Why are the ‘secrets’ of the Eucharist ‘secrets’?

Once a month, I lead a discussion for a group of women who wish to come together to share and deepen their faith. It was never really intended to be a ‘book club’, but our discussions have largely been based upon a monthly reading. We’ve read ‘He and I‘ and this month we read ‘7 Secrets of the Eucharist‘ by Vinny Flynn. We had read it for our meeting last month, but had a guest speaker at last month’s meeting, so we decided to carry over our discussion on ‘The Eucharist’ in order that we could discuss this wonderful little book.

What struck me as I was reading this book is ‘Why the secrets of the Eucharist are secrets?’ Its not as though these are ‘secrets’ in the sense that these are little known facts being intentionally hidden by a select few. The secrets are things that we really *should* know in order to fully appreciate the magnitude of the gift that we have in the Eucharist. The ‘secrets’ are really the things we either keep ourselves from realizing, or have never had the beauty of someone share them so that we may deepen our understanding.

One of the keys to bringing the soul into a faith filled union with the Eucharistic Lord Jesus is the virtue of humility.

For me, one of the most profound and thought provoking statements of the book is the one noted above. Of course, it makes perfect sense – but how often do we stop and ponder our own humility? How often do we do so in a world that rewards those who bring themselves to attention for achieving almost nothing and fails to recognize the virtue that exists within those who quietly achieve great things that change the world.

Flynn goes on to note the ‘The Emmaus Problem’ in which the Apostles fail to recognize the true identity of Jesus until

‘at the breaking of the bread’ their eyes are opened, and they recognize Him (Lk 24: 13-35)

As a convert, the most difficult concept for me to grasp was the idea of ‘transubstantiation‘. Flynn’s discussion of ‘The Emmaus Problem’ spoke to me in a very particular way in that I recognize fully that I continue to try and understand the concept with my head. But, how does one understand ‘The Mystery of Faith’ with one’s head? It cannot be grasped. I am constantly reminding myself of needing to understand with my heart.

The first mystery talks about the Eucharist as being ‘Alive’. I’d never thought of this before. I’d never thought of whether it was a ‘dead’ or ‘living’ Jesus and what that meant. Truthfully, I felt like a bit of a nitwit when I read the bible passage at the end of the chapter.

I am the living bread… Whoever eats this bread will live forever… Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. Jn 6: 51, 57

I had images of Homer Simpson running through my head saying ‘Doh!’. How did I miss this? I’ve only been fortunate enough to receive the Eucharist since December of 2007, but did I really miss this *the whole time*! It wasn’t, however, until I read the whole book and was reminded of other ‘secrets’ of which I was already aware that I realized why Christ was ‘Alive’ in the Eucharist – it is because He lives in Heaven and when we participate in the Mass we are invited into the presence of those in Heaven through the lifting of the veil. Of course – it makes perfect sense. If the Eucharist is the presence of Christ as He exists in Heaven – then the Eucharist *has* to be ‘Alive’. It makes sense… but why am I just now learning this?

‘The flesh of the Son of Man, given as food,’ explains Blessed Pope John Paul II, ‘is his body in its glorious state after the resurrection.’

With this in mind, it is easy to see why Flynn takes significant time to reflect upon the importance of being prostrate in either our bodies or our minds – or both.

Flynn goes on in the second secret to note that ‘Christ is not alone’. How many times when we receive the Eucharist do we hear ‘Body of Christ’ or ‘Blood of Christ’ and think ‘Yep – its the Body of Christ’ or ‘Yep – its the Blood of Christ’, but we forget completely that Christ is only one element of the Holy Trinity. So where Christ is present, so too are God and the Holy Spirit also present. Also, we forget that Christ – in His perfection – cannot be ‘divided’. Hence, His body and blood are fully present in the Eucharist under both species which is why we are in full communion upon receiving either the consecrated Host or the Precious Blood. Flynn also reveals the presence of Heaven during the Eucharistic Liturgy as revealed in the Book of Revelation. A nice summary (albeit somewhat antiquated website!) can be found here and also here.

Time and Space for God is what exists under the 'arc' - it is not limited by linear time or man's concept of space.

The third secret ‘There is only one Mass’. In order to fully understand this aspect, one really needs to understand the first two secrets – they build on each other. The concept of this secret is the idea that God exists across all space and time and that time, for God, is not linear or chronological as it is for us. This is a concept that many seem to struggle with, but somehow my ‘warped’ brain seemed to understand. Two elements that helped me to understand this were asking – if God created the Universe, why would He be constrained to linear or chronological time. We, as humans, live on a chronological time scale and (save for some Saints who were able to bi-locate) can only be in one pace at any given time. God, however, is all encompassing and it would seem almost insulting to box him into the same concept of space and time limiting him to the notion that He can only be in one space and in one point in time. Realizing this, I was able to visualize the idea of a line representing the ground in which we stand and also the linear time scale, and a person (you, me, whomever) at a certain point in time. If it was our names that Jesus whispered on the cross, wouldn’t God be able to be at any point in time that He wanted to be and also at *ALL* the points in time that he wanted to be? With this is in mind and the idea of being invited to be in the presence of those in Heaven from the second secret, it becomes easier to contemplate the idea that when we attend Mass, we are stepping in and out of one Mass.

With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. 2 Peter 3:8

The Mass is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ – not a ‘memory’ of it, and not a ‘recreation’. At the Mass

the once-for-all sacrifice of the Cross, which is always present before the Father in heaven, is now made present on our time and place – p. 43

Even more astounding

We sit there in our parish church, locked in the confines of our own time and place, thinking that we’re joining our priest in offering our own particular Mass. But, in reality, Christ is inviting us to enter in, beyond the veil, so that He can lift us up, out of time and into the Eternal Now, into the very sanctuary of heaven, where He leads us into the presence of the Father (See Hebrews 10:19-21)

The awareness and belief in this – in and of itself – is absolutely mind-blowing to me.

In the fourth secret, Flynn asserts that the ‘The Eucharist is not just one miracle’. I have to confess that I didn’t fully grasp this the first time I read this book. One of the women in our group the other night noted that she thought that perhaps Flynn had *really* wanted to have ‘seven’ secrets and could only come up with 6, but then struggled and came up with this idea. She wasn’t quite sold on the idea. After some reflection on the first three miracles, she and I both came around to the idea that if you looked at everything that was taking place during the Mass – it became easier to see that there were, truly, several miracles involved.

Secret 5 was a good reminder – ‘We don’t just receive’. We are invited to participate in a relationship with Christ.

How can we receive such a gift in a merely passive way? Yes, Christ is doing something. But part of what He’s doing is calling to us, inviting us to respond to His initiative in an active way.

We receive innumerable graces through receiving the Eucharist, but we are also called to enter into communion, or to be in ‘union with Christ’. Being in union with Christ means that we are called to be like him, to love him, and to actively participate in our relationship that He and I share.

In Secret 6 we learn that ‘Every Reception is Different’.

…there is an absolute relationship between how I receive and what I receive. – p. 71

Flynn brings into the discussion the passage from 1 Corinthians that is often used to help Catholics explain to our Protestant brothers and sisters why only confirmed Catholics may receive of the Eucharist in the Catholic Church. As Catholics, we believe that the Body and Blood of Christ is present in the consecrated hosts and wine, as such, we also believe

Whoever eats of the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgement on himself. 1 Cor 11:27-29

For years before my confirmation, I attended Mass with my husband and would quietly sit in the pew while the rest of the Mass attendees went to receive the Holy Eucharist. There were times that I did feel ‘excluded’ wondering why I couldn’t receive. As I began to learn more about the faith, I began to understand that its not an ‘exclusion’ with the intent of keeping one from receiving – but rather a concern over the soul of the recipient. For one to attend a Catholic Mass where, through the Priest, the hosts and wine are consecrated to become the Body and Blood of Christ and *not* believe this but still receives the Eucharist calls into the idea that one ‘eats and drinks judgement on himself’. Of course, this opens a pandoras box of discussion regarding the significant number of Catholics that receive and still don’t believe in the true presence of Christ and those who knowingly participate in sinful acts and continue to receive – but that’s well beyond the discussion here. The scripture makes it clear that we are not to judge and that instead those who do so ‘eat and drink judgement on themselves’.

What Flynn does note is that

If when I receive, I’m not desiring this special sacramental union with Christ and trying to get rid of anything in my mind or heart that is blocking it, I gain none of the sacramental effect that Christ wants to give me. I’m still receiving the sacrament, but I get none of its fruit.

and more specifically

My spiritual disposition before, during and after receiving the sacrament will determine whether the sacrament will produce good fruit in me (in varying degrees), have no effect at all, or result in my condemnation. – p. 76

This seems entirely fitting if we review the secrets until this point. They truly do build on one another and are intertwined.

The final secret is the one that opened my eyes in a significant way – ‘There is no limit to the number of times we can receive’. Someone will say, ‘But the teachings of the Church say that we are not to receive more that twice in one day.’ This is true of the number of times we are to receive ‘sacramental’ communion. We can, however, also receive ‘spiritual’ communion.

…we can also receive spiritually through our desire for the sacrament, uniting our hearts to the Heart of Jesus in the Eucharist. – p. 84

When we receive sacramentally, it is ideal for us to also receive spiritually – to be in full communion with Christ body, heart and soul. There are, however, times where we are unable to receive sacramentally, but can still be fully united with Christ which is known as ‘spiritual communion’. Flynn does, however, make it clear

Spiritual communion is not a substitute for sacramental Communion, but a very real anticipation and extension of its fruits.

Throughout the day we may have thoughts about Christ – moments of reflection and contemplation, moments of prayer etc… Why not turn those moments into moments of spiritual communion where through our thoughts and prayers we express our desire to be with Christ. Flynn brings examples of various Saints who lived their lives in perpetual ‘spiritual communion’ – a long shot for a wife, mother of two who works part time and tries desperately to keep up with her blog! St. Catherine of Siena noted a vision of Christ holding two chalices and saying to her

In this golden chalice, I put your sacramental communions. In this silver chalice, I put your spiritual communions. Both chalices are quite pleasing to me.

While perpetual spiritual communion is not likely in the cards for this blogger, there is no reason I cannot make a conscious effort to be in spiritual communion at various points throughout the day. During my morning prayers, after blessing the food at meals, during prayers with my children, even while doing the laundry – I can make a point of saying a little prayer and acknowledging my belief and desire for the sacramental Eucharist and my desire to be in communion with Christ. Flynn notes

Frequency is much more important than duration, because the more you practice spiritual Communion, the more it becomes a habit, a natural instinct to unite yourself with God.

All these ‘secrets’ are beautiful and insightful contemplations on the richness of the Eucharist as the Mystery of Faith. I fully appreciated my RCIA experience, but I wish we had the opportunity to spend more time discussing the Eucharist in the level of detail and on the level which Flynn outlines in his book. But then I ask myself, ‘Would I have been ready to hear and understand these things at that time?’ Perhaps not. Thankfully though, God placed this book in my path along this point in my spiritual journey so that I could not just read the book, but begin to contemplate the beautiful mysteries within and appreciate them each and every time I receive the Eucharist going forward.

‘Witness to Hope’

In an attempt to refocus I’m trying to do more reading about spirituality and living my life based on my beliefs. About a week ago, my husband and I had the opportunity to hear George Weigel speak at our Diocesan Pro-Life office fundraiser. He didn’t disappoint! After the talk, my husband purchased his biography of Blessed Pope John Paul II, ‘Witness to Hope‘.

The book sat on my nightstand for several days taunting me before I dared to open it. At just under 1000 pages and written by George Weigel, it intimidated me somewhat. ‘I’m not smart enough to read this!’ – I kept thinking to myself.

I still may not be smart enough to read the book, but I have started and it hasn’t disappointed thus far:

In order to ensure that the new millennium now approaching will witness a new flourishing of the human spirit, mediated through an authentic culture of freedom, men and women must learn to conquer fear. We must learn not to be afraid, we must rediscover a spirit of hope and a spirit of trust. Hope is not empty optimism springing from a naive confidence that the future will necessarily be better than the past. Hope and trust are the premise of responsible activity and are nurtured in that inner sanctuary of conscience where ‘man is alone with God’ and thus perceives that he is not alone amid the enigmas of existence, for he is surrounded by the love of the Creator – Blessed Pope John Paul II

I can’t wait to read more!

Getting closer to God? Expect to get ‘busy’.

Some time ago, I was at our Parish and heard the wonderful Kristin Armstrong speak about  ’Time Out For Moms – Hitting the Pause Button in Fast Forward Fall‘. She talked about her disdain for the word ‘busy’ and instead preferred to use the word ‘full’ to describe her life. I thought it an inspiring message and have been doing my best to avoid using the word ‘busy’ whenever possible. These days, my life is *very* full.

I’ll spare you the sob story of why my life is *full* because, in reality, it really doesn’t matter ‘why’ its full or ‘with what’ it is filled. Those aspects are insignificant because they are all relative. I’m fully willing to accept that the things that are filling my time may appear to be blessings to others and maybe even trivial to others. The point isn’t to pull out the world’s smallest violin and play myself a sad concerto of pity, but to look at ‘why’ my life is full right now.

As I continue to grow in my spiritual life, the closeness I feel to Christ comes in ebbs and tides. Some of this has to do with my own choices and behavior, but I believe that there are outside forces that seek to separate me from my relationship with my God and Saviour. Hmmmm…. who might want to do that?

I’ve done enough reading and listening to authorities on scripture to know that Satan is real and does exist, and that his goal is to keep as many of us away from Christ as possible. The further and more productive I became in keeping up with my blog (which, sadly, hadn’t been updated since Easter Sunday!), the more and more full my life became.

Rather than be distraught by this, I see it as an exercise in awareness. While I find myself being ‘distracted’ by the ‘fullness’, I also recognize that God has led me down a path where I can be aware of these intentions and work to stop them – as I have done today by breaking my ‘fullness’ and taking the time to post this here today. He also did so by helping me recognize that my prayer time had slipped to next to none and needed to be ramped up if I had any hope of navigating my way through the circumstances that exist right now.

I feel like I just did a little off-roading for the past few weeks leaving me a little bruised and battered from the bumps along the way. If I just keep along the path (or ‘the straight and narrow’ as my Grandmother used to say!), the ride is a lot easier as the path in front has been cleared somewhat.

Thank you Jesus! Amen.

He is Risen! Happy Easter!

What a beautiful thing God shared with us – the life, death and resurrection of His only Son for our salvation! Since Friday, the world has been symbolically empty of Christ. I felt it. Something was missing. It was Christ. It made me stop and ponder what the world might have been like if He had not surrendered Himself to the will of His Father for each and every one of us. What impact might that have had? Surely, the world would not have been the same.

Thankfully – for the sake of all of our souls, Jesus Christ submitted to the will of His father and allowed Himself to be humbled in His life and in His death. His life and death was an example of obedience beyond understanding and love beyond measure.

‘Without the Cross, there can be no resurrection.’ There was, indeed, a beautiful resurrection.

On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead. – John 20: 1-9

Thank you, sweet Jesus, for your love and your sacrifice. In ‘The Real Face of Jesus‘, scientists stated that the power at the moment of your resurrection went beyond nuclear capacity. This incredible power for the resurrection was born of love for us. How do we even begin to comprehend a love that expansive and deep? Perhaps we don’t try to comprehend, but instead take it in and live it in a way that we can give it back to others.

He is Risen! Happy Easter!

“Only love, only love can leave such a mark

But only love, only love unites our hearts

Justified, till we die you and I will magnify, oh, oh

Magnificent, magnificent, magnificent”

‘How can you refuse him now?’

As He hung there on the tree

He prayed for you and He prayed for me.

There was no one his pain to ease,

Before he died, he faintly cried,

Father forgive them please.

After arriving home exhausted on Holy Thursday, I fell asleep for about an hour and then received a text from a client who was having some issues with their email. I had wanted to go back to sleep until the next morning and deal with it then, but I couldn’t sleep and got up to call the 24-hour support provided by the web and email hosting company. After two hours, we felt we resolved what we could and I got off the phone with them shortly before 2 am and tried to get back to sleep. I was wide awake so I watched TV for a short while to help my mind come down from the whirlwind it had been on for the previous 2 hours. In hindsight, I should have prayed.

I awoke on Good Friday at 8 am and realized that what we *thought* had been resolved hadn’t and got back on the phone with the support people for another two hours. By the end of the two hours, again we felt we had resolved the issue. Later that morning, I discovered that the issue *still* hadn’t been resolved. This was causing a great deal of anxiety for my client, and for me. We were doing what we could with the hosting company, but we were dependent on them for much of the troubleshooting and to find a solution.

We went to the 3 pm Stations of the Cross that afternoon and as I sat down, I prayed for a few moments to be still. I prayed that I could shut off the outside world and be immersed in the story of the Passion of the Christ as we walked through the 14 Stations of the Cross. I felt at peace and free from the anxiety that had plagued me earlier in the day. While I was tired, I felt alert and relaxed at the same time.

As the Stations finished and we left the Church, I went back into anxiety mode trying to determine what would need to happen next in terms of helping my client. Throughout the day, I had realized that this experience was one of ‘small suffering’. It was one in which I needed to stay centered and focused. I needed to maintain my composure and not let my anxiety get the better of me. At the same time, I would need to try and find the balance between contemplating Christ’s time on the cross and my practical daily experiences that were presenting themselves.

Later that afternoon, my prayers were answered as I received a text from my client to inform me that the hosting company had finally resolved the problem we were having. He was frustrated with the whole experience, but knew that I had done all I could and had felt comfortable with the idea that there were some configuration issues well beyond our knowledge and that the hosting company was entirely responsible for ensuring that they needed to be correct. I was able to finish cooking dinner and get ready to head back to the Church for the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord.

The Liturgy of the Word was beautiful, but I was particularly moved by the second part, the Adoration of the Holy Cross. The first time I’d experienced this, I thought it unusual and – truthfully – a little weird. The idea of holding up in honor, a crucifix, seemed unnecessary to me. I went ahead with it in past years, but – in keeping with the Holy Thursday appreciation of ‘experiencing’ the Triduum instead of just merely ‘participating’ – this year was different. Earlier in the service, the Priest had given a beautiful homily and one phrase jumped out at me:

Without the Cross, there can be no resurrection

I had heard this phrase countless times before and I knew what it meant. I understood completely that to fully enjoy the good in life, we have to also experience the bad. Often times, the good can only come from clawing our way through the bad. The Shawshank Redemption, adapted from a book written by Stephen King, provides a beautiful – yet also gross – analogy of this when Andy, (warning – spoiler alert!) the character played by Tim Robbins, claws his way through a 1/2 mile long tunnel of raw sewage to find his freedom at the other end as he escapes from prison.

Andy crawled to freedom through five hundred yards of shit smelling foulness I can’t even imagine, or maybe I just don’t want to. Five hundred yards… that’s the length of five football fields, just shy of half a mile.

None of us has found true happiness in our lives without some form of suffering. The two go hand in hand. In the case of Christ, He suffered the horrific scourging and then a painful death on the cross in order that He would be resurrected. Without the Cross, there can be no resurrection.

Christ lived the prophecy and prayed for each and every one of us. He took on the sins of the world so that we may be free.

He was spurned and avoided by people,

a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity,

one of those from whom people hide their faces,

spurned, and we held him in no esteem.

 

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,

our sufferings that he endured,

while we thought of him as stricken,

as one smitten by God and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our offenses,

crushed for our sins;

upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,

by his stripes we were healed.

We had all gone astray like sheep,

each following his own way;

but the LORD laid upon him

the guilt of us all.

 

Though he was harshly treated, he submitted

and opened not his mouth;

like a lamb led to the slaughter

or a sheep before the shearers,

he was silent and opened not his mouth.

Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away,

and who would have thought any more of his destiny?

When he was cut off from the land of the living,

and smitten for the sin of his people,

a grave was assigned him among the wicked

and a burial place with evildoers,

though he had done no wrong

nor spoken any falsehood. – Isaiah 53: 3-9

It is, therefore, important that we recognize the significance of the Cross in Christ’s willingness to die. Christ hung on the Cross so that our sins may be forgiven.

Behold the wood of the Cross,

on which hung the salvation of the world.

Without the Cross, there can be no resurrection.

Lent…I get it – finally!

Let me clarify – its not so much that I didn’t ‘get’ it, but that I hadn’t yet fully ‘experienced’ it in its fullness. For most of the Lenten season this year, I felt busy and distracted. It wasn’t the deep, meaningful and transformative experience that I had hoped it would be. That is, until this past Thursday.

For the past several years, our family has participated in the Triduum. Its a challenge for our young children, but they always get something out of it and its beautiful to witness. Last year, our son was giddy and overwhelmingly delighted when he declared ‘Mom, its the light of Christ!’ as the candles were slowly lit at the Easter Vigil at the Cathedral.

This year we began the Triduum by attending the Thursday Mass of the Last Supper where we, as Catholics, believe that Christ institute the Eucharist. This makes it a very Holy event for Catholics. There is, however, another very unique and special element to this Mass. At this Mass, 12 disciples of the Church are chosen to have their feet washed by the Priest as he represents Christ at the Mass, just as Christ washed the feet of his disciples at The Last Supper. He’s going to hate me for even saying this, but this year my husband was chosen to be one of those in our Parish who would have their feet washed. Its a very special experience usually recognizing those in the Parish who have exemplified what it means to be a disciple in the Parish community. I was very excited for my husband when he was chosen. As a fairly shy individual who doesn’t like to be in the spotlight, this was something about which there was some apprehension. I was very thankful that he chose to be one of the disciples.

After the homily, the twelve disciples are invited up and are seated in chairs facing those present in the sanctuary. The Priest slowly washes the feet of each disciple and gives them each a special blessing. As my husband walked to the front, I sat in the pew with our children – holding the hand of each on either side of me. Our daughter leaned over and said to me ‘You married a good man.’ The tears began to flow freely. At the same time, my son reached up and wiped away the tears as they flowed down my cheek. I thought about my husband’s sister who passed away this past May and felt her presence there with us as she, too, witnessed this beautiful experience.

Its a beautiful ritual. When the time came to wash my husbands feet, I could see my husband overcome with emotion. I was already teary and kept quietly saying to myself, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for my husband.’ Our daughter was right, I had married a good man. Like any of us, he struggles – but he has a good and kind heart and he works hard to be aware of his shortcomings. Isn’t that all we can ask of a spouse?

As the Mass continued and I received the Eucharist, I felt the presence of Christ in a strong and powerful way. I know He is always there, but sometimes I feel Him there more than others.

After receiving the Liturgy of the Eucharist was complete, the Transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament began as the Priests, Deacons, and Altar Servers began to process around the Church with the Body of Christ. As this began, I felt the Holy Spirit wash over me and I began to cry. I thought about what was to happen to Christ as he would be scourged and crucified, and I began to weep. As I wept, I said ‘I’m sorry.’ over and over and over and over in my mind.

While the procession was taking place, we sang:

Pange, lingua, gloriosi

Corporis Mysterium,

Sanguinisque pretiosi,

Quem in mundi pretium

Fructus ventris generosi

Rex effudit gentium.

Which translates to:

Of the glorious body telling,

O my tongue, its mysteries sing,

And the blood, all price excelling,

Which the world’s eternal king,

In a noble womb once dwelling,

Shed for this world’s ransoming.

Its a beautiful piece – its definitely worth the listen.

The procession continued out of the Sanctuary and outside to our Family Center where we used to worship prior to our Church being built. Some began to talk as we were outside the sanctuary, but a few continued to sing, and more and more began to join until all were quiet again other than our singing. As we arrived in the Family Center and the choir finished singing we knelt in silence in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I continued in my tears. They had subsided somewhat as we processed, but the feeling had stayed with me.

As I thought about my tears – about my weeping – I realized that this is what Jesus wanted. Not that He wants for us to be sad, but He wants for us to be aware. We can walk through our lives – and the rest of the Liturgical year – forgetting or taking for granted what He did for us. But, on Holy Thursday, He helped me to remember and to feel the pain at the thought of His immeasurable suffering. It was at that moment I realized, ‘I get it.’ I had always understood what He had done, but it was during the Mass that I really got to experience it. It was a beautiful gift – a beautiful grace that I will treasure always.

I’m wide awake

I’m wide awake

Wide awake

I’m not sleeping

Oh, no, no, no

‘What does some old man who in Rome who has never been married know?’

Apparently, a lot. Consider this statement by Pope Paul VI regarding the widespread use of artificial contraception:

“Careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.”

Keep in mind that this was written over 40 years ago. I have to admit that I haven’t yet read Humane Vitae – perhaps its time. Very powerful.

Rich in Blessings

The weather has been so beautiful that I’ve been taking every opportunity to eat dinner at the little table on our front porch. This past Sunday night we at grilled hamburgers outside. I had made them specifically for my daughter who has given up meat for Lent. Since Sundays are feast days and one can partake in what they have given up on these days, she has enjoyed chowing down on some good red meat on Sundays during Lent.

While we sat outside eating, I expressed my appreciation for the blessings in our life. I looked around at the beauty around us as I took in the view of the hills across from us and the city vista off in the distance. My daughter said, ‘Mom, if I had a nickel for every time you pointed out our blessings, I’d have more than the people who won the big lottery on Friday night!’

I stopped and thought about it for a minute and realized the importance of her statement. While she’s morphing into a slightly cynical tween, she’s still hearing what I’m saying. At her age with few responsibilities and even fewer troubles in her life, she hasn’t yet crossed over the threshold into a world of significant challenges and the instability and uncertainty they can bring. She has been fortunate enough to have a yummy and healthy home cooked meal on the table virtually every night. She has a warm and comfy bedroom in which she can retreat into the privacy of listening to music and reading, or emailing her friends. For her, life is pretty good.

Its very possible, though, that it won’t always be that way. There will be times when she will worry about finances, or live in a student apartment that isn’t as nice, clean or comfortable as the home in which she was raised. There may be times in her life when she is working a low-paying job or may even be out of work.

There will be times in her life when she will experience disappointment with her friends and those whom she loves. There will also be times when she will experience the disappointment of not being accepted into a program to which she applied, or not winning a writing or drawing competition. These are all very real parts of life.

When I think about these things – all of which I’ve experienced in the course of my life, I think about that moment on our front porch and how important it is to stop and savor the moments of blessing in our life whatever they may be. During this Holy Week, I’ve seen and been sent several messages on ‘being still’. I’ve struggled with how to fit ‘stillness’ into my somewhat ‘full’ week of day to day living, but I realized that the moment on the porch with my children and being thankful for that blessing was an opportunity from God to be still.

While my daughter may not yet appreciate the importance of ‘blessings’ as gifts as well as our need to recognize and thank God for them, she does hear me (albeit, through her own filters). Hopefully – when she is grown and has a family of her own – she will think back to our dinner and understand what it was I meant. If I am ever so fortunate to hear her make her own statement about being blessed, I will know that I have won the jackpot.

Courage.

Today is Palm Sunday. Today is the day that Jesus entered Jerusalem, riding on a donkey to fulfill the prophecy set out in the Old Testament. Today marks the beginning of the passion of the Christ. Its the beginning of Holy Week, a week in which we are called to remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Over the years, my faith has deepened and I find myself impacted by Holy Week in a deeper and more meaningful way every year. In that sense, this year was no different. I was, however, struck by a parallel to Christ’s journey in the loss, this past year, of someone very dear to me and to many. She was forty-one and had four children, the youngest of whom was 3. This past May, our family lost my husband’s sister to cancer. She had fought a courageous battle for a year and a half against an aggressive form of sarcoma. The decision was made last March to not continue with chemotherapy as it wasn’t proving effective and was, instead, destroying her frail and weak body.

In mid-May she entered a hospice facility on a Friday evening in an effort to get her pain under control. We thought we might lose her that weekend. Miraculously, she rallied that Sunday afternoon and decided that she wanted to go home. It would take a few days for arrangements to be made for her to receive care at home and for her medical team at the hospice to feel comfortable with her pain being under control. She was able to go home on Thursday of that week.

We had been warned that her pain may get away from her again and that the regimen used one day may suddenly prove ineffective. After four days at home, that risk proved true. The Monday after being home, she was admitted to the same hospice facility again – this time, by ambulance. It had been a difficult night for those who were there with her, but everyone knew it was the right decision. This time, though, we all – including my husband’s sister – knew that she would not be going home again.

I thought about her this morning as I thought about Jesus. I thought about her as Mass started and about what it meant for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem on the donkey at the beginning of the Feast of the Passover. Jesus knew that he would enter Jerusalem to meet his fate with death. My sister-in-law knew that she would enter the Hospice and she would also meet her fate with death.

She entered Hospice early Monday morning and died the following Sunday. During that last week, she said her last goodbyes. I think about the immense courage it would have taken to say goodbye to those she loved. In saying goodbye to her, I only had to say goodbye to one. She had to say goodbye to many – including her children. I can’t even begin to imagine the strength and courage it took to do that.

All of us that knew her and loved her knew that we would continue on in our lives, albeit painfully, without her. We did not know what that would entail or how it would play out, but we knew that we would go home, sleep in our own beds, brush our teeth in our bathroom, go to our places of work or school and life would have to go on somehow. She, on the other hand, would – at the risk of sounding cliche – go on to face the great unknown. While the faithful trust that its a place of overwhelming joy and love, there – for some – is still an element of trepidation and anxiety of what lives on the other side as we pass through the membrane of our lives here on earth to the afterlife.

As I thought about Jesus, my sister-in-law and all of those who have known that death was imminent, I sat dumbfounded as I thought about the grace with which they had been bestowed by God to be courageous under seemingly ‘hopeless’ circumstances. I am thankful for them opening the door to that grace and so willingly receiving it in order to stand up as a model and witness for the rest of us so that we may learn that there is the opportunity and possibility for strength of spirit and mind when all can seem lost.