The Banquet.

“Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”

Who remembers their first communion? Mine remains a very vivid memory for several reasons. The first was the suit (dark blue), shirt (white), bow tie (white), silk buttionier, new prayerbook, rosary, lapel pin. In Buffalo you went to the old Polish neighborhood to Spolka Clothing on Broadway to get your first communion clothes. Since first communion was in May, it was still pretty cold the day we went shopping. The changing rooms at the back of Spolka were freezing. Do I have to? Yes. Ok mom. A few days later, having been chilled to the bone, I was sick.

There was class of course, learning what happens in Holy Mass, what we were going to receive. It was amazing, here we are, a group of seven- and eight-year-olds, and Jesus was coming into our hearts. We were going to receive Jesus, not some token, not some plain old bread, but Jesus in all His reality, body, blood, soul, divinity.

The preparation went on. Next on the list, my hair. We had to train the part and hold that cowlick down. Brylcream was your friend. It took weeks of combing and gluing to make it cooperate.

The day arrived. My sister in white with a blue and gold cape. Those of us with younger sisters had them there as our ‘angels.’

The angels processed into church first, followed by all of us. Hair in place and walking and standing straight as a board with hands perfectly folded on that bright sunny morning. We genuflected and knelt in perfect unison. Holy Mass proceeded and the precious moment came, we were going up row-by-row to kneel at the altar rail and receive Jesus. I was so happy.

As we left church the heavens opened up and it poured. Rushed to the car, we were off to the banquet, in the Knights Hall, that my family held just for me, the guest of honor. A feast after the great eternal feast I could now participate in anytime I was spiritually prepared.

 I share all this not just for the sake of reminiscence, but rather as reminder of the importance of what happens at Holy Mass, how the lessons learned though all the care in preparation we took inform us today. Each occasion to receive is equally important, equally precious. It is an equal participation in the great eternal feast, the heavenly banquet. We are equally privileged and also obligated to come forth prepared.

This special day in the Church year calls us to re-recognize the majesty of what we receive, to remember our first reception of Jesus, coming into our hearts and lives, and to ensure each encounter with Jesus’ body and blood is met with the same importance. Recognizing all this, let us rejoice for Jesus’ banquet is ever prepared for us and we share in the eternal feast.

How shall I make a return to the LORD
for all the good he has done for me?
The cup of salvation I will take up,
and I will call upon the name of the LORD.

Psalm 116:12-13

King David sat down to write a psalm, a hymn of thanksgiving. How appropriate that it be proclaimed this evening. 

On this very night, Jesus gifted us with means by which we remain in union with Him whether in good times or bad, whether celebrating or in danger. By this union with Jesus, we have the means and grace necessary to transcend all things. On this night Jesus took the bread and cup and left us His body and blood. On this night, Jesus left us the power to wipe away sin, to lose and to bind. On this night, Jesus gave to His Church a share in His ministerial priesthood so that His great grace, our source of strength and transcendence, might live on in a real and effective manner.

We receive His grace in a real and effective manner as we gather, in person or even remotely, before the altar. What is the altar? It is Jesus Himself. On this night Jesus gave us Himself as the altar, the sacrifice, and the priesthood that offers the sacrifice so that we might always remain part of, really full participants in His eternal transcendent reality.

It is interesting that on this night we read from John’s gospel. John focused completely on the nature of Jesus as transcendent. Transcendence is a rich word meaning “that which is divinely other and loftier, wholly independent of the material universe, beyond all known physical laws and rules.” John most aptly expresses the great truth that our Lord Jesus Christ is God. On this night Jesus provides us with Himself so that we might receive His grace and be pulled up into Him, to transcend with Him as sharers and partakers in His nature. To move beyond.

In repeating David’s hymn of thanksgiving, we acknowledge our deliverance in a lively, i.e., joy filled, expression of devotion, love, and gratitude. We must now, in this moment, lift our souls up to God. We are called to be a thankful people, thankful in the midst of every situation because we are not just in the here and now. In the midst of struggle, fear, and anxiety. In the here and now we are more than the here and now. We are transcendent beings whose eternity surpasses all.

David was once in great distress and danger, so much so that it almost drove him to despair. He seeks God and cries out to Him in that distress. David experiences God’s goodness and his prayers are answered. God heard him, pitied him, and delivered him. Note that David took care to acknowledge the goodness of God, even asking, ‘how could I possibly make a return to God for His goodness?’ He does it by taking up, as we are privileged to do at every Holy Mass, the cup of salvation. He vows to continue calling on the name of the LORD. God helped David to transcend his situational problems as a symbol of what God’s Son, a descendent of David, would do for us. Jesus’ gift to us is complete and eternal transcendence over problems, situations, sin, and death itself.

David certainly gave thanks, only understanding in shadows what we know fully. We know that God graciously delivers us from every trouble. His deliverance is beyond the here and now – and why the Eucharist is so important, for in our time before the altar we are pulled into God’s eternity. This is important! Our troubles are but for a time, but our assurance transcends. Jesus delivers us from the now to the forever. Draw strength from that brothers and sisters, all who partake at the Lord’s table and who share in Jesus’s transcendence. Amen!

Bread for the
journey.

While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.

Some of us may have heard of, or may have even read Henri Nouwen’s “Bread for the Journey.” You can often find quotes from this book on church websites or in bulletins.

Henri Nouwen was a professor at Harvard University and Yale University before becoming the senior pastor at the L’Arche community in Toronto, Canada. L’Arche is a community of people with disabilities living together. Nouwen was a prolific writer and wrote numerous books on spirituality and daily living. Bread for the Journey is one of his most well known. It is a book centered on Jesus Christ as savior, teacher, creator, and peace giver.

Why is it such a popular book? Why does its title ring true for so many Christians?

One term we hear from time to time is way-bread, the Way-bread of the Altar. What a beautiful term. On the night that Jesus was to be arrested, before He was to be killed, He gave us Himself as way-bread.
As prefigured in the journey of Israel, across the dessert, to the Promised Land, where God gave them Manna, bread for the journey, so now Jesus has given us bread for the journey.

We so need this bread, and Jesus gave it to us. We need strength for the journey. We need Him to be part of us; strengthening us, reinforcing and building up what the world tries to tear down.

We hunger for that, both spiritually and physically. In receiving, we recognize that He really fills us for the journey.

Every week we pray, shortly after the Our Father, in the words of St. Paul: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Our answer, for the journey, is Yes, yes it is. We have Him fully with us, Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity – fully on-board for the journey.

Nouwen’s title tings true because when we receive, we are receiving everything we could possibly need. The greatest gift! Bread for the journey.

Reflection for the Solemnity of Brotherly Love

CommunionInRemembranceofMe-Image1

Where does it all
start?

We love, because he first loved us. If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him, that he who loves God should love his brother also.

Today we celebrate two very wonderful and amazing occasions.

The first is Christina and Nick’s reception of communion. The second is our Church’s Solemnity of Brotherly Love.

These two events could not be more perfectly aligned.

Our love for each other in Jesus’ community – the Holy Church – begins in the perfect unity we find in the Holy Eucharist. Christina and Nick are now part of that communion. Together with us, Christina and Nick are intimately joined with Jesus. We are all made one in His body. Along with us, Christina and Nick will play roles that strengthen the community of faith through mutual love. As St. Peter tells us: As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.

God’s grace is received in a most unique and special way in our communion. His body is more than mere food. In receiving Jesus’ body and blood we are pulled into union with Him at each and every moment of His life. We are there at the last supper, receiving His body and blood. We stand at the foot of His cross. We are at the empty tomb. We see Him ascend into heaven – and we are at His second coming. We have total and complete unity with Jesus AND with each other.

Our roles are not to be thought of as something for our own glorification or advancement, but rather for the glorification and advancement of all the people Jesus has called to be His own.

If we are one in His body and blood, if we share in His grace, if we have Jesus with us, then we must exhibit the fruit of this unity. That fruit is brotherly love.

We cannot participate in communion thinking that it is just Jesus and me. We cannot receive thinking that we are just remembering in the sense of recollection.

When we receive Jesus we must do so with the realization that we our bound to God and each other. We have unity with every Christian who receives Jesus anywhere or at any time. We are not alone. We are not just remembering, but are living in the reality of Christ throughout all of eternity.

God loved us first. Living in union with Him, in communion, means we must love each other. His love is the start and our love for each other is full participation in His life.

Reflection for Sunday in the Octave of Corpus Christi

TheCovenant-Image1

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

Imagine if we were to walk into our very last class, just before graduation, and the professor says: ‘Forget everything you have ever learned, forget everything you know, and be filled with grace.’

Today, and every Sunday (and in reality every day), we are asked to do that, to surrender our intellectualism, our self-assured knowledge, and enter into the mystery of faith. We are asked to turn ourselves over to the Holy Spirit and to allow ourselves to be filled with the grace God offers us so that we can do much good in His name.

Our friends and close compatriots in the Orthodox Church have beautiful liturgies that call to mind both the majesty and mystery of God presence among us. Their tradition, unlike western tradition, does not rely on over thinking the mystery of God, with attempts to analyze and explain every nuance of God’s presence in our lives, but rather to worship and live trusting in the gift of faith handed down through God’s Word and Church Tradition.

We are in the midst of the Octave of Corpus Christi, eight days set aside to reflect on the mystery of the Body and Blood of Jesus in our lives, this wondrous gift that provides the grace through which we become more and more into the image of Christ.

As we have studied over the past few months, the Holy Mass is the occasion in which we encounter the full reality of Jesus among us. That reality is fully present in the Eucharistic action of the priest and the Christian people. In the Eucharistic action of ‘remembrance’ we live fully present at the Last Supper, at the foot of the Cross, the resurrection and ascension, and finally in Christ’s coming again. We are there with Him, present to Him, He is with us, and we are filled with His grace and tremendous love.

Our reception of the Eucharist in Holy Communion continues the mystery of Jesus in our life as Christians. In Communion we are joined as one. I could be receiving Communion on the moon, you here in Schenectady, each receiving the fullness of Jesus, each joined together as one body in Him. We are not separate and apart, alone in our communion, but together as one.

In these special eight days, and every day, let us forget what we think we know and actively be filled with grace, the glorious mystery of what we become in His Body and Blood.

On the faithful reception of the Holy Communion by Thomas à Kempis

When the faithful considers his numerous weaknesses and the grievous temptations which assail him, and recalls that Jesus invites and commands him to receive Holy Communion, he is filled with a holy confidence because he knows that he will receive the necessary help from this Celestial Food.

The frequent and daily reception of Holy Communion withdraws one from evil and comforts one in good, lt is food not only for the strong, but also the weak. It is food necessary to recuperate, conserve, increase and fortify the sanctity of our soul.

Knowing the necessity of preparing ourselves well to receive Holy Communion, let us ask Jesus to give us a lively faith, simplicity of heart, peace, zeal, fervor, confidence and especially humility and love of God. If we receive Holy Communion with these dispositions, our mind will be refreshed and illuminated, and our souls will be enriched with many graces and celestial favors.

Every day Jesus descends upon the altar at the words of the priest. All the faithful are, in a certain sense, priest, because they are members of the mystical Body of Christ and they are participators in offering, in union with the priest, with Jesus Christ and the Church,
the Holy Sacrifice of Mass. Let us unite ourselves to this offering and meditate on the necessity to bear our cross as Christ did.

The best preparation for Holy Communion is to elect Jesus as King of our heart. That is, make Him absolute ruler of us and make ourselves obedient to Him in all and never refuse Him anything.