St. Theophane the Recluse said, “When going to Mass (the Holy Mysteries), go with simplicity of heart, in full faith that you will receive the Lord within yourself, and with the proper reverence towards this. What your state of mind should be after this, leave it to the Lord Himself. Many desire, ahead of time, to receive this or that from Holy Communion, and then, not seeing what they wanted, they are troubled, and even their faith in the power of the Mystery is shaken. The fault lies, not with the Mystery, but with superficial assumptions. Do not promise yourself anything. Leave everything to the Lord, asking a single mercy from Him — to strengthen you in every kind of good, so that you will be acceptable to Him.” (The Spiritual Life: And How to Be Attuned to It, @ www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com)
Great advice from a Desert Father who came to mass not out of obligation, but to show his love for the God who, in his mercy, comes to him in bread and wine, and who allows His divine grace to work in and through his life.
The very first Eucharist happened on the very first Holy Thursday! We heard in our scripture readings tonight that, on that graced night, some remarkable events transpired. First, Jesus changes the commemoration of the Jewish Passover meal to a commemoration of his impending death and gives the fledgling Christian community bread and wine, as the signs of the new and eternal covenant he makes with them, boldly attesting that the bread they eat will be his very body and the wine they drink will be his very blood!
But such a meal wasn’t meant JUST for the spiritual sustenance of the one receiving communion. Far from it! Through this agape meal, Jesus’ followers would proclaim and celebrate their love for Christ and their neighbor by committing to serving the needs of others, as if they were Christ Jesus himself, present in their midst. And that recognition begins with recognizing that we’re all sinners, in need of God’s mercy.
Since being named the Pope, Francis has had a lot to say about the subject of the Eucharist. He reminds us that the Mass has one goal in mind: to lead us to the grace of feeling forgiven and a willingness to forgive others. He goes so far as to say, “If we don’t’ feel in need of God’s mercy and don’t think we’re sinners, it’s better not to go to mass.” He says this, because he believes, and rightly so, that “the Eucharist is a celebration of Christ’s gift of himself for the salvation of sinners.” Any feelings of self-righteousness or superiority should be alien to the Christian believer. Our attitude should rather, be one of total dependence on God for all that we are and all that we hope to become. Our attitude should be one of, we’re-in-this-together, rather than I’m-here-only-for-my-own salvation and for my own self-interests.
Indeed, Pope Francis reiterates the element of forgiveness in every Eucharist by saying,
“When, at the beginning of mass, we say, ‘I confess,’ it’s not something pro-forma. It’s a real act of penance. In the Eucharist, Jesus TRULY gives us his body and blood for the remission of sins.” That’s why Jesus had to suffer and die. That’s why his body had to be broken and his blood had to be shed. That’s why Jesus willingly gave himself up to the authorities and didn’t try to avoid crucifixion. Eucharist was an expression of the redemption we would receive and come to celebrate on Easter morn.
As a good Jesuit, the Pope likes to stir the pot a bit more. He does this by asking us to consider our motivation for coming to celebrate the Eucharist to begin with. He asks us, “What difference does the Eucharist make in your life and in the life of your parish community? Do you go to mass because it’s a habit or a time to see your friends, or is it something more? Does it lead you to consider all of those gathered as your brothers and sisters? Does it increase your ability to rejoice when they rejoice and weep when they weep?” With these rhetorical questions, the Holy Father is encouraging us to see that the Eucharist should have an impact on our day-to-day living and our ministry as a parish community.
It should further strengthen our ability to see those around us as one family, as spiritually bonded and connected to one another FOR ETERNITY! Pope Francis wants us to avoid coming to mass out of habit or for some individualistic agenda. He encourages us instead, to see every Eucharist as a coming together of God’s imperfect, sinful people, a family that wants to become closer to one another, to empathize with one another when we’re struggling, and to rejoice with each other when there’s cause for rejoicing. He wants us to leave the church gathering with a real experience of an agape meal.
When we’re all committed to seeing the Eucharist in this way, the Pope says it should make a difference in the way our parish community lives. In other words, our collective witness to the city of Sudbury and to the world-at-large should communicate to those outside our parish boundaries,
the priorities we make as followers of Christ and our desire to build bridges and relationships with those who are of different religious affiliations or of no particular religious affiliation at all. It should demonstrate to the world our commitment to forgiveness and redemption, our commitment to mercy and love, our promotion of peace and social justice —particularly for the poor and the powerless. It should proclaim our openness to sharing our faith in the risen Lord, our commitment to truth — both religious and secular—, and our hope for a better world, one in which the vision of the Kingdom of God is truly lived-out and upheld!
For when Jesus says, ‘Do this in memory of me,’ he doesn’t mean just to eat and drink his body and blood. No, he means, do all that this body and blood signify! Let my presence coarse through your very heart, mind, and soul and strengthen your resolve to live and act like me! Let it empower you to do all that I would do in this world today to announce the Kingdom of God! Make the Eucharist, not just an hour long event on your weekend, but a 24-7 commitment to living as my disciple, through and through.
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