The Wondrous Eucharist—Guest Post

On June 23 we celebrated Corpus Christi Sunday, and what a great day it was.  Though we celebrate the liturgy of the Eucharist everyday at Mass, there is a tendency to get complacent.  This seems to be our human nature, because if we do something enough we tend to go through the motions.

Eucharist

On this day the church asks us to take a step back and take a moment to remember what an awesome gift the Eucharist is.  In honor of this, I also want to take a step back to look at what scripture and the early church tells us about the blessed sacrament.

Though some terms for the Eucharist developed over time, the belief of what the Eucharist is has been around since New Testament times.  Jesus gave a speech that we call the Bread of Life Discourse in which he says that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood that we have no life within us (John 6:53).  The synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us the words of institution that we hear so often (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, and Luke 22:7-39).

In Summary of these Jesus tells us to eat the bread and says “This is my body”.  Then he took the cup of wine and “This is the cup of my blood that was given for you”.  Notice how our Lord says “this is” and not that it is merely a symbolic action?

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The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is one that held true in the doctrine of the early church.  The big heresy going around in the first couple centuries of the church was Gnosticism.  The Gnostics believes that all matter was evil, and as such Jesus himself didn’t actually die on the cross.  Since all matter was deemed evil by the Gnostics, the Eucharist was something that was unfathomable?  After all, if matter were evil, then there was no way that the bread and wine can transform into the body and blood of Christ.

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The early church fathers understood the gnostic line of thinking and used the Eucharist as a way to refute them.  In approximately 107 A.D. St. Ignatius of Antioch writes in his letter to the Smyrneans, “They [the Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again”.

Justin Martyr, writing around 150 A.D., states that the bread and wine changes to the body and blood of Christ upon the prayer of the priest.  In his great work titled Against Heresies, St. Irenaeus writes “the bread, which is produced from the earth, when it receives the invocation of God, is no longer common bread, but the Eucharist.”

There are many other such quotes like this span for several centuries.  One such quote comes from St. John Chrystostom who died in 407 A.D.  Describing the Eucharist the great saint states, “How many of you say: I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes. You do see Him, you touch Him, you eat Him. He gives Himself to you, not only that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment.”

Eucharist

These quotes go on and on, and through them we see that the teaching of the church from the beginning is that the Eucharist is the body and blood of Christ.  At this point you are probably wondering why I am quoting all these great saints.  Friends, my heart hurts.  For every one person that enters the Catholic church, there are six people who leave.  Why would they leave such a great gift such as the Eucharist?  When I ask those that leave, their answers range from the sexual abuse scandal to a disagreement with a priest.  However, a majority that I have spoken to leave because they do not believe what the church teaches about the Eucharist.  Some didn’t even know the church’s teaching.

Perhaps we have taken this great sacrament for granted and our actions no longer show the reverence it deserves.  Perhaps some have just been poorly catechized. Maybe it is both.  I urge you my friends to take a moment to reflect on the greatness that is the Eucharist.  The very gift of himself that our Lord gives us to nourish and strengthen us.  May we never take it for granted and show it the reverence it deserves.


About our guest blogger:

William is a convert to the Catholic faith.  Before entering the church he was ordained as a Baptist and Lutheran and earned a Master of Divinity from Liberty Theological Seminary.  William lives with his wife and four children in Tucson, AZ and teaches religious education for children and adults.  Check out his website/blog at williamhemsworth.com for more great and informative Catholic content!

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Lewis, Tolkien, and the Creative Power of Music

Music is powerful. Something inherently in music provides peace and joy amidst stress and turmoil. At least that is the experience I have when listening to music. There exists a certain universal quality to music that draws all mankind together. Below I will provide examples from literature and the tradition of Catholic Church to show evidence of music’s capacity to unite people through its creative power.

Aslan’s Aria

Similar to the creation story in the Book of Genesis, the creation of Narnia takes place through the creative voice of Aslan [God]. Here is a brief excerpt from The Magician’s Nephew which gives the reader a glimpse into the inception of Narnia,

Aslan Sings to Create Narnia

A voice had begun to sing. It was very far away and Digory found it hard to decide from what direction it was coming. Sometimes it seemed to come from all directions at once. Sometimes he almost thought it was coming out of the earth beneath them. Its lower notes were deep enough to be the voice of the earth herself. There were no words. It was hardly a tune. But it was beyond comparison, the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.

Words, especially clothed in music, possess a dynamic quality in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Reading Aslan’s Aria moved me. I felt closeness to Lewis’ literary universe and a pull to experience the transcendence of God through music.

Evidence from The Silmarillion

According to Peter Kreeft, in The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind The Lord of the Rings, “The most powerful and magical of language is music. The reason for this is that music is the original language. Music is the language of creation” (p. 161). Similar to the creation of Narnia through Aslan’s song in The Magician’s Nephew, C.S. Lewis’ contemporary and friend J.R.R. Tolkien recognizes the creative and unifying power music holds in the creation of Middle Earth. In his great work The Silmarillion, Tolkien details the creation of the universe—and Middle earth—through the creative power of music. Tolkien writes,

Ilúvatar [God] said to them, ‘Behold your Music!’ And he showed them a vision, giving to them sight where before was only hearing; and they saw a new World made visible before them, and it was globed amid the Void, it was sustained therein, but was not of it. And as they looked and wondered this World began to unfold its history, and it seemed to them that it lived and grew. And when the Ainur [angels] had gazed for a while and were silent Ilúvatar said again, ‘Behold your Music!’ (p. 6).

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I will refer back to Kreeft since he has a penchant for simplifying profound truths in easy, memorable, and digestible quotes. The Boston College professor states, “Poetry is fallen music, and prose is fallen poetry…In the beginning was music” (Philosophy of Tolkien p. 162). This makes sense to me. Something innate within music truly moves the hardest of hearts and melts differences among enemies away. Poetry and prose have residue of music within them, but still fall short of the full reality that is communicated through the medium of music!

Musicam Sacram

Promulgated on March 5th, 1967 Musicam Sacram [Instruction on Music in the Liturgy] speaks of the importance and weight sacred music has and gives to the Mass. According to this Vatican II document, “The true purpose of sacred music [is], ‘which is the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful’” (no. 4). Moreover, Musicam Sacram mentions that the celebration of the holy Mass is provided a more noble form when song is a frequent part of the liturgy (no. 5). From my own personal experience, I concur with the assertion of the conciliar document that music enhances liturgical worship. Peace is a common fruit of singing at Mass. My oldest son is starting to learn the words to the songs and I have noticed that when he sings throughout the Mass he is calmer. There is certainly a truth to the old adage: “Singing is praying twice!”

The Silmarillion and The Chronicles of Narnia are still relevant works of literature decades after they were initially published. Part of the mysterious appeal and timeless nature of Lewis’ and Tolkien’s works is their tapping into the creative power of music. Both men discovered the mysterious influence music has over mankind. Weaving melodious themes into the creation stories of their literary universes naturally draws people to wonder. Almost everyone I knew likes music of some sort and that is not a coincidence. God uses music to unite our sinful world. The height of the creative power is found during a Catholic Mass! I strongly encourage the next time you go to Mass whether you are Catholic or not to sing along with the music and take note of how your heart is moved.

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Siphoning Sanctity? Reconciling Mark 5:21-43’s Peculiar Passage with Reality

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Having taught high school Old and New Testament in the past and being a cradle Catholic, the newness of the Good News found in the Bible sometimes gets taken for granted. During the Liturgy of the Word for Sunday’s Mass, the Gospel reading actually penetrated my theological torpor and liturgical listlessness. Mark 5:21-43 details two healing stories in one gospel proclamation. The evangelist began with a synagogue official named Jarius pleading to Jesus to save his daughter near death. On the way toward Jarius’ residence, Mark inserts a seemingly tangential telling of the woman afflicted with a hemorrhage for a dozen years! Jesus heals this poor woman and the passage concludes with Jesus raising Jarius’ daughter from the dead.

Reflecting on this passage the following questions invaded my mind:

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1. Why does Mark insert a seemingly random story within a healing story? Could he not simply detail the healing of the hemorrhaging woman after completing the passage on the healing of Jarius’ daughter?

2. Does this Gospel reading contain the strangest sentence uttered by Jesus: Who has touched my clothes? Is he not omniscient and all-knowing as God?

3. Power flowing from Jesus…what a peculiar way to describe the healing incident?

These questions initially perplexed me, however, when I had time to think about the passage and re-read the evangelist’s words, and interpret in light of the teaching of the Catholic Church I learned of the deeper more spiritual meaning hidden within Mark 5:21-43 and how it relates to my life today.

Christ Willing to Save All—Social Status does not matter

Sandwiched between the beginning and the end of the healing of Jarius’ daughter, Mark inserted Jesus’ encountered a woman suffering from a blood disorder. After careful review, I noticed the juxtaposition between the two individuals. Below is a chart that showing the differences in how Jarius’ daughter and the unnamed woman came to learn about Jesus.

 

Jarius’ Daughter Woman Suffering Hemorrhage
Young Older
Prestigious Family Poor
Father’s Intercedes Actively Passive Request for Healing
Saw Jesus Heard Jesus

John Paul II declared, “[O]nly in Christ do we find real love, and the fullness of life. And so I invite you today to look to Christ.” Certainly, Mark 5 demonstrates people who recognize the importance and power of Jesus.

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According the evangelist, “And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’” Obsessed with superheroes, I recently received Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game from my wife for Father’s Day. Along with my passion for this geeky deck-building game, I have rented a slew of comic books from the library as well. While my fandom seems random to the discussion of Mark’s Gospel I need to provide a little backdrop to my thought process after hearing the priest read Mark 5:30, the first thought that popped into my head, “I did not know that Rogue made an appearance. Sapping or draining of power is the hallmark of that X-Men character. Marvelously [no pun intended], merely grazing the cloak of Jesus provided the woman healing that eluded doctors many years.

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Joking aside, the healing power of Jesus is quite amazing. Previous consultation with doctors failed to ease the woman’s suffering. The passage that may be interrupted as a “power loss” of Jesus is not meant to infringe on his divine nature. On the contrary, Mark, like the other Synoptic Gospels, never dispute the divinity of Christ, he was utilizing language that his audience would be able to understand.

Jesus—Hope in Face of Despair:

Along with Jesus’ desire to save all humanity, regardless of social standing, Mark 5:21-43 focuses on hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. After healing the woman with a hemorrhage, Jesus arrived too late—at least that was what the crowd thought! Urging Jarius to accept his daughter’s fate the onlookers declared, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” Men of little faith and tenacity would have resigned themselves to start the grieving process, yet Jesus urged the synagogue official to not be afraid.

According to Saint Pope John XXII, “Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.” From the onset of this Gospel reading Jarius actively sought the aid of Jesus and pleaded for the return of his daughter to life when all looked hopeless as she appeared to linger in the shadow of death. Below is a link to a story about Jesus providing miraculous healing to another young daughter—prematurely born!

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Uniqueness of the Individual:

A final thought that crossed my mind when reflecting on Mark 5:21-43 was that Jesus focuses on the present moment with grace, love, and resolve. Even on the way toward healing a prominent religious official’s child, Christ paused to listen to the needs of an ordinary, poor woman. Saint Mother Teresa said, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” Do not worry about the past nor the future only concern about the need of God’s children in front of you.

This is exactly what Jesus did in Mark 5:25-34—noticing the presence of the sickly woman Christ stopped to show mercy the person in need at the present moment. As a father of three young children, my focus is frequently divided between juggling the various needs and adventures of my kids growing up. What I learned to devote my attention and time to the present moment and act with love instead of worrying about the various needs and whether it will be adequate or not. The genius of the Gospel message centers on the individual first. Siphoning sanctity cannot occur as love multiplies not divides when more and more individuals come into your life.

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My Personal Litany of Saints

November 1st—the Celebration of the Feast of All Saints—among my favorite feasts in the Church’s liturgical calendar. Only the Feast of the Holy Trinity and the Most Precious Body and Blood eclipses All Saints Day in significance for me personally. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. . . . They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus . . . . So by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped” (CCC 956).

In other words, the reason we honor the holy men and women in union in Heaven with God is because they draw of closer to unity with God. November 1st is not meant to be a Holy Oscars or a rolling out of a theological red carpet. Saints are witnesses to the faith and reflect the light Holy Trinity. I am reminded St. Jean Marie Baptiste Vianney when he said, “We are all like little mirrors, in which God contemplates Himself. How can you expect that God should recognize His likeness in an impure soul?” This likening of the human soul as a reflection, a mirror of God’s love can be found even earlier in Church tradition. St. Theophilus of Antioch [circa 2nd century A.D.] declared, “A person’s soul should be clean, like a mirror reflecting light. If there is rust on the mirror his face cannot be seen in it. In the same way, no one who has sin within him can see God.”

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Below I formed a list, a sort of personal litany of saints, and applicable holy writings that have helped me grow in holiness and polish my soul to better reflect the love of the Holy Trinity. Along with the names of canonized saints who personally influenced me, I outlined several Christian writers who lived fairly recently or are currently alive and are not officially canonized. Nevertheless, the books from the suggested reading still helped me grow in my Catholic faith.

***Note: I added the book(s) that I have actually read that have impacted me and deepened my relationship with God through the saint. This is in no way an exhaustive list –it is merely a list of saints whose writings and/or witness influenced me positively***

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  1. Mary- The World’s First Love: Mary, Mother of God by Venerable Fulton Sheen
  2. Joseph
  3. Athanansius: On the Incarnation; Life of St. Antony
  4. Pope John Paul II: Fides Et Ratio; Redemptoris Misso; Veritatis Splendor
  5. Maria Faustina: Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
  6. Francis de Sales: Introduction to the Devout Life
  7. Augustine: Confessions
  8. Louis de Montfort: True Devotion to Mary
  9. Terersa of Avila: Interior Castle
  10. John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul
  11. Therese of Lisieux: The Autobiography of Saint Therese of Lisieux: The Story of a Soul
  12. Luke: Acts of the Apostle; Gospel According to Luke
  13. Josemaria Escriva: The Way
  14. Pope Pius XII: Humani Generis
  15. James: The Letter of St. James
  16. Maximilian Koble
  17. Bernadette
  18. Pope Pius IX
  19. Pope Leo XIII
  20. Thorlak
  21. Francis of Assisi
  22. Ignatius of Loyala
  23. Ambrose: De Incarnationis Dominicæ Sacramento [on the Incarnation and Sacraments]
  24. Jerome: Homilies
  25. John Chrysostom
  26. Thomas Aquinas: The Summa Theologica

Suggested Reading:

  1. K. Chesterton: Orthodoxy
  2. S. Lewis: Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters; Space Trilogy
  3. Bishop Robert Barron: Catholicism
  4. Peter Kreeft, P.H.D.: Socrates Meets Jesus: History’s Greatest Questioner Confronts the Claims of Christ; Prayer for Beginners; Between Heaven and Hell
  5. J.R.R. Tolkien: The Hobbit; The Lord of the Ringsmass not boring.jpg

Now of this readings are a replacement for the best possible way we can celebrate All Saints Day–the best way is to go to Mass. Hopefully you find this list helpful in your spiritual journey!

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Sweat, Stress, and Shenanigans: Why Do I Even Take the Kids to Sunday Mass?

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Our car’s digital clock reads 9:27 A.M. I am thinking to myself, “Great, maybe we will be able to make it on time to Mass this week…finally!” [we only live 2 minutes away from our parish.]. After we pulling into a parking spot and turn off the ignition, my wife and I rush to get our three children into the church before the entrance hymn starts. Thankfully, we made it in time. I thought myself, “Please let us be able to make it through at least the first part of the Mass without me having to take any one out!”

My prayer was almost answered. Two minutes into the first reading, my 18 month old son, started to lose focus and wanted to escape the premises. The granola bar and sippy cup of water were not enough to appease him long enough for me to finish the firsting reading. I already had perspiration glinting on my temples and forehead from having to hold a squirming and twisting toddler. I gave up the battle. I left my oldest son in the pew by himself for a couple minutes until my wife came back—she had to take our daughter out for a bathroom break five minutes into the liturgy!

“What is the point, I thought. Should I even continue trying to bring the kids along? Sometime people stare at us as if we have an extraterrestrial being dancing behind them in the pew? My kids are insane!” I lamented to myself. Mass ended fairly decent, considering the crazy start, but I felt inspired to write about my inner struggles about balancing family life with my Catholic obligation for Sunday worship. Here are three reasons why I cannot stop bringing my children to Mass despite the enormous “inconvenience” or “stress” it seems to bring.

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1. Because I Experience Truth: Someone once asked my wife, “Why did you convert to Catholicism?” Her reply is probably the shortest apologetic statement in history, “Because it’s true!” The conviction and strength of faith of that level is something I have yet to achieve. I oftentimes feel myself providing caveats and further clarifications for why I am Catholic or why I continue to follow the faith. At the end of the day, I continue to go to weekly Mass on Sundays because the Apostles—the first friends and followers of Christ—started that tradition 2,000 years ago. Jesus informed the Twelve to celebrate the “breaking of the bread” weekly.

I need to persist in taking my children to Mass because Jesus is “The Way, the Truth, and the Life” and we receive the gift of the Eucharist! Truth is not always easy, but without truth I am nothing. Humans long for truth and the truest explanation for the wonders and strangeness of reality I find in the Catholic Church. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church number 1324, “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’136 “The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it.” Because of the peak of the Catholic faith is found in the Mass, I am willing to deal with face the difficulties of bringing young children to church. The path toward Truth is not always easy to follow but it is always worth it in the end.

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2. Peace Be with You: A Catholic priest once described the liturgy as a theological GPS that orients us back to the correct path when we fall away. This image always stuck with me. I seem to wander from the path of holiness frequently. My patience wears thin, I struggle with charity of speech, and I act rashly at times. Frankly, I think weekly attendance of Mass is far, far too infrequent for me! If it were not for my familial obligations as a husband and father along with my work duties to my employer, I would go to weekday Mass as well.

Peace is the gift we receive at Mass from the Holy Spirit. The first words that Jesus said to his Apostles in the Upper Room relate to the gift of peace too. In John 20:19 and 21 Jesus says, “’Peace be with you.’… ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” Utilizing my favorite reference book—my trusty Thesaurus—the two synonyms for the word peace that stand out most to me are restfulness and calmness. From my previous posts, you will know that I am not necessarily a calm person. I struggle with anxiety and RESTLESSNESS. Growing up with ADHD and being a father to hyperactive children, I crave peace. I long for rest. The Mass provides me that chance. Not every moment, because I do have to protect my somersaulting son from danger! Still, I found moments in the liturgy where I acquire genuine peace and calmness of heart. The best place on Earth where I have discovered true peace is within the sacrament of the Eucharist during Mass.

3. My Primary Role as Dad: My main role as a father is getting my children to Heaven. I am called to be a saint maker—growth in sanctity occurs in this life. According to the Catholic Church,

The family is the original cell of social life. It is the natural society in which husband and wife are called to give themselves in love and in the gift of life. Authority, stability, and a life of relationships within the family constitute the foundations for freedom, security, and fraternity within society. The family is the community in which, from childhood, one can learn moral values, begin to honor God, and make good use of freedom. Family life is an initiation into life in society (CCC 2207).

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How may I expect my children to love God if I did not establish a habit to visit the Divine Presence and rest in His grace? How do I lead my family on the path of true freedom if I do not experience freedom myself? The answers are incredibly simple—visit God and visit frequently! My father was [and still is] an amazing example of holiness. He is patient, slow to anger, and consistent in his faith. Looking by at how he accomplished the tremendous feat of raising my siblings and I, I realized that the biggest constant is his life [besides my mom] was the Eucharist. God fed my own biological father through this sacrament. The Holy Spirit increased my father’s inherent gift of patience to a profound and loving level—I need to follow that example.

My youngest child still has not called me “daddy” nor even uttered the word! Somedays I struggle to cope with this developmental delay. I noticed that my 18 month old will immediately fold his hands in prayer when I begin the Prayer Before Meals blessing. Seeing those little fingers crossed together humbled me. This small act has made me prouder than anything else. Life is not about how smart, or beautiful, or successful you are. Life is about love and truth. The Holy Spirit sent me a reminder through the person of my toddler.

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Do not be overwhelmed when it comes to raising your children in the faith. Even if you are a single person without children and struggle with motivation to go to Sunday Mass, I encourage you to still go. The joy and peace I experience at the end of the Eucharistic celebration is worth it. I wish that every Sunday Mass felt as good as the above picture looks—but that is not always the case in the reality of life. I need to continue to trust that my apparent feelings of failure and seeming ineptitude of corralling my children at Mass are distinct from the truth we experience every Sunday—that Jesus graces us with the ability to partake of His body, blood, soul, and divinity! No amount of Sunday Sweat, Stress, and Shenanigans will change this truth!

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