Sunday, August 23, 2009

21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

In today's Gospel many of Jesus' disciples leave him because they find His teaching on the Bread of Life too hard to understand. To be a follower of Christ is not easy, He never said it would be. Thus also why He doesn't call the disciples that leave to come back. In today's world it is very hard to be a follower of Christ and many, many people do leave the Church because they find one or more teachings hard to understand or follow. This week's question is a good one.

The link to the readings this week on the USCCB website.

Question: When have I reached out to someone who has left the church?

Alternate Questions for Kids: Do I know someone who doesn't go to Church?

"The first announcement of the Eucharist divided the disciples, just as the announcement of the Passion scandalized them: 'This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?' The Eucharist and the Cross are stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery, and it never ceases to be an occasion of division. 'Will you also go away?': the Lord's question echoes through the ages, as a loving invitation to discover that only he has the words of eternal life, and that to receive in faith the gift of his Eucharist is to receive the Lord himself" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1336). Let us always be ready to express that invitation!

I got a chance this morning to read the question and the Catechism excerpt before Mass started. It was nice to have the question in my head as I listened to all the readings. I couldn't help but see the importance of the Old Testament reading in relation to the Gospel. So I want to bring some thoughts in on that reading as well.

First, though, I do know several people who have either outright left the Church or don't attend Mass but maybe on Christmas, Ash Wednesday, and Easter but still consider themselves Catholic. I don't know that I have directly reached out to any of them, but maybe I have in some indirect ways. In many cases the indirect methods are often better ways to reach out anyway.

I am conscious of the fact that many of my loved ones who have either left the Church or choose not to participate fully read this blog, see my status updates on Facebook, and have other regular contact with me. Thus when I talk about my faith, my participation in the Mass whenever possible, my attendance at the Adoration Chapel, and other things I do, I hope and pray that I am showing a loving example of what it means to be Catholic. In the past I have also used this blog to explain parts of the Catholic faith in the hopes that maybe it will at the very least plant a seed in someone's mind that could grow and be pondered on and may eventually bring them fully back to the Church and her sacraments. I may never know if I have any effect on anyone, but I will keep trying.

In other respects, I do try to answer questions when people bring up aspects of the faith. This has happened among friends, with family members, and even in the workplace. I know I'm not going to change someone's mind about something right then and there, but when I discuss things I try to be as true as possible to Church teaching. I also try to live by example. My use of NFP, my attendance at Mass weekly if not daily, my open acknowledgement of the deaths of my children, and much more are all examples of how I am openly living my faith to be an example to others.

One of my favorite quotes is from St. Francis: "Preach the Gospel always, and when necessary use words."

So I don't know that I have ever directly reached out to someone who has left the Church, but I hope I have preached the Gospel by example and maybe had an indirect influence on someone's reconsideration of the Catholic Church.

Real quick, I find the dichotomy of the Old Testament reading from Joshua placed next to this Gospel reading from John quite interesting. In the first, Joshua asks all the tribes to commit to serving the Lord as he and his family do. Without hesitation they all uphold their own allegiance to the Lord because of all He has done for them. If you didn't read the whole reading at the link above, go do so now. It is quite powerful!! One thing that came to my mind in this reading with the various ways people in today's society worship other things or people and not the One who gave them life and loves them and only wants love back. We worship movie stars and material things, we saw what I can only describe as worship of politicians last summer during the presidential campaign. Our society tells us that it is okay to worship material things. Think about when the economic crisis first started. We were told to go out and shop. If Joshua were to ask people in today's society I don't think they would have chosen as the tribes of Israel did.

In contrast to this, in the Gospel of John the disciples find the Bread of Life discourse too hard a saying and they leave. What happened to the people between the time of Joshua and the time of Jesus?? Suddenly they were faced with something much harder. This was more than just following Jesus and being a good person. Now He was asking them to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Only the Twelve stayed with Him.

As I have said in some other recent posts, this teaching is still very much misunderstood today and/or rejected by many. This is one of the great mysteries of the Church and an amazing and intimate way of expressing our love for Jesus. I can't imagine a more intimate way of being close to Christ while on the Earth than to be able to physically consume Him.

Getting back to the Question for this week, I do plan in the future when talking with someone who has left the Church or doesn't attend on a regular basis (if we're already discussing Church teaching, of course) to ask them if they miss the Eucharist. Really, I would miss all the sacraments if I were away from the Church, but most especially the awesome and amazing gift of the Eucharist!

On that note, I must head to bed now and get some sleep so I can get up bright and early tomorrow. Okay, not so much "bright" since I know it will still be dark at 4:30am. I will be heading out early to spend time in adoration in front of the blessed Eucharist. Jesus did ask us: could you not keep one hour with me? I will be, tomorrow morning and every Monday morning for as long as I am able.

Finally, when have you reached out to someone who has left the Church?

(For those reading this on Facebook, you can comment here or you can follow the link below this post that says "View Original Post" to see comments others have left on the original post on my blog. Comments can be left in either place.)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

20th Sunday in Ordinary Time a Little Late

Since tomorrow's the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time in the Church I figured now would be a good time to catch up on last week's reflection. I also was just watching a movie with my husband that was just getting a little too scary for me to handle. So while he finishes watching a movie about people who have been infected with some weird disease and now seem to crave human blood, I can reflect on the continuing Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel of John.

Last Sunday's readings can be found here: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Question: How am I strengthened by receiving Jesus in the Eucharist?

"Holy Communion augments our union with Christ" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1391). Indeed, the Catechism teaches that "the principal fruit" of receiving the Eucharist is "an intimate union with Christ Jesus," and that "life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet" (CCC 1391). At the same time, "Holy Communion separates us from sin" (CCC 1393). "The Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life" (CCC 1394). "By the same charity that it enkindles in us, the Eucharist preserves us from future mortal sins. The more we share the life of Christ and progress in his friendship, the more difficult it is to break away from him by mortal sin" (CCC 1395).

All three of the readings and the Psalm are wonderful this week. First we have the reading from Proverbs about the feast that Wisdom prepares for us. Through this feast we can forsake foolishness and gain understanding. That's a banquet I want to be part of. Then we get Psalm 34: Taste and see the goodness of the Lord!! We can start to see a theme here. In the reading from Ephesians, St. Paul urges the Ephesians to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to seek the will of the Lord. He urges them to watch how they live and not fall into evil. We must also seek God's will, and the hard part is accepting it, especially when it isn't our own.

Finally the Gospel to which our question directly addresses. Over the last several weeks we have gotten almost the entire sixth chapter of John proclaiming Jesus as the Bread of Life. I think we have one more week left. Here we see the Jews specifically wonder how this man can give his own flesh to them to eat. Instead of correcting them and telling them that He is only talking symbolically, he stresses the point even further:
Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.

This is so powerful. I love reading this chapter. The really sad part is the next part of the chapter, which we read tomorrow, so I won't spoil anything.

I do feel real strength in the Eucharist, but not all the time. Sometimes I don't and it makes me very sad. But when I do it is amazing. I think sometimes it depends on where I am personally. Sometimes I come to the Eucharist needing strength and I pray for Jesus to strengthen (or heal) me in whatever way I need. Upon receiving the Eucharist, I can feel myself being strengthened and ready to go out into the world again. Those times when I am most in need of strength or healing or whatever is when I most feel like I get something from the Eucharist.

Other times I receive the Eucharist and my mind wonders. I watch everyone else going to Communion and I don't stop to listen to hear Jesus in my heart or feel His strength in my life. Those are times when I'm not sad that I didn't feel strengthened, but I'm disappointed in myself for not taking the opportunity to be with Christ in the most intimate way possible while we are here on Earth.

As disappointed as I am, I have to remind myself that whether I am aware of it or not Christ is with me. Not just in the Eucharist, of course, but always, everywhere, and in every way. But most intimately He is in the Eucharist that we consume into our own bodies. Such an amazing gift ... and mystery. Obviously difficult to understand, the Jews that were with Jesus at the time of the "Bread of Life" discourse didn't get it and many, many people today still don't get it. It is a hard teaching, one of the hardest. But also one of the most beautiful. The Love of Christ is everywhere in this gift of the Eucharist.

As a last quick note: if you missed my post last week there was a beautiful video in it that links the celebration of the Eucharist with the crucifixion. I highly recommend going to check it out if you missed it. Link to my post is here.

That's my reflection for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time. The movie is over (my husband said it was actually a rather stupid movie, so I didn't miss much) and now it's late and time for bed. And ... time for thoughts from my friends in the blogosphere:

How are you strengthened by receiving Jesus in the Eucharist?

(For those reading this on Facebook, you can comment here or you can follow the link below this post that says "View Original Post" to see comments others have left on the original post on my blog. Comments can be left in either place.)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection

I apologize for missing the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. We attended Mass that Sunday at the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, MA (check out the virtual tour on the website, the church was amazing). I did grab a bulletin from my church once we got home to see what the question was and intended to make a post here, but it never happened. So we're moving on ...

The past three Sundays we have been reading from John's Gospel chapter 6. This past Sunday we really start getting to the heart of the matter. It's a great reading, and I really want to go further, but we'll have to wait. For this Sunday's readings, follow this link to the USCCB website.

The Question: How do I prepare to receive the gift of the Eucharist?

In response to murmuring criticism, Jesus emphasizes that eating his Bread leads to eternal life. The Eucharist is therefore "a pledge of the life to come" and "an anticipation of the heavenly glory" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1402). As St. Ingnatius of Antioch wrote in the early second century, we "break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ" (quoted in CCC 1405). The Eucharist is "already the foretaste of the kingdom to come" (CCC 2837), and in the Mass, "we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all" (CCC 1326). Because the Eucharist is such a transcendent gift, let us always receive it with the greatest care and devotion. "To respond to this invitation, we must prepare ourselves for so great and so holy a moment. St. Paul urges us to examine our conscience ... Anyone conscious of a grave sin must receive the sacrament of Reconciliation before coming to communion" (CCC 1385).

This is a great question and something that I believe many Catholics don't quite "get." I know I didn't get it for a long time. I don't think I ever understood it as a child and young adult, but as I started coming back to the Church about 8 years ago I noticed something I had never noticed before. Communion wasn't just a symbolic rememberance of the Last Supper, it was a central part of the Mass. And the reason for this was that we believe that the Eucharist is in fact the actual body of Jesus Christ. That revelation gives you a whole new perspective on the Eucharist.

At some point in my journey back to the Church I discovered the amazing words of John's 6th chapter in his Gospel. Jesus talks in parables so often, but not this time. He meant the words he said: He is the bread and his blood is the wine, and we can not have eternal life without Him. And when those around Him grumble that this can't be true, he sticks to his words. That's how this particular Gospel reading starts, with the Jews murmuring about Jesus' claims, they don't understand what he is saying. How could they? They are supposed to eat him, how can that be! It's a great mystery that we experience each and every time we attend Mass.

So, knowing that we are receiving the actual body and blood of our Lord when we come forward for the Eucharist, it is important that we prepare ourselves. I always feel best receiving the Eucharist when I have recently received the sacrament of Reconciliation.

Prayer is also important, of course. I have recently started trying to focus my prayer better before Mass begins, before receiving the Eucharist, and after receiving the Eucharist. Before Mass I focus on prayers of thanksgiving as well as asking God to open my heart and mind to listen to the readings and homily presented that day. Before Communion I have found it helpful to again be thankful and to ask for God's mercy that I may receive the body and blood of His Son worthily. Keeping this in mind has become important to my preparation for receiving the Eucharist. After receiving the Eucharist I spend my prayer time thanking God again for all his goodness. In addition I take many prayers to Him that are on my heart while he is so incredibly present in my body.

What a gift the Eucharist is!! It's no wonder it is the "Source and Summit" of our faith. The whole of John 6 is a testimony to the importance of this in our faith.

Finally, a friend recently sent me this incredible video and it is such a beautiful illustration of exactly what this "Following the Message" question is all about. So I share it with you here:

Now your turn: How do you prepare to receive the gift of the Eucharist?

(For those reading this on Facebook, you can comment here or you can follow the link below this post that says "View Original Post" to see comments others have left on the original post on my blog. Comments can be left in either place.)