I don't know about you but I always feel if I can just get about ten more things done, then I can rest. I have all sizes and colors of Post-Its covered with lists--Staples, Trader Joe's, emails to answer, letters to write, phone calls to respond to, accounts to balance, bills to pay, prayers to pray, stats to check, admin, admin, admin....
Anyway, so one recent Monday morning I was breathing a sigh of relief. I thought, I have cleared off my desk, everything is pretty much in order, and now for the love of heaven, could I have one single day when I am simply free to do as I please, what I am made for, which is write?
That was when I opened my email [why I would be opening my email when purporting to try to work is a separate issue] to this:
re.shirt of flame.....please explain what you mean by real rather than actual or virtual Presence. now that i've read thru the book, will now go back and READ it as it is addressing what the Lord is teaching me.....that focusing on God alone and dying to self(ishness) to focus on the other guy are not diametrically opposed at all........rather one is the result of the other...... thanks for taking the time to read this.....shirlee
Is that not priceless? I'm trying to work, I'm trying to be effective, I'm trying to bear fruit here and you're going to ask me to explain the REAL PRESENCE?
This is not something you can dash off in an unthought-out sentence or two so I thanked Shirlee for writing and told her I'd get back to her within a few weeks.
Right away, though, I started to try to come up with something that would sound smart. And then I thought of my friend Horace who has (by his own admission) "anger issues" and a deep, real, authentic spirituality and no use at all for the Catholicism with which he was raised, but I know (maybe you do, too) many such types. They can't abide (rightfully) religious cant and in some ways they are closer to the bleeding heart of Christ than many of us church-goers.
Anyway, I remembered two stories about Horace. One was about when he was in prison as a youth, one of many such visits, and he said on Friday nights the inmates got fish and chips. The one time of the week they got a decent meal and they all looked forward to it mightily. Well he had a cellmate, Peter Ord, and the prison was a harsh, dangerous place and Peter had been a good friend. And finally Horace was poised to get out of prison the next morning, a Saturday morning (Peter had a six-month sentence and Horace had a three-month sentence), and Friday night rolled around, and the fish and chips came, and he wanted that meal badly. He'd been eating slop all week, like always. But Horace looked at Peter, who was not going to be getting out in the morning and he said, "Oh it was hard! My mouth was watering!" But at last he held out his plate and said, "Wouldja like my fish n chips?"
So Peter had two dinners that night and Horace went without dinner, and got out of prison, and had many more adventures, and has been on the high road or a higher road for many years, and awhile ago he went back to his hometown in England and lo and behold he ran into the old cellmate, the chap he hadn't seen in 40 years. And the very first thing Peter said was, "Remember when you gave me your fish and chips?"
Now that, to me, is the Eucharist. It is saying that giving that fish and chips to your cellmate, that act, that heart, that sacrifice that does not get you anywhere in the eyes of the world, that does not get you money, sex, fame or recognition and that hurts is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING, THE ONLY IMPORTANT THING, and in that sense the "realest" thing IN THE WORLD. It is worth dying for.
Because that kind of self-giving comes from the deepest part of us, the part that is most precious, most innocent, most childlike; that was there before the sexual predators, or our parents, or siblings, or teachers, or neighbors, or the people we loved so much who didn't love us back, got to us; before that heart was betrayed, stomped on, pierced, shattered, pierced, spat on, ridiculed, scorned, wounded.
So the Eucharist is not the literal flesh and blood of Christ. It's consecrated bread; it's consecrated wine. But starting from the Last Supper, when Christ knelt to wash the feet of his disciples saying, The greatest among you will be the one who serves, and broke the bread and said, Do this in memory of me, and when he raised the chalice and said Do this in memory of me, ever since, we have. Through the prayers of the faithful, the words of consecration, our hearts that consent to believe that, all evidence often seemingly to the contrary, love will reign; that yearn to be part of him, and of each other, to give our own bodies and blood, in an unbroken (though very imperfect) line for over two thousand years, we have kept the flame going. Through the priest, who has devoted years of his life to being educated in the teachings of Christ and the rituals of the Church, through the re-enactment of the sacrifice that we believe saved the universe, through the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist that comprise Mass, we bring in the whole world, we pray for the whole world, we incorporate the whole world, through us, through the Church that Christ built on Peter and said, "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it"; through our participation and, in a sense, our consent to the Mass; through every sacrificed plate of fish n chips, every hidden act of kindness, charity, generosity, nobility, forgiveness, the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Real Body and Blood of Christ. Love, which is inherently invisible, becomes visible. And then we eat it and drink it.
We believe that Christ is God incarnate. We believe he was crucified, as we are crucified, in our bodies, in our spirits, hearts and souls, for in a sense that is what it is to be human: to be crucified. We believe he rose again on the third day. We believe life comes out of death. We believe that the kingdom of God is like yeast, all through the loaf, and that every tiny act of self-giving, of self-forgetfulness, helps everyone, past, present, and future, everywhere. So the Eucharist is not a symbol. It is Living. It is the repository of all that is holy, all that is pure, that sob in our throats and hearts that makes us human. Our hearts that ache for the other, because to know Christ is to know that the other--our spouse, our child, the enemy soldier--is us.
You will find a way more intelligent, fuller, more theologically grounded and correct exegesis in the Catechism and in any number of encyclicals, books, treatises. But from a mystical, which is also to say everyday, even practical viewpoint, that's one way of putting how I understand the Eucharist.
I remember another thing about Horace. He said when he was a small boy there was a garden, a rosary actually, outside the hospital where his grandfather worked and he didn't know why but he loved to be in this one shady, very quiet spot and he would go around the Stations of the Cross. He just liked going around to the Stations of the Cross. And he would wonder....
So I figure keep the Church going. Do my little part. So some kid in a country across the ocean or halfway around the world or next door--today, ten years from now, ten centuries from now--can have a moment of feeling, of knowing in his or her heart, a sense of the holy.
So I can continue to die to my selfishness and, as Shirlee says, focus on the other guy.
There is a hush around the Eucharist, a stillness. If you ever start despairing of the world, go to Mass and study the faces of the people as they process back to their pews after Communion. They are dreamy, at once somber and joyful, turned in on themselves, like the faces of people on their honeymoon night.
Like my face probably is now. As I do what I was made to do, which is to love Him and to be received by Him. And of course, to write.
|early morning October light|
Silver Lake, California....