the painting is so dark. For what is supposed to be a triumphal event, the dark paint seems to foreshadow the coming ordeal. It is as if the painting is looking forward to when, at his betrayal by Judas, Jesus says: "But this is your hour, and the power of darkness" (Luke 22:53). But we know that the darkness is not how the Paschal Mystery ends.

I remember years ago, before I returned to the Church, walking by a church on Palm Sunday as people were leaving the service (it was a Protestant church). It felt as though I was missing something. I felt that I was outside looking in, wondering what they have and should I want to have that too? I wasn't ready to come back, but I could see the road.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Raphael's Disputa

I was looking at John F. Moffitt's Painterly Perspective and Piety: Religious Uses of the Vanishing Point, from the 15th to the 18th Century, where he has a chapter entitled, "Seeing the Host in Art and Archtecture." There he talks about Raphael's painting, Disputa or Disputation over the Doctrine of Transubstantiation (1509-11). This is a fresco in the Stanza della Segnatura (Hall of the Judicial Tribunal) in the Vatican. In the picture, Heaven and Earth are shown, centered on the Trinity in a horizontal line connecting Heaven and Earth through the Eucharist. It is interesting that in a hall devoted to canon law, there is a Eucharistic fresco. Moffitt quotes historian Yryo Hirn on the picture: "Thus in this composition Raphael has concentrated the thought which lay at the basis of the whole Catholic Mass doctrine: that the Host was the supreme point between Heaven and earth" (Y. Hirn, The Sacred Shrine: A Study of the Poetry and Art of the Catholic Church, pp. 149-150, quoted in Moffitt, p. 128).

During the Protestant Reformation, the nature of the Eucharist became a contested battleground. Raphael depicted what the Catholic Church taught, which the the Council of Trent re-affirmed and clarified by defining transubstantiation in Session 13, Chapter IV, in 1551:

And because that Christ, our Redeemer, declared that which He offered under the species of bread to be truly His own body, therefore has it ever been a firm belief in the Church of God, and this holy Synod doth now declare it anew, that, by the consecration of the bread and of the wine, a conversion is made of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord, and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of His blood; which conversion is, by the holy Catholic Church, suitably and properly called Transubstantiation.

Raphael's Disputa is a wonderful example of art and faith informing each other, teaching and inspiring, bringing together beauty and truth.