Archive for the ‘The Eucharist’ Category

Celebrating 25 years at the Table of the Lord

Monday, June 11th, 2012

On June 10, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Fr. Steven LaBaire celebrated a mass of Thanksgiving. It was the 25th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood. There was standing room only in the historic and elegant stone cathedral.

This mass was the closest taste of heaven I have ever experienced. I wondered if I’d even be able to find the words to describe it.

Fr. Steve’s parish, St. Mary’s, is located in Uxbridge, MA, a small mill town. He had been the associate pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist for 15 years prior to this assignment. St. Luke’s is my home parish.

There is no priest who celebrates the liturgy more beautifully than Fr, Steve. He has devoted his priestly life (and heart) to the rigorous study of the minutest rituals (known as rubrics) of the mass, and every single one of them as a result, is pregnant with meaning.

Often such adherence to ritual can be empty, even legalistic. Not so with Fr. Steve. He is an artist and a lover. Every touch, every hand gesture, every prayer is offered with profound love and reverence. The liturgy ebbs and flows in one uninterrupted motion; there is a sense of stillness, of silence even as the readings are proclaimed, the hymns sung, the prayers said. It is the Living Water, pouring from the temple (as cited in Ezekiel 47) into our souls.

The music, provided by a small choir and student orchestra (St. Mary’s is fortunate to have a school), was simple and graceful. It neither competed with nor distracted from the liturgy but complemented it in every respect. Musical choices ranged from standard hymns, to chant, to a haunting French folk hymn known as “J’irai La Voir Un Jour” (see below for a video). Fr. Steve’s family hails from Quebec and he speaks beautiful, fluent French. The voices of the congregation rose in song, filling the cathedral.

The homily was quintessential Fr. Steve: mentions of his grandmother, and the sacredness of the family meal, filled with good food and lively conversation. Fr. Steve often uses the family meal as a means of understanding the great meal of the Eucharist. In this case, he demonstrated how sacrificial love feeds us as much as the food when he describes seeing his grandmother sitting in the kitchen after one such meal, surrounded by a pile of dirty dishes. The exhausted look on her face showed the then ten-year-old boy what went into that meal. It was the beginning of the call that would lead him to the Eucharistic table.

Fr. Steve used the homily to thank His Lord, his family and friends, and his congregation. At the end of the homily, the congregation thanked him for his service with their applause.

The liturgy is the number one priority for Fr. Steve and as a result of his devotion, contemplation and deep love, his celebration of the mass transcends this earthly life. Judging from the enthusiastic participation of his parishioners, it is obvious what his priority has done for this parish.

It was the most perfect union of what makes life meaningful: love, service, sacrifice and the Meal.

Recalling the song, “I Can Only Imagine” by Mercy Me, I think of the following lyrics:

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine

After yesterday’s mass, I know now. All words would leave me and the tears would freely flow.

Here is a beautiful rendition of “J’irai La Voir Un Jour”, performed by the brother-sister group, L’Angelus. The English translation of the first verse and refrain is:

I will see her one day
In heaven, in my garden
Yes, I will see Mary
My joy and my love

In the sky, in the sky, in the sky I will see her one day
In the sky, in the sky, in the sky I will see her there one day

One life and how it changed so many

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Yesterday I began my vacation. I enjoyed an exquisite kayaking trip up the Sudbury River in Concord, MA to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Reserve. The day ended with a wonderful family dinner to welcome home my brother-in-law as he visits from California.

I remember sitting in my kayak, looking at the scenery and thinking,  “It doesn’t get more beautiful than this.”

Yet after today, that beauty paled in comparison.

My favorite day of vacation won’t be the glorious kayak trip or the family reunion dinner.

It will be a funeral.

Today I witnessed something so beautiful that I couldn’t stop weeping. I was not sad; I was overwhelmed.

The essence of Henry

A very special man had died. He was a member of our parish family and our town for several decades. His wake was crowded and the funeral mass nearly full. Our pastor summed up the story of Henry this way:

“Henry was a gracious receiver.”

What in the world does that mean? Monsignor Mike used the gospel reading as the key.

The story of Henry

Monsignor had chosen John 13: 1-17 where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. It was a different choice for a funeral mass. But Henry was a most unique man.

Henry had fallen prey to a mental illness when he was 19 and spent many years institutionalized. Years later he was placed in a new experimental program where he would live in the community, and he moved to a small apartment in downtown Westboro, MA where he was to live out his days. He joined our parish, St. Luke the Evangelist, and began to use his special gift.

At first people were put off by Henry’s odd mannerisms and ways. But as eulogist Charley O’Neil pointed out, it didn’t take long for those same people to count this dear man as their friend.

A simple life full of love

Henry loved people. He exuded joy and made it a point to meet and greet as many people as he could. He never forgot a name nor a face. He was a fixture at daily mass, loving our Eucharistic Lord most passionately. He prayed his rosary regularly and became known as a powerful prayer warrior.

Henry was also a man who recognized his needs and weaknesses and never hesitated to call on parishioners for help. Charley remarked that once Henry asked you for help, you were a member for life of his little community!

His gift of “gracious receiving” enabled a large part of our parish family to be more like Jesus.

Henry taught us how to receive

Monsignor Mike pointed out Peter in the gospel, how he first refused the Lord’s offer to wash his feet. When Jesus told Peter that he could not be a disciple unless he received this gift, Peter understood and allowed the Lord to wash his feet. In turn, Peter would care for many of the flock throughout his life with greater love than he could have imagined.

Monsignor explained that Henry did that for people. He asked for help and received it graciously. As a result, Henry was Jesus to many and allowed others to be Jesus to him. He helped people live the verse from the parable of the Last Judgment: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:36, paraphrased)

Charley O’Neil as a key member of  Henry’s beautiful community of friends, driving Henry places and each year, hosting a big birthday party for him at his home. I imagine that each year, the guest list got longer.

Henry taught us how to love

And Charley reminded us that Henry indeed represented the least of us, a man disabled who had to depend on others for his needs. Henry was a man who would normally be shunned and forgotten, but he refused to play that role. His great joy and fearless love, fueled by his devotion to the Eucharistic Lord, enabled him to achieve the kind of legacy we could only dream of. (read Henry’s obituary here; read a letter to the town of Westboro about Henry here)

Surely Henry is “free of his demons” as Charley said, and “rests in the arms of the Lord.”

What Henry taught me

And why could I not stop weeping? Because, here was a man with a heart so big and so full that, despite his “demons” was able to change so many lives for the better.

Only this week the Lord has been showing me the painful truth of my small heart which I liken to the Grinch who stole Christmas. So small and stingy. So afraid.

Today I was exposed to a heart and a life that was lived fearlessly, in great joy. Henry’s light was so bright and although I barely knew the man, his funeral and life story would change me forever.

Henry understood the delicate balance of receiving and giving. “So simple,” said our pastor, and yet so profound.

True beauty

Today I saw a beauty and a truth that reminds me yet again that there is nothing in this world that can even begin to compare to the love of our God.

I may have kayaked down one of the most scenic rivers in the world yesterday. I may have enjoyed a wonderful dinner with family, full of laughter, love and stories.

But all of that paled in comparison to the truth of God’s love as shown through the life of “the least of these.”

Henry, you’re in heaven now and I bet your giving has just begun. You gave me a most precious gift today. And I will continue to ask you to pray for me that God will grow my heart to be as big and generous as yours. Rest in peace.

 

 

Thanking my angel – better late than never!

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

I have a long commute to and from work which leaves lots of time for prayer and thought. Yesterday I was reminiscing about my high school days, prompted by the discovery that a youth minister I had known back then had passed away. Although raised in the Catholic faith, I started exploring when I was 15 and ended up joining a non-denominational youth group which originated out of Park Street Church in Boston. The youth minister was the Rev. Wayne Anderson (eternally grateful to you, may you rest in peace). I accepted Jesus as my personal savior when I was 16 and enjoyed the companionship and safety of palling around with a large group of like-minded and fun-loving Christian teens. We spent time playing competitive team sports, singing contemporary Christian hymns as lustily as we could, studying the Bible, listening to dynamic teachings about Jesus, and praying for each other.

This youth group was exactly what I needed at that time of my life. It was a safety net and so much more. My own home life was strange to say the least, in fact dysfunctional, yet because I lived in the middle of it, I never really thought much about it. I only knew that I felt very alone and this group took me in. I gained 1 eternal and 2 lifelong friends out of that experience (one of them being my husband of 32 years).

When I entered college, I no longer had access to this group and I keenly missed the fellowship. My faith came upon hard times and I found most of my beliefs being systematically stripped away. Only one thing remained: all through my teen, college and 20-something years, I never stopped attending mass. My husband had a lot to do with that but I also think it was because I had a gut feeling about the Eucharist. As a child I experienced some beautiful times of prayer after receiving the Eucharist (images of a gleaming hardwood floor, cleaned after receiving; also of a rose bush growing in my heart) and in a sub-conscious way, it taught me that Jesus was present in that bread, somehow.

This foundation was very important to my remaining with the Catholic church. My time in that youth group built on that foundation, showing me what it was like to have a personal relationship with our Lord, and  to share that with other believers. After college I wandered around in a spiritual desert for 18 years, but I never lost that hunger and thirst for God.

At 37 I had a conversion experience that brought me home for good. But in reminiscing yesterday, I realized that I had led a charmed life, and I suddenly started thanking my guardian angel for helping to lead me to where I am today.

I have never paid much attention to my poor angel (whom I have dubbed “Celeste”) but lately I find myself thanking her whenever I escape bodily injury from a potential car accident, tripping, falling down the stairs, etc. In thinking about my life’s journey yesterday, I knew at that moment that she had been leading and guiding me.

So, after 55+ plus years, I want to say a public “thank you” to my dear Celeste and I promise, I will pay more attention to you! God has been so good to give you to me.

Do you remember the Guardian Angel Prayer? Let’s see if I do . . .

Angel of God, My Guardian Dear
to whom God’s love commits me here.
Ever this day be at my side
to light and guard and rule and guide.

Amen.

Yeah, I had to look it up! :-)

Part 8: Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – how meal times can become a beautiful sacramental expression

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Chapter 2 of Genevieve Kineke’s book, The Authentic Catholic Woman moves from the sacrament of baptism as it relates to purifying and hospitality, to our sustenance – food in its everyday and heavenly forms.

She is, of course, referring to the sacrament of Communion and the Eucharist, the true and real presence of Jesus Christ in the physical form of bread.

The theme of bread

Bread is a core theme throughout the Bible.  God rains down manna (bread) from heaven for the Israelites, sustaining them during their 40 year trek across the desert to the Promised Land:

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you; and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether or not they will walk in My instruction. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.”  (Exodus 16, 4-5)

Jesus as bread

In the gospels, Jesus feeds the 5000 (Matthew 14:13–21, Mark 6:31-44, Luke 9:10-17 and John 6:5-15), taking five loaves and two fish and miraculously multiplying them to feed the multitudes. He takes it a step further as shown in John 6, declaring Himself to be the bread of life:

Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.” Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?  Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.’” 32 Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” 34 Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.” Jesus said to them,  I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. (John 6:26-35)

During the Last Supper, Jesus makes good on His word, offering Himself as the Bread of Life by instituting the sacrament of Communion during the last passover meal he was to share with the apostles:

And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying,“This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:19-20)

How can the Eucharist make meal time sacred?

Kineke, taking the literal meaning of bread as food, demonstrates how we can live out our daily tasks of preparing and serving food sacramentally by reflecting on the meaning of the Last Supper. What really happened here?

Jesus gave of Himself in totality to his disciples (and the world), sustaining them in all ways through the gift of the Eucharist. We too can offer ourselves, perhaps not as dramatically as did Christ, but through our daily meal preparation and service.

I am no cook but my husband and his family are wonderful cooks. Much love goes into the preparation of meals, done with utmost care and often, as in the case of my sister-in-law, with an artistic flair. I found meal time at my in-law’s house to be a time of healing and consolation. In my own home, due to a member of the family having an eating disorder, formal meal time first became battlefields and then dissolved altogether with the exception of the holidays. It became too painful to eat at the table so meals were taken in front of the TV.

At my in-law’s home, meals were eaten slowly at the table. Filled with laughter, stories and love, the food seemed to taste extra good in that setting of warmth. Once again, mealtime was a time of family getting together and sharing their love with one another. Holiday meals especially were legendary! :-)

Keeping this in mind, I tried to make sure my own family sat down together  at the table to eat rather than in front of the TV. As the children grew older, this became more challenging with school and work. Yet, every now and then when both kids are at home for a visit, I will get the request: “Can we eat at the table?” So while we weren’t always at the table when we ate, everyone intuitively knew that gathering at the table was special.

Where and how we feed others

Most women seem to be especially adept at feeding others, and we do it in so many places:

  • in the womb
  • from the breast
  • at the dinner table
  • at a picnic table
  • at a soup kitchen
  • spoon feeding an elderly parent

Feeding others is an act of giving of ourselves and it always needs to focus on others. If it turns into a performance where we are inviting praise or are too stressed out over the preparation, the point is lost. By focusing on the sacramental nature of feeding (reflecting on the ways Jesus gave of Himself as food), we find the richness that is hidden behind the veil of ordinary life (The Authentic Catholic Woman, page 23). The mundane becomes sacred.

So even for those of us who are not good cooks, we too can give love and sustenance to others through our humble efforts, especially if it is done in the spirit of love. This is something I need to think about the next time I struggle over making a meal that may be far from perfect. Perfection in the art of cooking is not the aim. Rather, what counts is the love that is put into it with the intent of giving that love to others. This lifts even the plainest of meals into something sacred, and beautiful.

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Links to all posts in this 11 part series

Part 1: Discovering the beauty of woman through the eyes of God – a multi-part series

Part 2: The beauty of a Godly woman – learning to say “Yes.”

Part 3: What makes a beautiful Godly woman – Holiness.

Part 4: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? The way of beauty

Part 5: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? Modeling ourselves after Holy Mother Church

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

Part 8: Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – how meal times can become a beautiful sacramental expression

Part 9: A beautiful Godly woman is an agent of reconciliation

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

Part 11: Conclusion – Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – the journey is just beginning

 

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Monday, April 18th, 2011

Today’s Gospel reading tied in so beautifully with the next topic I wanted to discuss in my series on becoming a beautiful Godly woman that I had to include in today’s post. The reading was from John 12:1-11; John describes a extravagant act of worship and devotion on the part of Mary, the woman who knew that sitting at the feet of Jesus was the most important thing to do. We read in verse 3:

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil
made from genuine aromatic nard
and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair;
the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil.

John describes the scene in such a compelling way that you can experience it with your senses. I found myself turning it over and over in my mind while driving in to work today.

This leads into Genevieve Kineke’s examples of living according to the sacraments, using Holy Mother Church as our best example. In Chapter 2 of her book  The Authentic Catholic Woman, Kineke talks about the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist) and how we can mirror them in our lives. Baptism was the one that came to mind while reading today’s Gospel and here’s why.

On page 15 Kineke writes:

“It is God’s gift to us that we can lift up our mundane tasks of washing and purifying and link them to Christ’s own work.”

She gives a couple of compelling examples:

Example 1: Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity wanted to minister to patients in a Russian hospital but they were only allowed to scrub toilets. Rather than complain about the menial work, the sisters conducted their work with such fidelity that the beauty of the Spirit shown through everything they did. This most menial of tasks ended up changing the hearts of the officials who then allowed the sisters to minister to the patients.

Example 2:  The women who visited the tomb of Jesus went there to attend to His corpse and prepare it for burial by washing the body and anointing it with oil and spices.

In a sense, this is what Mary was doing in anticipation of Jesus’ death as Jesus points out in verse 8:

So Jesus said, “Leave her alone.
Let her keep this for the day of my burial.
You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

In order to anoint the feet of Jesus, I am guessing she had to wash them first,  not a pleasant job since feet were largely unprotected from the elements and the main mode of transportation. But she attended to His feet with such love and tenderness, turning a possibly unpleasant job into something beautiful. It was an act that transcended time so that you and I could meditate on it today.

I must admit, I never could make cleaning sacramental. I am not good at cleaning and I dislike the task very much. I only do it when I have to and then it’s such a big job that it gets me very aggravated. I tend to complain loudly while I’m doing it and put myself in a bad mood over it which will spill out in the way I treat others. Hardly sacramental!

I tackled spring cleaning yesterday and tried hard to remember the idea of making it sacramental. I can’t say I succeeded but at least I remained calm and didn’t take out any bad mood on my family. I’m guessing I don’t have a clear enough understanding of baptism yet to make the connection. Or perhaps, it’s just a matter of coming outside of myself and turning towards Jesus, as Mary did. She certainly wasn’t put off by His dirty feet! She relished the idea of ministering to Him in such an intimate manner.

So, with an example like Mary, perhaps cleaning will take on a new dimension. I also love reflecting on those Sisters of Charity and how even cleaning toilets could be used as a way to bring Jesus to others.

I’ll be doing more spring cleaning this week and will try to keep those examples in front of me. I know I need to ask God for help before I begin any task. I’ll let you know if I make any progress. :-)

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Links to all posts in this 11 part series

Part 1: Discovering the beauty of woman through the eyes of God – a multi-part series

Part 2: The beauty of a Godly woman – learning to say “Yes.”

Part 3: What makes a beautiful Godly woman – Holiness.

Part 4: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? The way of beauty

Part 5: What makes a beautiful Godly woman? Modeling ourselves after Holy Mother Church

Part 6: Beautiful Godly woman – living sacramentally

Part 7: Beautiful Godly woman – hospitality

Part 8: Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – how meal times can become a beautiful sacramental expression

Part 9: A beautiful Godly woman is an agent of reconciliation

Part 10: beautiful Godly woman – the gift of healing

Part 11: Conclusion – Becoming a beautiful Godly woman – the journey is just beginning