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Communion Doctrine Faith Formation Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Mary P. Sacraments Sacred Scripture

His Flesh Is True Food

last supper3

“Take and eat; this is my body… Drink from [the cup], all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant…” (Matthew 26:26-27).

These are Jesus’ words at the Last Supper, on the first “Holy Thursday,” as he offered to his apostles what appeared to be bread and wine. As Catholics, we believe that Jesus meant these words quite literally, just like when he said “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (John 6:55). Thus, we remember the Last Supper not just as Jesus’ last meal with his apostles before his betrayal, but as the event at which he instituted the Eucharist and established the priesthood.

The mystery of Jesus’ true presence in the Eucharist is central to our faith; yet so many Catholics do not believe it. I admit it’s intellectually difficult to grasp (which is why it’s a mystery), but that’s why Jesus told us that we must have the faith of children in order to enter Heaven. In my experience, children readily accept the mystery of the Eucharist even though they do not fully understand it. They are awed, rather than disturbed, by the idea that Jesus offers his true body and blood for us to consume.

When I was a little girl, my mother told me that the beautiful white marble “box” at the front of our church held Jesus. I remember wondering how Jesus’ body could fit into such a small space, and thinking maybe all the marble stretching out on either side was also part of his tomb. Or maybe it was just his bones stacked up in that small compartment, rather than his whole body. Either way, I believed that what my mom said was true. Jesus was present there.

I don’t remember when I realized what my mother had meant – that what was inside the tabernacle was Jesus’ body, blood, eucharist-640x494soul, and divinity disguised by the appearance of bread. But I know I believed that as much as I believed my mother when I thought she was talking about Jesus’ corpse or his bones. I don’t remember questioning it until I was about 19 or 20 years old. When I was 16, I tried to convince my non-Catholic friend that the Eucharist was really Jesus just by reading from John 6. In my simple faith, I assumed he didn’t believe it only because he had never read that part of the Bible. Needless to say, he was not convinced.

I was a freshman in college when influences in my life caused me to doubt the truth of the Catholic faith. I didn’t reject or cease to practice it. I simply went about my normal life, but with the nagging thought that maybe what I had always believed was not true. Sometimes accompanying that thought was a suffocating anxiety and a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was scared of the prospect of abandoning the faith I grew up with. I realized I had to counteract those voices speaking against my faith, so I started researching online to understand more of the “whys” behind the “whats.” I wanted to know the Capital-T-Truth, even if it hurt me, and hurt my family, and made my world come crashing down. I didn’t want just to do and believe what was comfortable.

I don’t know how long I spent researching, or all the different subjects I read about, but I do remember the flashing neon sign indicating that I had found the Truth I sought. That sign was a website about Eucharistic miracles. I read about an 8th century monk who was doubting Transubstantiation. One day when he said the words of the Consecration, the bread and wine changed visibly into flesh and blood in his hands. Those in attendance at the Mass also saw it, and spread news of the occurrence far and wide. The piece of flesh and the coagulated drops of blood remain uncorrupted, and are on display in the town of Lanciano, Italy, where this miracle occurred. The flesh and blood have undergone many investigations of their authenticity, including in the 20th century with modern research tools and methods. Each investigation has confirmed that this is indeed true human flesh and blood, inexplicably preserved. Among other amazing findings, scientists have identified the flesh as heart tissue, and the blood as type AB.

LangianoThe miracle at Lanciano is one of the most famous and earliest of recorded Eucharistic miracles, but countless others have occurred over the centuries, often to strengthen the faith of doubting priests. When I studied abroad in 2005, I had the privilege of seeing a blood-stained cloth from a Eucharistic miracle that occurred in another Italian city, Bolsena (the cloth is displayed in nearby Orvieto). There are also accounts of saints who subsisted for years on the Eucharist, consuming nothing else. Then there are the personal stories of the faithful, which remain hidden in their hearts – not stories of bread and wine visibly becoming flesh and blood, but stories of physical, mental, and spiritual restoration after receiving the Eucharist; stories of an overwhelming sense of peace when praying in front of the Host in adoration; stories of an inexplicable longing for that “bread and wine.”

Truthfully, Eucharistic miracles and the doctrine of Transubstantiation defy all human logic. How is it possible for what looks like bread and wine to be the flesh and blood of Jesus? How can He be present in every tabernacle and at every Mass world-wide at once? How can a piece of bread visibly transform into human flesh in the hands of a doubting priest? How is it possible that the piece of flesh along with the drops of blood remain uncorrupted hundreds of years later? Scripture says, all things are possible with God. These things are not any less possible than God becoming man, dying on a cross, and rising again.

Using your intellect alone to try to make sense of these mysteries is not going to get you anywhere. It will not suddenly lead to belief in the heart of a persistently disbelieving person. You easily could write off the miracles as hoaxes or works of satan. It wasn’t my intellect that told me “this is the Truth” when I read about these miracles. The neon sign that I spoke of was illuminated by the light of faith. I just KNEW in my heart and soul that these were real. And knowing that the Catholic Church got this truth right helped me to know that she really is who she claims to be.

I have read many arguments for a literal interpretation of John 6 (see herehere, and here for examples). I want to “be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks.” These arguments satisfied my intellect in a manner that was complementary to the faith that I had been granted by God as a gift. When John 6 is read without that supernatural faith, the concept of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood is easily dismissed as ridiculous and untenable, even by those who call themselves Catholic. But when God gives you the “ears to hear” and “eyes to see,” it becomes so clear that it’s impossible to read Scripture otherwise.

Utmost reverence shown toward the Eucharist greatly aids the nourishment of that gift of faith. I long for the days when the tabernacle was a focal point of every church, when people kneeled to receive our Lord, didn’t make idle conversation inside the nave of the church, genuflected with awareness of what they were doing, sang sacred hymns during Mass, and dressed up for church like they were going to meet a King. Those things clearly communicated the belief that Jesus really meant what he said. Without them, it’s much easier to lose that child-like faith that Jesus is really there inside that marble box and those golden vessels.

 

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Ink Slingers Lent Leticia Liturgical Year Spiritual Growth

Time to Walk the Walk

From the moment I watched Pope Benedict leave the Vatican for the last time and speak for the last time as Pope, I had a feeling something big was about to happen. My opinions about popes has been a conversion in and of itself. Having been a Baptist most of my childhood, I had Protestant views of the papacy, but there was something about Pope John Paul II’s face that really made it hard to believe that he was the anti-Christ. As he grew older and suffered more and more I loved him and yet I still thought it was crazy that people would believe he was actually running the show. When he died I was one of those people who watched the conclave only in passing on the secular news outlets.

Then there was Pope Benedict. I did not think that I would ever really care for him. Like ever. But then I saw him in Rome. He won my heart. The thing about Pope Benedict is that in person he looks nothing like his pictures. In person the fact that he is an introvert is very clear. But what else is clear is that he is a kind and gentle soul. I don’t really know how to explain it, but from the moment I laid eyes on him, I loved him. I read his writings and loved him even more. I cried the whole time I watched him leave the Vatican. I long to see his face and to know what he is doing now. And I hope he knows how much we all love and miss him. I really do miss him.

And now Pope Francis. *sigh* What is there to say that hasn’t already been said in a million blog posts? He’s his own Pope. And I like it. My inner rebel is cheering him on, getting involved in liturgy wars that I have no clue about, talking when I shouldn’t, and making rash judgments against people I love and consider friends. (All of which, I just wrote a blog post about and I said not to do that. I need to take my own advice sometimes.) But all of that came to a screeching halt when I read the news that he will being celebrating Mass on Holy Thursday in a juvenile detention center. That was the beginning of my conversation with God today. He did not hold back either.

I’ve been to jail. Not just once, but 12 times. The longest I’ve been in jail is 16 days. It was in the Amarillo City Jail, which is old school. There are no TVs, no outside, no nothing. Just sleep, books, cards, and crappy food. The thing that sucks the most about being in jail is you feel that everyone else is going on with life on the outside and they aren’t even thinking of you. It’s as if you’re dead but nobody is mourning you and there is nothing you can do about it except wait. You wait until you get out so you can do better next time, but really you know that you will always hold a grudge against them for living life and against yourself for being the loser who got locked up in the first place. And the cycle continues … it’s like a circle of hell. You know that you put yourself there, but you make excuses. Everyone is out to get you. Life is out to get you. The people who are supposed to care about you don’t, because if they did, they would get you out. The thoughts of self-loathing in jail are intense. From where I sit now I know exactly where the voice of those thoughts comes from: the accuser. His voice is loud in jail: telling you how terrible you are, how much of a failure you are, how everyone is a liar, how they don’t love you, how you are worthless, how you have a right to hate everything, and on and on. You start to adjust to it and start making friends and trying to make the most of your time. And then comes Sunday. The church people come in and stand there and preach at you about how you’re a sinner. I would always just pretend to be asleep with a towel over my face but under the towel I was crying. Because I knew what I was, I didn’t need anyone else telling me, I had that voice in my mind that wouldn’t shut up from telling me. What I needed to hear was about Jesus and how Merciful God is.

Today, I cried thinking of what it would be like to be in prison and have the Pope say Mass and wash the feet of prisoners in there. Currently I have two cousins in prison, my oldest son’s uncle is in state jail, and my kids’ father is in jail. All of them are there because of bad choices they made. Regardless, I know all of them are loved by God. Who is going to tell them that while they sit in there with that voice accusing them of being nothing and unloved? The evil one is there no matter what. Who is going to take Jesus to them? Many people have opinions about what Pope Francis is doing. Some of those opinions are rooted in selfishness of wanting the papacy to be run their way to make them feel better. (Anytime people center their opinions based on their feelings it’s rooted in something that is not virtuous.) But as someone who has been in jail and knows what goes through the mind of someone in there, I think what he is doing is showing the rest of us, by his example, that the time for talk is over. It is time to walk the walk.

That is what Holy Week is all about, isn’t it? Jesus walked the walk. He spent three years talking, on Holy Thursday He instituted the Eucharist and the Priesthood, and the following day he walked the walk carrying His cross all the way up until He was crucified on it. What scares me is that this is what Pope Francis is all about. He is all about the Cross and I am all about talking about it. I’m not about carrying it and letting anyone hang me on it. But isn’t that the point of Lent? To die to self? Some of us need to die to our feelings, some need to die to self by not making rash judgments of others, and some of us need to die to self by giving up the talk and start walking the walk.

I would suggest that we all follow our Pope’s example this Holy Week and practice some Corporal works of Mercy:
feeding the hungry
giving drink to the thirsty
clothing the naked
offering hospitality to the homeless
caring for the sick
visiting the imprisoned
burying the dead 

May God use us to take Christ to those who need him the most.

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Current Events Discipleship Emily Ink Slingers Pope

Getting muddy…

John 13:3-17
So, during supper, fully aware that the Father had put everything into his power and that he had come from God and was returning to God, he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Master, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered and said to him, “What I am doing, you do not understand now, but you will understand later.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Master, then not only my feet, but my hands and head as well.” Jesus said to him, “Whoever has bathed  has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over; so you are clean, but not all.”For he knew who would betray him; for this reason, he said, “Not all of you are clean.” So when he had washed their feet [and] put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

 

My older sons are on spring break from school this week. They’ve had big plans to seize the day and create some fun memories. On Monday my husband took them hiking through the woods in the local state park. They ran down trails, searched for wildlife, and peed on every shrub in sight (sigh… boys!). Four hours of pure male joy in the forest. When they came home they took off their fine hiking Crocs (don’t judge!) and revealed the most defiled feet I think I have ever seen. There was mud caked between every toe, surrounding every toenail. My husband turned to me, held up his foot, and asked “So, you’re going to anoint these things with oil and dry them with your hair, right?”

HA!!!  Uhhhh…. NO!

The three of them scrambled up the stairs to the bathroom and returned with much cleaner feet. After some time I went upstairs to view the scene of the crime… there were muddy footprints up the stairs and down the hall, the bathmats were black, and every towel was well used. (Boys are so much fun!)

I suddenly had a minor epiphany!

“Whoever has bathed  has no need except to have his feet washed, for he is clean all over;”

This line has always made me pause. Clean all over? Really? Well, at that moment I didn’t really care whether my boys had clean ears or elbows or hair… none of those leave a trail of dirt behind.
Feet, though… they’re different. They touch the ground and show the path we’ve walked. When you’ve had some dirt in your past it follows behind you and everyone knows exactly what you have done.

 

Today, as most of us already know, Pope Francis is celebrating his first Holy Thursday Mass as Pontiff at a juvenile prison, washing the feet of the young sinners. What have those feet been through? What mud and dirt are those young people desperately trying to scrape off? Will their entire lives be doomed when and if they get out of prison due to the footprints of their past that just won’t disappear?

What a brave man!  THIS is where the ritual becomes real.

I have heard many are disturbed by this approach… and I can appreciate that pushing the envelope of tradition is sometimes painful to watch. Sometimes it’s okay to push the envelope – just a little, and even then the rules and regulations can often be a little confusing. In 2005, Boston’s Cardinal O’Malley actually approached the Congregation for Divine Worship at the Vatican for clarification:

”The Congregation [for Divine Worship] affirmed the liturgical requirement that only the feet of men be washed at the Holy Thursday ritual.” However, the Congregation did ”provide for the archbishop to make a pastoral decision.”

O’Malley then decided to include women in that year’s ceremony. He made a pastoral decision.
Muddy rules?  Yeah… but sometimes it’s okay to get a little muddy.

Pope Francis is also making a pastoral decision… and for some that is a bit terrifying.

His bravery is a challenge to us all.