19 February 2009

REAL FOOD... Fast Food?

Sunday morning at Mass I looked around quietly during Communion, and I was struck by a most heartbreaking thought.

“I don’t think we even know what we have here. I don’t think we realize WHO we have here.”

It was the Angelic Doctor who once wrote:

"Material food first changes into the one who eats it, and then, as a consequence, restores to him lost strength and increases his vitality. Spiritual food, on the other hand, changes the person who eats it into itself. Thus the effect proper to this Sacrament is the con­ver­sion of a man into Christ, so that he may no longer live, but Christ lives in him; conse­quent­ly, it has the double effect of restoring the spiritual strength he had lost by his sins and defects, and of increasing the strength of his virtues." (St. Thomas, Commentary on Book IV of the Sentences, d.12, q.2, a.11)

Admittedly, it is a truly mind-blowing thing to accept that the true presence of our indescribable GOD is contained in that small piece of bread we take and eat, and in the wine we drink. (I could go on here for a hundred pages of adjectives attempting to capture the awesomeness of God and I couldn’t even come close.) So for our teensy little human brains to understand this extraordinary mystery is a very tall order indeed.

Every Sunday we gather with joy and gratitude to worship and we sing and pray and praise Jesus with our whole hearts, our minds focused only on Him. We absorb like sponges the Scriptures we hear and the teaching given to us by our priest or deacon, before we finally stand up and approach the altar of grace to consume our true LIFE. And when we approach, we fall down on our faces, unable to stand, because we know Whom we are about to receive and the knowledge is too great for us. We are overwhelmed by Him.


Shouldn’t it be that way? Shouldn’t we strive for that experience?

But it wasn’t like that this morning. It seemed more like a line of folks at a cafeteria-style restaurant than faithful souls approaching their Lord for DIVINE LIFE.

People were chatting with the person behind them…staring blankly at the floor or the wall…smiling or waving at someone a few rows away…shuffling along as though going nowhere special. And perhaps worst of all, people casually receiving the Lord and then walking right out the door…leaving, without stopping even a moment to pray or show reverence and gratitude.

I know I am guilty of distraction, too. I’m often trying to direct my children in front of me (“cross your arms, sweetie…”) and keep them moving forward, while the 2-year old in my arms is squirming to get down. I feel tired. My arms ache. My mind is 2 hours ahead of me on the day’s schedule. This is not terribly conducive to deep spiritual focus.

Still, this morning I heard Jesus whispering to me, wanting my full attention, wanting the full attention of everyone in the room. I felt Him tugging on my heart, as one wanting very much just to be noticed. Do we not know that we are receiving an unspeakable gift? How is it that we allow ourselves to be so distracted by trivial and even ungodly things during the most important moment of our lives? We seem to rush by Him so quickly…it must wound His heart.

Jesus gave us everything, down to the last drop of His blood on the cross, and now that Body and Blood is present in all its holiness and power to nourish and strengthen us…yet somehow that understanding doesn’t penetrate our hearts enough. In all honesty, I think someone looking in from the outside would think we were just lining up for a snack of crackers and juice.

The Eucharist is the single most important distinction between Catholics and many other Christians. What we proclaim about this Sacrament - and about the holy priesthood - is different than what many other Christians, (other than our Orthodox Christian brethren) believe. We profess that we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, as we approach that altar of sacrifice.

It is an astounding truth. So astounding, I think, that our minds alone will not be able to process it and come up with an affirmative belief. Only the heart, only the spirit can accept this magnificent reality, and from the looks of things, it seems we have a hard time getting in touch with our spirits.

It’s a tragic symptom of our human nature that we fail to recognize what we see all the time. Something profound has become ordinary. Something unfathomable has become so familiar we barely give it a second thought. We have it all, and it doesn’t impress us anymore.

I know that we all come with our own burdens and problems and hassles weighing on our minds. It isn’t easy to set all that aside and give our full concentration to the Mass. But those burdens and problems and hassles are precisely the reason He wants to feed us! Our Jesus is waiting, wanting, eager to give Himself to us, hoping we will truly see Him and receive Him. He ordained to give Himself to us in a way we can touch, taste, and consume into our frail bodies in order to be fortified in our daily struggles. But we are weak and afraid, or lazy and indifferent, or self-absorbed and hard-hearted, so we do not find Him. We are not strengthened by Him. We are not changed by Him.

We may take, but do we really receive? We may eat, but are we truly fed? We came, sat down, and a miracle happened right in front of us. Are we so accustomed to it that it no longer ignites our sense of wonder and awe? I certainly hope not. Heaven help us if we cease to be amazed.

We desperately need the Holy Spirit to penetrate our hearts with a renewed conviction of our most sacred beliefs. Perhaps we need to exercise some self-discipline and gain control of our wandering minds during Mass, and train our hearts to “tune in.” We must come with faith, however small, and really look at the Lord we are being fed. If we are faithful to do that, I have no doubt that God will meet us and take us the rest of the way to understanding in our spirits what our minds may find inconceivable. He will sustain us in body, mind, and soul.

Can you imagine what would happen then?

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