Living Bread

I recently attended the Annual Regional Gathering of my Secular Franciscan region.   I shopped in the Franciscan book store and signed up for adoration.  We had perpetual adoration throughout the weekend.  I bought a book, “Quiet Moments with Padre Pio,” and took it with me to adoration.  I took several things with me to the adoration chapel — expecting to read, or, pray the rosary.  But, I’d just come from a session that talked about the discipline of listening.  Where best to listen than in the adoration chapel.  I opened the Padre Pio book to the first page and read:

Don’t Worry About Tomorrow – July 4, 1917 letter to Capuchin seminarians

I recommend to you to have a firm and general proposal to always serve God with all your heart; do not worry about tomorrow.  Think about doing good today.  And when tomorrow comes, it will be today and then you can think about it.  Trust in Providence.  It is necessary to make provisions of Manna for only one day and no more.  Remember the people of Israel in the desert.

I closed the book and looked at Jesus exposed in the monstrance before me — I thought of the living bread from heaven discourses in our Gospel readings.  I began to talk to Jesus in my journal.

What if God has given me more Manna than I need?  I desire to share my portion with those I love.  But, what if I must hand them chopsticks with which to eat and they do not know how?  Do I find the fork and a knife?  Do I get a spoon and feed them like my child?  How do I share my great portion with those who do not know how to receive it?

I wept bitter tears of sorrow over the things which I have no control.

Today we read John chapter 6 — “Eat my flesh” repeated over and over.  “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”  So, I recall the days when I tried to see this — to understand this — to realize that I already believed.  Today, I realized in a different way what a special grace it is to move from symbols to True Presence.  Today, I also learned the answer to my question; I use the spoon.

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The Lamb of God

Reflection on the readings for the Second Sunday of Ordinary Time — USCCB (NAB) Reference  The selected OCIA theme of the day is that of Vocation.  Sharing some of the reflecting and note taking I did in preparation for OCIA.

In the first reading, we have Samuel who was called by God in his youth.  Samuel is evidence that we often don’t recognize the voice of God.   In the verses of I Samuel, chapter 3, prior to the selected reading, we are told that Samuel was a minister to the Lord.  The sons of Eli were priests in the temple.  Verse 3 says, “The lamp of God was not yet extinguished, and Samuel was sleeping in the temple of the Lord where the ark of God was…”  This was his place when he hears the voice of God — something that had not happened in a long time.  God does call Samuel three times before Eli informs his son that it is the Lord calling and how to respond.  Samuel does respond and becomes a prophet for the, “Lord was with him not permitting any word of his to be without effect.” I Sam 3:19  I can’t help but think of our own Tabernacle — the place where our consecrated hosts are reserved — and our own burning sanctuary lamp announcing the presence of Jesus in the Tabernacle.  I also think of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, where the consecrated host is exposed in the monstrance.  This is a wonderful place to hear God speaking to us.  Samuel found his vocation — his purpose — while keeping vigil in the temple.  We too can find purpose through quiet time and prayer before the presence of Jesus.

The second reading pleads with us to understand that our bodies are members of Christ.  We are to see ourselves as a temple of the Holy Spirit.  When you think about it, God has gone to great trouble to bring his divine son into the world.  On December 8th, we celebrated the Immaculate Conception — Mary conceived without sin.  From the beginning of Genesis — the fall in the garden — God was making plans.  Throughout salvation history, God has gone to great trouble to bring his sinless son to us.  Mary’s vocation was a simple “Yes” to God.  The Church too has gone to great trouble to bring us Jesus in the consecrated bread and wine.  At the first Mass I ever attended, one of the things that impressed and awed me was the reverence in which the altar was prepared — the careful placing of each cup, each linen, the “plate” I now know as the paten.  I looked up “Sacred Vessels” on the USCCB web site and yes — the Church goes to great trouble to assure the appropriateness of the vessels that contain the precious Body and Blood of our Lord.  Two articles state, “Among the requisites for the celebration of Mass, the sacred vessels are held in special honor, especially the chalice and paten, in which the bread and wine are offered and consecrated, and from which they are consumed. (327.)  Sacred vessels are to be made from precious metal.  If they are made from metal that rusts or from a metal less precious than gold, then ordinarily they should be gilded on the inside. (328)”  The specifications go on for another six points.  Are we not more precious than the finest gold?  This reading tells us that, “the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord…”   We have been purchased at a great, great price — Jesus’ death on the cross.  When we process forward to receive the body and blood of our Lord, we are a vessel of great price.  God has gone to great trouble and the Church has gone to great trouble — shouldn’t each of us go to great trouble to prepare our own temple of the Holy Spirit. 

The gospel reading is one of my favorites.  On the 3rd Sunday of Advent, we read the beginning of this chapter.  The beginning tells of John the Baptist and how he has come to “testify of the light that is to come.”  He has to deny being the messiah and isn’t worthy to untie the sandals of the one who is to come.  I would’ve loved to have been there when John suddenly pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.”  No evidence is given in John’s Gospel of John the Baptists’ relationship to Jesus as a cousin.  We sort of know that Jesus was born and John the Baptist was about 6 months older.  Jesus was twelve at the temple teaching — then — ta da — he is 30 years old and ready to begin his ministry.  Did Jesus and John see each other at family reunions?  What is not known about these years can be as intriguing as the information we do know.  The focus of this teaching is that the two disciples heard John’s message and followed Jesus.  As members of the body of Christ, we have something to share with others.  It is a vocation, a purpose, to spread the Good News of Jesus — invite others to come to our Table.  “The Lamb of God” is heard in two important parts of the Mass.  At the first Mass I ever attended, I began crying when I heard, “Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us….Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us….Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world, grant us peace…” and everyone knelt.  Shortly thereafter the priest raises the host and says “This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Happy are those who are called to his supper.”  Indeed I am very happy.

The Real Meal Deal & Why I Am Catholic

As a Baptist, my baptism at the age of nine allowed me to begin participating in the Lord’s Supper.  We observed this ordinance once a quarter and it was always at a Sunday evening candlelight worship service.  The Pastor would say things at the beginning I did not understand.  He would begin by saying some version of, “We do not believe the bread and juice mysteriously turn into the body and blood of Christ.”  Alternatively, he would say a few words to emphasize that the bread and juice are only seen as symbols.  A few minutes later, he would read from the Bible where Jesus says, “This is my body” and “This is my blood.”  The tray would pass with the tiny Tic Tac sized bits of unleavened bread.  I’d quickly scan the tray for the largest bit.  I took mine and passed it on.  Here would always begin my meditation.   I closed my eyes to vision the crucifixion and the torn body of Christ.  “Eat of my flesh” Jesus says and I would imagine the bread as His body.  “Take and eat” the Pastor says and we all eat the bread.  I take my cup of juice from the tray.  “This is my blood” and I hold it into the candlelight and will myself to see real blood.   “Take and drink” the Pastor says and we all drink the juice.  It was not until I was older that I pondered the introductory statement made by my Pastor regarding symbolism.  Telling me that we do not believe this to be true has the effect of telling me someone else does.   Why don’t we take Jesus to mean exactly what he said in the scripture?  I continued this deep meditation of body and blood at the Lord’s Supper throughout my young life and into my adulthood.  I don’t even think I was aware that I believed something different from those around me.  I just know that I was striving to reach as deep into Communion as I could get.

In the late 80’s, I entered a Catholic church for the first time.  It was to attend the memorial service of a co-worker.  I walked from my office to Sacred Heart in Atlanta.  While waiting for the service to begin, I was impacted by the ornate decor of the sanctuary.  It was the first time I was confronted by a near life size crucifix with Jesus on the cross.  The image sent me into the same “Lord’s Supper” meditation of the body and blood of Christ.  I wrote a short reflection of the experience and tried to submit it to a Baptist publication house for their Singles’ magazine.  It was rejected.

In Nov 1995, I made my first International trip to Italy.  The Italy by rail trip took me to Rome, Pompeii, Florence, Pisa, Venice, and Milan.   I realized there was a lot I didn’t know about by Christian heritage.  I saw the Roman Catholic Church as something of God’s preservation foundation.  I couldn’t gloss over the fact that St. Peter’s Basilica was over the tomb of the Peter from my Bible.  I returned home with more questions and a growing dissatisfaction with the church of my childhood.

It wasn’t too long after this that my career took me in a new direction.  I changed departments and ended up on a project team with an evangelical Catholic.  He was perhaps the first Catholic I knew who seemed joyful about it.  I don’t believe I ever had a full understanding of the separation between Protestant and Catholic.  I had no ill feelings toward Catholicism.  In fact, I already held a healthy admiration and respect for Pope John Paul II.  When I detailed my Lord’s Supper meditation to my friend and proclaimed that the scripture must be true – I meant literally true – my friend was amazed.  He gently – not too pushy – explained the Real Presence and transubstantiation.  So, my pastor was talking about the Catholics then.   Wow.  Nevertheless, the Bible says… I continued to say.  If Jesus’ followers didn’t take him literally, why did a lot of them leave?  My friend said I should be Catholic if I believed in the Real Presence.  He suggested I visit a Catholic Mass to see for myself.  I did just that.  I contacted another Catholic friend and asked her if I could come with her one Sunday.  It only took one Mass at St. Philip Benizi to open my eyes wide to what I’d been missing.  This was the real meal deal.  Super size me please….

 My first Mass is an experience I will never forget.  I was first transfixed on the massive Crucifix.  No church should be without this image.  I was captured by the formality and absolute grandeur of the service.  I heard scripture and the homily touched me. I followed along with my friend for the appropriate times to kneel and she whispered explanations to what I was seeing.  I felt the Holy Spirit moving.  I had heard nothing that contradicted what I thought to be solid Bible teaching.  Better still, the Homily was a “pure message.”  There was no preacher putting his own interpreting spin on the scripture.  It was plain and simple.  I was already feeling emotional when the Liturgy of the Eucharist began.   I recognized many phrases and responses by the Priest and congregation as coming straight from scripture. As the Host was held up, I felt the veil falling from my mind and I was totally opened to what God was showing me.  Never had I seen the body of Christ given such honor and respect.  Everything on the altar table was cherished and handled with great respect.  It was so holy and I thought of the cardboard box containing the Lord’s Supper supplies shoved into the closet of my church. 

As the Lamb of God was sung, the knot in my throat was choking back tears.  I could see John the Baptist standing by the banks of the Jordan pointing at his cousin, Jesus, shouting, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world!”  I bet John reeled from that moment.  “Jesus, my cousin, the Messiah?”, he could have thought.   I don’t think he had a clue before the Holy Spirit had suddenly revealed it to him.  John was born for that very moment and he had prepared the people for the “one who was to come after him.”  This was his moment to point the way.   It brings me back to my Nativity reflections.  The mothers – Elizabeth, an older barren women, and Mary, a young virgin.  John, a wilderness nut, crying for the people to repent and be baptized.   Jesus, crying the Kingdom of God is at hand.  John, born to point the way and die.   Jesus, born to be the Way and die.  

I wanted to fall down in front of God at that moment and weep.  I was a child again who would close her eyes tightly during the Lord’s Supper and trying to imagine being at the Last Supper and the Crucifixion.  I remembered holding the tiny bread and thinking of Jesus’ torn body and the little cup of grape juice trying to see blood.  The difference here was that, if I closed my eyes, I might miss something.   This was a visual feast and the scriptures were coming alive in front of me.  At that moment, I knew this was the Communion I was destined to receive.  This is where I’ve been trying to get to all my life.  This is the first time I ever felt as though I were at the original last supper table.  I couldn’t take my eyes off the people as they came forward to take the bread.  I went for a blessing – the first of many.   I remember returning to work on Monday and asking my friend how an adult Protestant becomes Catholic. All the Catholics I knew were raised in Catholic families.  He explained the next step is the Inquiry class.  Being Catholic isn’t like being born Jewish — I can become a Catholic. 

Afterwards, I was compelled to return each week to hear the homily and receive a blessing.  I quickly found the Inquiry class by calling a phone number in the parish bulletin.  Once I began attending Inquiry classes, I realized there are many people who come from other religious faiths.  We were asked to introduce ourselves and make a statement about what brought us to the Inquiry class.  From the first night, I said, “I want to be Catholic.”   So, I began the classes in the summer of 1998 and was received at the Easter Vigil in April 1999.  So, I now enjoy the full meal deal as often as I receive it.