“All across the world, plants and flowers, trees and flags, mementoes and framed photographs stand on quiet graves to mark that communion of life that one generation feels with another. Our souls stretch always forward, yes, but our hearts stretch always back. The chain of life never breaks, the shape of soul never strains beyond what formed us, what filled us with life in the first place.
We are bound to one another, each generation a link in the chain, each generation a standard for one to come. The people over whose graves we weep are not simply people we have known or who, though strangers, have had the decency to disappear from an earth already overcrowded. No, we cry tears of loss only for those whose lives touched our own and made them better. We cry both for parents and for politicians, for friends and for public figures, for anyone who has lived out “the communion of saints,” the Eucharist of humankind, the Christening of life and made it real in our own time, in our own neighborhoods, in our own world. We weep for those whose faith has formed our own.
When we visit the graves and say the memorial prayers and tell the family stories over the bodies of the dead, we tell of the Christ we saw in them. We remember how it looked in them. We know in them what it is like to be driven by the consuming power of God, to be totally oriented toward God. The communion of saints stands before us, stark witness to the holiness of God, reminding us always to leave behind us for those yet to come a searing memory of the same.”–Joan Chittister, OSB
The major problem of eucharistic theology in our century is not that people do not understand and value the meaning of Eucharist. The problem is that they do.
The Eucharist, every child learns young, is the sign of Christian community, the very heart of it, in fact. And who would deny the bond, the depth, the electrical force that welds us together in it? Here, we know, is the linkage between us and the Christ, between us and the Gospel, between us and the Tradition that links us to Jesus himself and to the world around us. No, what the Eucharist is meant to be is not what’s in doubt.
What’s in doubt is that the Eucharist is really being allowed to do what it purports to do—to connect us, to unify us, to make us One. The truth is that as much as Eucharist is a sign of community it is also a sign of division. For the sake of some kind of ecclesiastical political fiascos centuries ago between the East and West, we close the table between Orthodox and Uniate—though the faith is the same and the commitments are the same and the vision of life and death are the same.
What’s in doubt, too, is that the division between baptized men and baptized women can possibly witness to what we say is the faith: that men and women are equal; that women are fully human beings; that God’s grace is indivisible; that discipleship is incumbent on us all; that we are all called to follow Christ.
At the end of one presentation after another, women make it a point to continue the discussion with me. “I used to be Catholic,” they begin. “I was a Catholic once,” they say. “I’m a recovering Catholic now,” they announce. It’s a sad litany of disillusionment and abandonment by a Church they once thought promised them fullness of life and then let them know it is their very persons that deny them that.
Call it “holy” communion if you want, they tell me, but it’s not. Not like that. Not under those conditions.
So they go away to where Jesus waits for them, arms open, in someone else’s Christian church. There’s something about it that simply defies the lesson of Mary Magdalene or the Woman at the Well or Mary of Bethany or Mary of Nazareth. They go where every minister of the altar, every bishop, every lawgiver, every homilist, every member of every Synod on the planet is not male. They go where they can see “the image of God” in themselves in another woman. They go where eucharistic theology, which we’re told makes us one, is palpable.–Joan Chittister
From “Eucharist” by Joan Chittister, Spirituality magazine (Volume 18, March-April 2012, No 101. Dominican Publications: Republic of Ireland)
“When we celebrate Mass, the Real Presence to which we are being given access is not some blander version of God, with the love that traverses hostility being kept under wraps only for some special occasions lest it frighten us too much. That would indeed be a taming of God to be “good” for those who are “good”. No, the appropriate awe is due because there is indeed something terrible about a love which traverses our hostility. And does so in such a way that it is very easy for us to be tipped over into righteous rejection of it. The awe does not attribute any violence to God. It begins, however, in awareness that it is indeed a violent and frightening thing to undergo being unhooked from our own, easily knee-jerked, allergic constructions of fake righteousness. It is an awe made available to us over time as a narrative of amazement that “I have been found by the love of one who I treated as my enemy”. And it means that there is no genuine teaching about, or reception of, the Atonement that does not include a rigorous approach to human scandal at what is being proposed and our finding ourselves set free from that scandal.”–James Alison, from Traversing hostility: The sine qua non of any Christian talk about Atonement
As someone who regularly invites non-Catholic Christians to Mass with me I sometimes get this response afterward: “I love that the priest wears a dress and does the dishes, but why is he always a man?”
Joan Chittister writes:
“The major problem of eucharistic theology in our century is not that people do not understand and value the meaning of Eucharist. The problem is that they do.
The Eucharist, every child learns young, is the sign of Christian community, the very heart of it, in fact. And who would deny the bond, the depth, the electrical force that welds us together in it? Here, we know, is the linkage between us and the Christ, between us and the Gospel, between us and the Tradition that links us to Jesus himself and so to the world around us. No, what the Eucharist is meant to be is not what’s in doubt.
The U.S. Congress is approving huge funding cuts to food stamps/SNAP and other food assistance programs. At the same time, a study released this week reveals that one in six Americans live in households that cannot afford adequate food.
Of these 50 million people, nearly 17 million are children. Food insecurity has jumped by 14 million between 2007-2011.
Pope Francis led a procession on foot through the Italian streets yesterday in celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi (“The Body of Christ”). The gospel reading focused on the “Loaves and Fishes” or the “Feeding of the 5,000,” a kind of family reunion hosted by Jesus. Here’s an excerpt from Pope Francis’ sermon:
“The invitation that Jesus extends to his disciples to feed the multitude themselves is born of two elements: most of all from the crowd that, having followed Jesus, now finds itself outside, far from inhabited areas, as evening falls, and then, from the disciples’ concern, who asked Jesus to dismiss the crowd so that they might seek food and lodging in the nearby towns. Faced with the crowd’s needs, the disciples’ solution is for everyone to take care of themselves. … How many times do we Christians have this temptation! We do not care for the needs of others, dismissing them with a pitiful, ‘May God help you’. … But Jesus’ solution goes in another direction … He asks the disciples to seat the people in communities of fifty persons. He raises his eyes to heaven, recites the blessing, breaks the loaves, and gives them to the disciples to distribute.”
“It is a moment of profound communion. The crowd, whose thirst has been quenched by the word of the Lord, is now nourished by his bread of life. … This evening, we too are gathered around the Lord’s table … It is in listening to his Word, in nourishing ourselves with his Body and his Blood, that He makes us transforms us from a multitude into a community, from anonymity to communion. The Eucharist is the sacrament of communion, which brings us out from our selfishness to live together our journey in his footsteps, our faith in him. We all ought, therefore, to ask ourselves before the Lord: How do I live the Eucharist? Do I live it anonymously or as a moment of true communion with the Lord and also with the many brothers and sisters who share this same table?”–Pope Francis’ sermon on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 2013
Richard Rohr reminds me that no matter how hard I fight with my brothers and sisters (of late, it’s been the U.S. Catholic bishops) that it should never be in such a way that I wouldn’t sit down to dinner with them when Jesus issues the invitation.
“When we start making the Eucharistic meal something to define membership instead of to proclaim grace and gift, we always get in trouble; that’s been the temptation of every denomination that has the Eucharist. Too often we use Eucharist to separate who’s in from who’s out, who’s worthy from who’s unworthy, instead of to declare that all of us are radically unworthy, and that worthiness is not even the issue. If worthiness is the issue, who can stand before God? Are those who receive actually saying they are “worthy”? I hope not. It is an ego statement to begin with.
The issue is not worthiness; the issue is trust and surrender or, as Thérèse of Lisieux said, “It all comes down to confidence and gratitude.” I think that explains the joyous character with which we so often celebrate the Eucharist. We are pulled into immense gratitude and joy for such constant and unearned grace. It doesn’t get any better than this! All we can do at Eucharist is kneel in gratitude and then stand in confidence. (Actually, St. Augustine said that the proper Christian posture for prayer was standing, because we no longer had to grovel before such a God or fear any God that is like Jesus.)”–Richard Rohr, ofm
During the 3 days of funeral proceedings for Sen. Kennedy, I was very pleased to see the public display of support and solidarity for Sen. Kennedy by the institutional Catholic Church.
Kennedy was an embodiment of Catholic social teaching in every aspect of his political life. He also was emblematic of the complexities of living out that social teaching with integrity in our modern world–especially on the issue of abortion.
But one of the fundamental characteristics of the Catholic faith is our ability to maintain a large embrace. Our strength to do this is provided by the unifiying nature of the Eucharist.
I was especially touched by the exchange of letters between Sen. Kennedy and Pope Benedict, read by Cardinal McCarrick at the burial at Arlington. Here’s the most complete transcript I could find.
Excerpts of the letter from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy that President Barack Obama delivered to Pope Benedict XVI earlier this year and an account of the pope’s response, as read by Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop emeritus of Washington:
”Most Holy Father I asked President Obama to personally hand deliver this letter to you. As a man of deep faith himself, he understands how important my Roman Catholic faith is to me, and I am so deeply grateful to him. I hope this letter finds you in good health. I pray that you have all of God’s blessings as you lead our church and inspire our world during these challenging times. I am writing with deep humility to ask that you pray for me as my own health declines.
”I was diagnosed with brain cancer more than a year ago and although I continue treatment, the disease is taking its toll on me. I am 77 years old and preparing for the next passage of life. I have been blessed to be part of a wonderful family and both of my parents, particularly my mother, kept our Catholic faith at the center of our lives. That gift of faith has sustained and nurtured and provides solace to me in the darkest hours. I know that I have been an imperfect human being, but with the help of my faith I have tried to right my path. I want you to know Your Holiness that in my nearly 50 years of elective office I have done my best to champion the rights of the poor and open doors of economic opportunity. I have worked to welcome the immigrant, to fight discrimination and expand access to health care and education. I have opposed the death penalty and fought to end war.
”Those are the issues that have motivated me and have been the focus of my work as a United States senator. I also want you to know that even though I am ill, I am committed to do everything I can to achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life. I believe in a conscience protection for Catholics in the health field and I will continue to advocate for it as my colleagues in the Senate and I work to develop an overall national health policy that guarantees health care for everyone. I have always tried to be a faithful Catholic, Your Holiness, and though I have fallen short through human failings, I have never failed to believe and respect the fundamental teachings of my faith. I continue to pray for God’s blessings on you and on our church and would be most thankful for your prayers for me.”
—— An account from the Vatican of the pope’s response, according to McCarrick:
”The Holy Father has the letter which you entrusted to President Barack Obama, who kindly presented it to him during their recent meeting. He was saddened to know of your illness, and asked me to assure you of his concern and his spiritual closeness. He is particularly grateful for your promise of prayers for him and for the needs of our universal church.
”His Holiness prays that in the days ahead you may be sustained in faith and hope, and granted the precious grace of joyful surrender to the will of God, our merciful Father. He invokes upon you the consolation and peace promised by the Risen Savior to all who share in His sufferings and trust in His promise of eternal life.
”Commending you and the members of your family to the loving intervention of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Holy Father cordially imparts his Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of wisdom, comfort and strength in the Lord.”
Our writers’ conference has officially ended. We had our reading last night and said our goodbyes over breakfast this morning. Today, Katie Chilton and I took the DART into Dublin. First on our itinerary was The Book of Kells at Trinity College library.
The Book of Kells was written around the year 800 AD. It contains the four gospels and is written on vellum made from 185 calf skins. It contains a Latin text of the Gospels in tiny script with amazing decorations of illumination in the margins, in the text, and whole decorative pages throughout. The manuscript was given to Trinity College in the 17th century. Two volumes can normally be seen each day, one opened to display a major decorated page, and one to show two pages of script.
Today’s pages were the illuminated title page from the gospel of Mark and a text page was Matthew 5:35-48 (“You have heard it said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth …”)
One of my favorite images is apparently a reference to a medieval joke/conundrum: It shows a cat chasing a rat or mouse that is eating a Eucharistic host. The unanswered question was: If Jesus says “I am the bread of life and whoever eats of this bread shall have eternal life,” and if the host is truly turned into the Body of Christ so that all who eat of it will have life eternal, then what happens to the mouse who nibbles on the Eucharist in the middle of the night? And what about the cat that eats the mouse?
Ah…the human tendency to make simple things complex. What would we do if we couldn’t dither about such conundrums?.