Sunday, January 23, 2005

The Real Presence

About twenty-five years ago, I had a read a book of tales about Saint Brendan the Navigator and some other legendary sailor-monks of early Medieval Ireland. I was fascinated by one story about a monk who lived in a cave on an island in the North Atlantic. Alone, he spent all of his time in prayer. Whenever he needed it, an angel appeared in his cave and provided him with bread. I had a very vivid image of a thin and rugged looking monk with pale Irish skin and long white beard and hair.

Some years later I took a vacation trip to Ireland, by myself. I had no special plans; I simply bought a round-trip ticket on Aer Lingus. I figured I’d rent a car at Shannon Airport, drive around the country, and stay at Bed and Breakfast places. One day, I found myself in a small city called Tralee. I had heard of the name Tralee from Irish-Americans of my parent’s generation who sometimes referred to a song called, "The Rose of Tralee." And if a guy had a very pretty Irish girlfriend, they might refer to her as a, "Rose of Tralee." But only when I got there did I know that Tralee was the name of a town in Ireland.

In Ireland, there were hitchhikers everywhere, but the roads going into Tralee had an unusual number. In the town center was a large park where hordes of unwashed and hung-over teenagers from all over Ireland had been camping out and making use of the public rest rooms next to it. There were people everywhere and wandering in all directions. The town seemed to be wallpapered and carpeted in placards, handbills and litter. I remember a man who popped out of bar and shouted down the street, "Hey, Americans! Get your beer here!" The city was packed and partying. I learned that I had arrived during the annual, Rose of Tralee Festival, which was a beauty pageant. People I met thought that I should be so fortunate to be in Tralee during the festival.

Being a Catholic, one of the things I wanted to do was to experience what church was like in Ireland, and while wandering in the city of Tralee, I came upon a church. From what was going on all around me, I felt inundated with commercial tackiness. I felt no sense of the sacred or transcendental. Never the less, since the church was right there, I decided to go in. The church was full, and mass was going on, so I stood in the back and watched. The priest was at the point in the Mass where he was beginning the consecration. I can’t quite express what I saw, but I was struck by the ecstatic and profound reverence and adoration that the priest expressed in the prayers of consecration, his body language, and the expression on his face and in his eyes. He was venerating the real body and blood of Christ. Then, I realized that the priest was the identical image that I had had of the hermit in the North Atlantic. Here was the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit, and a saint to boot, smack dab in the middle of garbage strewn, drunken, piss-smelling Tralee.

Let me explain something for non-Catholic readers. Protestant church services are Word focused, but in the Catholic (includes Orthodox) faith, although the Word is present also, the Mass is Sacrament focused. Not only that but we believe that the bread and wine are changed into the real body and blood of Christ in the consecration.

I remember seeing such impressive awe and reverence once since them. A few years ago, while visiting my parents on the weekend, I went to Mass in my old home parish. There were no seats available in the church, so rather than stand, I went to the auditorium where the children’s (or "family") Mass was being held. Because it is a Children’s Mass in an auditorium, the atmosphere isn’t the same as in the church. For one, it looks like an auditorium. The altar is a portable one. You sit on metal chairs rather than pews. You hear chairs pushing and banging, especially kneelers hitting the hard gym floor. Children talk and occasionally yell. Babies cry.

As in the case of Tralee, this was not a time and place where I expected profound things. The priest who said the Mass was someone I had never seen before, a Carmelite, and a Hispanic I think. However, when he prayed the consecration, he addressed the Eucharist as if Jesus was truly present in person, and I was entirely moved. He addressed the Eucharist as, "You," and it was personal, very deeply personal. And during the consecration, at least twice, spontaneously, he broke into singing the refrain, "O, Come Let us adore Him."

This may read like dull stuff, but I will never forget these incidents; they have affected me deeply. They are a reminder of the Real Presence and serve as a model of reverence for the rest of us. When certain lines from certain Christmas hymns are sung, especially lines from songs like, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," and, of course, "O Come All Ye Faithful," I become so filled with emotion that I cannot sing or even speak. I simply cannot get any words out of my mouth. Often, the same thing happens when I am receiving Communion. After the priest or Eucharistic minister says. "The Body of Christ," I am unable to say Amen. I am literally speechless.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Note From The Principal

In last week's newsletter from my children's Catholic grammar school, the principal included the following note.

What Would Jesus Do?

We are called as Christians to teach non-violence and peace. We need to communicate this to our children in every aspect of their lives...that violence in any form is unacceptable (it can look like bullying, sarcastic remarks, racial slurs, copying of work, cheating, favoritism, gender inequality, etc. in our homes and schools) and we need to be clear in all our messages. We encourage our children to try to be more like Jesus. We need to ask them, "What would Jesus do?" We need to ask that question, give them time to think about a response and ask them to answer the question by indicating how Jesus would have acted. Then we need to encourage them to "go and do what Jesus would do." As we begin a New Year, let us continue to promote peace within and among ourselves and our children!

- Sr. Kathleen Marie, CR

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

The Cataclysm, Man, and the Need for God

Giancarlo Cesana - "Corriere della Sera," January 7th, 2005

Dear Editor,

Permit me to intervene, in response to the provoking juxtaposition (see Corriere della Sera, Jan. 3) of Professor Severino’s comment on the Pope’s affirmation (and invocation!) in the face of the "fearful cataclysm" of Southeast Asia, "God never abandons us."

The catastrophes that smash blindly against the life of men, as if they were ants or mice, re-propose in exceptional terms the question, which is daily, about destiny. In fact, currently in the world every year 56 million people die, over 150 thousand a day, and only a small minority does so after a long life and an appropriately assisted illness in the midst of loving faces. Even the latter condition, which we perceive as normal, does not eliminate the laceration of death, which is truly a personal, as well as collective, tsunami. Fr Giussani once told about a philosophy professor at Berchet High School, an atheist, who at the end of the funeral for colleague, a Greek professor, who had died in the classroom in the midst of teaching, said, "Ah, yes, death is the origin of all philosophy!" Fr Giussani commented that this problem is the origin of every true system of thought, and no humanity exists that is not qualified by this dramatic wound. Notwithstanding the apparent indifference of the few who take vacation in the midst of the dead, who would not want—to put it lightly—a clarification on the tsunamis that strike our existence? The first clarification is not realized in understanding, as much as in recognizing someone who can respond. A little child is trustful about life not because he has understood it, but because he knows that his father and mother will introduce him to it. In the face of the infinite mystery that dominates us, we are eternal children who need a hand to guide us. The meaning of things—for us, who have not created them, nor who have made ourselves—cannot be demonstrated in an impossible, cold, logical concatenation of everything, but in the warmth of a relationship that supports us for the time necessary for its unveiling, which—in any case—at least in this life, will never be total.

A destiny that is simply fate does not take away tragedy: it sharpens it, because it makes the pain not only necessary, but also irredeemable. This is what the Gospel verse refers to, "Unless you repent, you will all perish as they did." That is, you will die without meaning. The problem of the meaning of death is the same as that of birth, and of all of life. It is the problem of whether there is a ‘you’ to cling to, to be saved by, in the face of the catastrophes that crash down on us, and those, just as dreadful, that we ourselves produce. There is in fact a kind of criminal association between the violence of nature and the maliciousness of man, who thinks he can manage alone. Christ proposes himself as the ‘you’ to whom man can cling, the response of a God who is more than a philosopher, who does not define the human condition, its contradiction and its suffering, but has pity on it and shares it, defeating death with an incommensurably greater act of love. It is toward this act of love that all the initiatives of solidarity and dedication strive, all these efforts that—precisely in the midst of tragedy that seems to flood everything—emerge as a survival instinct that seeks to become an indomitable hope.

If an affirmation can be drawn from the cataclysm that has struck us, it is that the world of nature and of men—of individuals and of peoples—is not sufficient unto itself. It needs a God who never abandons us, a Presence who is friend, who is strong, who rescues us in life when it seems lost. This for me is the experience of faith, which does not abolish evil, but does, however, attack its aspect of despair.

Thank you.

Giancarlo Cesana, of Communion and Liberation

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year's Resolution

A great way to start the new year: contribute to the relief of the Tsunami victims.

If not now, when?