Tag Archives: Communion

Forever Grateful

13 Nov

In today’s Gospel, Jesus cures ten lepers as He passes through a Samaritan village. One of the ten, realizing that he had been healed, returns to thank Jesus for this incredible gift. Jesus affirms the faith of the healed man, but He also asks (rhetorically), “Where are the other nine?”

Our taking the time to give thanks seems to matter greatly to our Savior.

Weren’t the others grateful? We don’t know what was on their hearts, but we do know that they failed to express gratitude in word or action. As we prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday this month, may we take stock of the many blessings we have received from the Lord, and may our own lives of fidelity and service unequivocally proclaim our gratitude to the Holy Trinity for the wondrous gift of our faith, and for the many kindnesses we have received from the people in our lives.

In a particular way, this Gospel passage reminds me of the need to take time after receiving Jesus in the Eucharist to thank Him for this wondrous gift. Too often, I am one of “the other nine,” only too eager to go on with my day without adequately thanking the Lord for coming to me in Holy Communion and for the many graces and blessings in my life.

The time immediately after receiving Communion is an apt time to offer such prayers of thanksgiving, as is the time immediately after Mass. Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2007 apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, reminds us that “the precious time of thanksgiving after Communion should not be neglected.”

I think we do well to adapt a saying often attributed to St. Francis: Express gratitude at all times, and frequently use words.

 

St. Bob on the Eucharist

18 Apr

St. BobWe are now in the midst of “First Communion season.” In fact, this evening I am going to pick up a gift for my son Raymond, who will be making his First Communion this Saturday at Prince of Peace.

With the gift of the Eucharist on my mind these days, I thought I would share a remarkable teaching on the Eucharist by St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). “St. Bob” was a Jesuit priest who eventually became the Bishop of Capua. He was a brilliant theologian and defender of the faith, and he served in various Roman congregations in the immediate aftermath of the Protestant revolt and the Council of Trent. He has been named a doctor of the Church and is invoked as the patron saint of catechists and catechumens.

So, in honor of all the little ones who will be receiving Our Lord for the first time this weekend, let us take to heart these insights from St. Bob:

Take and eat: This is My Body. Weigh carefully, dear brethren, the force of those words. . . .

Suppose a prince promised one of you a hundred gold pieces, and in fulfillment of his word sent a beautiful sketch of the coins, I wonder what you would think of his liberality? And suppose that when you complained, the donor said, “Sir, your astonishment is out of place, as the painted coins you received may very properly be considered true crowns by the figure of speech called metonymy,” would not everybody feel that he was making fun of you and your picture?

Now Our Lord promised to give us His flesh for our food. The bread which I shall give you, He said, is My flesh for the life of the world. If you argue that the bread may be looked on as a figure of His flesh, you are arguing like the prince and making a mockery of God’s promises. A wonderful gift indeed that would be, in which Eternal Wisdom, Truth, Justice, and Goodness deceived us, its helpless pensioners, and turned our dearest hopes to derision.

That I may show you how just and righteous is the position we hold, let us suppose that the last day has come and that our doctrine of the Eucharist has turned out to be false and absurd. Our Lord now asks us reproachfully: “Why did you believe thus of My Sacrament? Why did you adore the host?” may we not safely answer him: “O Lord, if we were wrong in this, it was You who deceived us. We heard Your word, THIS IS MY BODY, and was it a crime for us to believe You? We were confirmed in our mistake by a multitude of signs and wonders which could have had You only for their author. Your Church with one voice cried out to us that we were right, and in believing as we did we but followed in the footsteps of all Your saints and holy ones . . .

To Whom Shall We Go?

9 Apr

Eucharist2Next week my youngest child, Raymond, will make his First Communion. For the first time, my entire family will be able to receive the Eucharist at Mass!

A couple weeks before my daughter Virginia made her First Communion, I took her to lunch and talked with her about the Eucharist. To test her, I said, “Now Virginia, the Eucharist symbolizes Christ, right?” Virginia looked at me partly in horror and partly in surprise at my apparent ignorance. “Oh no, Daddy,” she said. “The Eucharist really is the body and blood of Jesus.”

I affirmed her response and told her that sometimes I go out to speak to groups of people about the Eucharist. So I asked for her “advice” as to what I should tell people. Reveling in her new role as theological consultant, Virginia replied, “Daddy, I would start by telling them about Jesus: Jesus is God. He can do anything. Of course He can make Himself present under the appearance of bread and wine.”

I am so grateful to God for Virginia’s child-like faith that has now continued into her college years. I pray that she continues to deepen her relationship with Our Eucharistic Lord as she matures into adulthood.

Sadly, though, many adults don’t have Virginia’s faith. It is said that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, so I have a healthy distrust of polls that attempt to quantify Eucharistic belief. Even so, despite the welcome resurgence of Eucharistic adoration and devotions and other positive signs of life in the Church, far too many Catholics have an inadequate understanding of the Eucharist.

And how can we love what we don’t know?

When we consider the various problems and scandals in the Church, we most typically point to secondary, external causes and effects. Yet, underlying these things is the perennial mystery of evil and sin. So why does sin seem to be having such a field day right now? I think the heart of the matter is a crisis of faith. And while faith in Christ identifies us as Christians, our belief in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist and the authority entrusted to the successors of Peter and the other apostles is what identifies us more specifically as Catholics.

When Our Lord gave His great Eucharistic discourse in John 6, many of those who were already numbered among His disciples could not accept this teaching and returned to their former, pre-Christian lives (cf. Jn. 6:60, 66). No other recorded teaching of Christ had such an effect.

There are many today who do not believe in God, let alone His Incarnate Son. Then there are Christians whose rejection of the Eucharist sadly perpetuates divisions dating back to the 16th century. And there are those who consider themselves Catholic but who hold out for a different Christ and a different Church.

After many disciples left because of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist, Jesus asked Peter, “Do you also want to leave?” (Jn. 6:67). And Peter’s response, the response of the Church, was, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe . . .” (Jn. 6:68).

Our Lord’s question–which goes out to each of us–demands an act of faith, an adherence to revealed truth. Indifference about the Eucharist, ambivalence about the Church, is clearly not an acceptable response. Yet the actions of many baptized Catholics manifest such indifference and ambivalence. That’s why today–and always–the Church needs heroic witnesses, indeed martyrs, to the truth about Jesus Christ, to the truth about the Church, to the truth about the Eucharist.

Top Ten Lessons from 1 Corinthians 5

4 Mar

1 CorinthiansNot too long ago I participated in a Bible study on 1 Corinthians at my parish. I’d have to say that of the 16 chapters of this epistle, I probably was least familiar with chapter 5. I’m not sure why, but I’ve rarely had the occasion to look that chapter up.

In studying that chapter, I was amazed by the applicability of this short chapter to many controversial issues facing individual Catholics and the Church as a whole today. And so, without scholarly exegesis or extensive commentary, I want to offer a top ten list of practical insights I derived from a careful read of 1 Corinthians 5.

(1) Calling sin a sin

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife” (verse 1).

St. Paul does not dance around the issues. He goes straight to the point of identifying incest as immoral behavior, no matter who (Christian or pagan) commits it (see Leviticus 18; Catechism, no. 2356). He takes his responsibility for the Church in Corinth very seriously, as we’ll see in the succeeding verses.

(2) The error of misplaced “tolerance”

“And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (verse 2).

In the world and even in the Church today many extreme forms of immoral behavior are tolerated, if not protected. The one universally recognized “sin” is “intolerance,” meaning that the one thing that isn’t permitted is to condemn someone else’s action as morally wrong (unless the other person’s action was an act of intolerance!). I’m certainly not espousing a harsh, judgmental condemnation of persons. However, if I understand St. Paul correctly, I think we tend to be arrogant–and cowardly–in our acceptance of conduct that is unacceptable. We should instead mourn, because those who commit serious sins are on the road to perdition. This should inspire in us to authentic, compassionate outreach, not a weak indifference. We must be evangelizers, not enablers.

We’ll touch upon the second half of this verse shortly.

(3) Recourse to the Church

“For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing” (verses 3-4).

St. Paul seems to be following the protocol for fraternal correction in Matthew 18:15-17. Apparently after private attempts to reconcile the sinner (perhaps by Chloe’s people, see 1 Corinthians 1:11), the matter was referred “to the church” (Mt. 18:17), represented by the Apostle Paul. Further, we see the authority St. Paul, as an apostle of Jesus Christ, is able to wield over the local Church, for the good of all. Compare that to the opposition and resentment we find toward the “Vatican,” whose intervention is often not welcome (because of the aforementioned arrogance).

For a recent case study, recall attempts in recent years to reform the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR). Continue reading

Light of the Nations

31 May

The Church is the light to the nations. In fact, the central document of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), on the mystery of the Church, bears the Latin title Lumen Gentium, or “Light of the Nations.”

Indeed the mission of the Church is to shine the light of Christ to the world, to extend Christ through space and time. Christ’s explicit instructions to His Church before ascending to the Father amounted to a sacred commissioning: His Apostles were sent into the whole world in order to make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:18-20; Mk 16:15). For this reason, the popes in recent decades have emphasized that the Church’s perennial mission is evangelization.

Pope John Paul II’s 2003 encyclical letter on the Eucharist focuses on the intimate connection between the Eucharist and the Church, as the latter draws her life from the former. This speaks volumes as to the desired life-giving effects of receiving our Lord in Holy Communion. Regardless of our state in life, our participation in the Eucharist is necessarily connected to the great work of evangelization.

In explaining this truth, the Holy Father draws an important parallel between the individual believer and the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Visitation. He writes that when the Blessed Mother “bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a ‘tabernacle’–the first ‘tabernacle’ in history–in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed Himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating His light as it were through the eyes and voice of Mary” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, no. 55).

When we receive Christ in us, just as our Lady received Him in her womb, it’s not merely a private, “me and Jesus” matter. He does not desire to remain hidden within us. That would be like trying to put the light of Christ under a bushel basket (see Mt 5:15). So, when Christ comes to us in Communion, it’s not to diminish, impede, or conceal His light, but to multiply it! He uses each one of us as His lamps in the world. Lamps of themselves provide no light, but act as conduits of the light provided by an energy source. Similarly, we are not the “light of the world” except inasmuch as the Lord shines through us, as He did through she who was “full of grace.”

All generations call Mary blessed (see Lk 1:48) precisely because of the singular way she “magnified” the light of Christ through her cooperation with divine grace. The intensity of the light of Christ that we are able to bring to the world is dependent upon our own cooperation with divine grace. This again points to the need to be properly disposed to receive our Lord in Communion. The Church teaches that “anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to Communion” (Catechism, no. 1385).

We further dispose ourselves by observing the required fast, by the way we dress, and the way we conduct ourselves at Mass (Catechism, no. 1387), and more generally through giving and receiving mercy.

In a spirit of praise, gratitude, and wonderment, we recognize that Holy Communion is the moment when our Lord comes to us most intimately and completely. After Communion, we should take ample time in prayer and thanksgiving, fostering an interior awareness of Christ in us. We must not allow the “busy-ness” of our daily lives to obscure the light of Christ. Rather, we must strive in humility to become increasingly transparent, so that the Mystery of Light can shine in us and through us.

Chrysostom on Withholding Communion

13 Sep

Today is the feast of St. John Chrysostom, the famous Bishop of Constantinople at the turn of the fifth century. He was given the title “Chrysostom, which means “golden mouthed,” because of his eloquent sermons. He’s also known as a doctor of the Church because of his timeless, orthodox teaching.

In his book Luminous Mysteries, Scripture scholar Tim Gray quotes at length from St. John Chrysostom’s homily “On the Institution of the Eucharist,” which I reprint below. I think you’ll agree that it’s quite instructive on the controversial subject of the sacred minister’s duty to withhold Communion from a notorious sinner:

“I speak not only to the communicant, but also I say to the priest who ministers the Sacrament: Distribute this gift with much care. There is no small punishment for you, if being conscious of any wickedness in any man, you allow him to partake of the banquet of the table: ‘Shall I not now require his blood at your hand?’ (2 Sam. 4:11). If some public figure, or some wealthy person who is unworthy, presents himself to receive Holy Communion, forbid him. The authority that you have is greater than his. Consider if your task were to guard a clean spring of water for a flock, and you saw a sheep approach with mire on its mouth–you would not allow it to stoop down and pollute the stream. You are now entrusted with a spring, not of water, but of blood and of spirit. If you see someone having sin in his heart (which is far more grievous than earth and mire), coming to receive the Eucharist, are you not concerned? Do you try to prevent him? What excuse can you have, if you do not? Continue reading