Friday, September 28, 2012

My Hunger Cries Out For You

Lord Jesus,
in the Eucharist You are present
with the whole of the love
that penetrates the depths of our suffering.

Lord Jesus, I am hurting.
I am haunted by my own failure.
I cannot live by myself.
I am dry and shriveling and dying
of hunger.

I turn my heart to You,
O Eucharistic Lord
I need You.
My nothingness cries out
to Your small, hidden, humble love.

O Lord, unite me to Yourself.
Fill this depthless hunger,
this me,
this gigantic longing
that breaks through all my strange pains
and cries out for You. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

How You Can Be United With Jesus in the Eucharist...Right Now!

What follows is a revised version of a post that first appeared one year ago today, September 27, 2011. Reading it again and working it over a bit has helped me to remember the singular gift that Jesus has given us in the Eucharist, and how He uses this sacrament to transform our lives and bring His redeeming grace to the world.

The Eucharist is at the center of everything. Here the Presence of Jesus for us today reaches a dimension that we call “substantial”–the Whole Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity, present for us under the appearance of bread and wine. Here is the sacrament which is the foundation for the total involvement of Jesus in every aspect of our lives, for the constant invitation to discover Him and love Him in every moment on the particular personal path that He lays down for each of us.

The tremendous mystery of the Holy Eucharist! Jesus Himself!

The great day in which we encounter our Eucharistic Lord is Sunday, and for this reason the “Sunday obligation” is not some arbitrary burden. Sunday is the day of the resurrection, and stands for us as an ongoing sign and celebration of the fact that our redemption has been accomplished, and that we are called to participate in the very event itself of Christ's sacrifice, through His Church. Sunday also points to the necessity of a regular and sustained renewal of our relationship with Jesus, one which gives a foundational form to our Christian life.

Participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice on Sunday is the fundamental gesture by which a baptized person expresses concretely that he or she belongs to Christ: that this belonging is a real event that determines the way he or she lives in space and time. Indeed, Sunday is the day that is defined by the Eucharist, and as such it is a day to be cherished, a day for rejoicing, a day given over to the foretaste of eternal life.

We know also that Jesus offers Himself to us every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and Catholic Christians who are able are invited to participate at Mass and receive him daily. And many churches are blessed to offer the opportunity to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament frequently or even “perpetually”–any time of day or night.

But I also wish to speak here of something that may appear to be a “lesser” way of approaching the Eucharist, but which can also enrich the relationship between the Eucharist and our daily life. It is the practice known as “spiritual communion.” Although spiritual communion takes place at a distance, it is truly Eucharistic because it’s object is that unique, substantial Presence of Jesus in the sacrament.

This gesture of the soul is not only for those who are far from a church. Everyone can benefit from acts of "spiritual communion" made consciously during the day. Turn to Christ present in the Eucharist in your heart, especially the Eucharistic Lord being offered in the Mass. Focus on Him and ask Him to come and nourish you, strengthen you, and give you joy.

St. Thomas states beautifully that one of the effects of the receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist is joy: "being spiritually gladdened, and as it were inebriated with the sweetness of the Divine" (ST III, 79, 1). He also speaks clearly of the desire to receive the Eucharist as a "spiritual which one receives the effect of this sacrament" though not as fully as in sacramental reception (ST III, 80, 1).

Making a "spiritual communion" is more than a brain exercise or some disembodied spiritualism; indeed, it is a desire aimed precisely at the sacrament itself in all its substantial and corporeal reality. We should all try to consciously unite ourselves to the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and make a spiritual communion every day; indeed we should do so often throughout the day.

The Eucharist is always the source and summit of the Christian life, but I do not think people need be entirely robbed of Eucharistic joy if they are in circumstances where going to Mass is not part of their daily life (as is the case for many who have responsibilities at home, work, or hindrances of distance, or various other important commitments, or other reasons). Even those who attend daily Mass should make union with the Eucharist by desire a frequent part of their day.

Acts of conscious "spiritual communion" will deepen our desire and disposition for the sacramental reception of the Eucharist, by the joy they do give and also by the hunger that they increase as they seek the fullness of the Reality that gives strength and sweetness, the Reality of the One who gives joy because He is Joy.

And it is from this "Source and Summit" of Himself that He will fill us with His Spirit and open the eyes of our hearts to recognize His presence and His love in every circumstance, and in the face of every person we meet.

The Blessed Sacrament is a plenitude, and an authentic love for His fullness in the Eucharist will not be a distraction or an escape from ordinary life. On the contrary, it will deepen our awareness of the value of every moment--of the embrace of Love and the opportunity to give ourselves in love that every moment contains.

Jesus in the Eucharist is here for us, to nourish the whole of our lives.

"This wondrous sacrament, in which Christ becomes our food...." Let us also keep in mind and heart the billions of people throughout the world whom Jesus longs to feed, who hunger--unknowingly--for this Mystery which has been revealed and made available to us. As Catholic Christians we have the possibility, and indeed the office, to unite ourselves to His saving love by participating in the Mass and receiving Him worthily in Holy Communion. And we can partake "spiritually" of the sacrament right now, in this very moment.

We should receive the Eucharist often, sacramentally and spiritually, remembering our neighbors and all the peoples of the world who do not know His face, as well as those who do know Him, but are not fully aware of how  great and radical is His love.  Let us offer for them what has been given to us.

For each and every one of them is personally loved by Christ. Each and every one is the object of His ineffable Mercy. "Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world." Let us remember that Divine Mercy is Eucharistic, and that our prayer for His Mercy is a spiritual participation in the Mass and a spiritual communion; it is a Eucharistic love, which gives us missionary hearts that reach out to the whole world and every human being in it, especially those most in need of His Mercy.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Give Me Patience and Trust

The road to a peaceful and cheerful acceptance of God’s plan passes through the practice of patience and trust. “Jesus, I trust in You” begins as a prayer (a prayer that in a certain sense starts out by saying, “Jesus I am afraid. I do not know how to trust. Give me the grace to trust in You.”).

The practice of this prayer develops into a habit, and out of this habitual prayer God forms in us and with us (slowly) the Christian virtues, especially humility and courage.

And so I pray to grow more actively aware of the truth that God’s mercy defines my life.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Love That Reaches Every Nation, Culture, and Epoch

Today is the Feast of the Korean Martyrs of the 19th century. Over a hundred are celebrated, many of them lay people who took heroic steps to spread their faith in Christ and to keep it alive under the relentless persecution of a hostile government. St. Andrew Kim Taegon, the first native Korean priest, was tortured and beheaded in 1846. He was 25 years old. Below are some excerpts from his farewell epistle to the Christian faithful who were struggling to remain steadfast.

Who is this man Jesus, that people of every nation, culture, and epoch are willing to suffer and die for Him? What is it about this man that gives the human being an awareness and a freedom that can stand against every kind of power, every attempt to suppress the person? 

St. Andrew Kim Taegon and companions, pray for us as we struggle to follow Jesus in our own trials. Pray that those who oppose us might encounter, through our witness, the truth and love of the presence of Christ.

From the farewell epistle of St. Andrew Kim Taegon, Korea, 1846:

Dearest brothers and sisters:
when he was in the world,
the Lord Jesus bore countless sorrows
and by his own passion and death founded the Church;
now he gives it increase through the sufferings of the faithful.
No matter how fiercely the powers of this world
oppress and oppose the Church,
they will never bring it down.
Ever since his ascension
and from the time of the apostles to the present,
the Lord Jesus has made his Church grow
even in the midst of tribulation.

For the last fifty or sixty years,
ever since the coming of the Church to our own land of Korea,
the faithful have suffered persecution over and over again.
Persecution still rages
and as a result many who are friends
in the household of the faith,
myself among them,
have been thrown into prison
and like you are experiencing severe distress.
Because we have become the one Body,
should not our hearts be grieved
for the members who are suffering?
Because of the human ties that bind us,
should we not feel deeply the pain of our separation?

But, as the Scriptures say,

God numbers the very hairs on our head
and in his all-embracing providence he has care over us all....
Hold fast, then, to the will of God

and with all your heart fight the good fight
under the leadership of Jesus;
conquer again the diabolical power of this world
that Christ has already vanquished.

I beg you not to fail in your love for one another,

but to support one another
and to stand fast
until the Lord mercifully delivers us from our trials.

....I embrace you all in love. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A "Magnificat" Hat Trick! (September Too!)

By now the exclusive, elite, and small group of people who actually read this blog are familiar with the wonderful Magnificat monthly devotional magazine. I am very grateful that I have been associated with various Magnificat publications for some years now. The monthly devotional provides a simple morning and evening prayer for each day (in the form of the Liturgy of the Hours, but with different texts). It also has the readings and prayers for each day's Mass, a daily reflection, and other articles related to the liturgical season. There are also beautiful color reproductions of sacred art, accompanied by commentary. The print edition has a very wide circulation, and the monthly is also available now online and through its own iPhone application.

Magnificat also publishes particular volumes for certain special liturgical years (in a few weeks, The Year of Faith will be available--including a contribution from me). It has also published numerous volumes of New Testament reflections, as well as other books and materials. I want to encourage people to visit the website and take advantage of these excellent resources ( I'm not saying this because the reflection from last Monday was the third month in a row that they have featured my writings. I really think these publications are a great way for lay people (especially busy lay people) to cultivate a prayer life that follows the spirit of the Church's liturgy. If you really want to start praying and giving greater attention to Sacred Scripture, Magnificat is rich, but also not overwhelming. It is beautiful, simple to use, and easy to carry.

Okay, so on September 10 they featured a selection from my book as the daily reflection. In case you missed it, here is the excerpt:

I pray that God may sustain hope in my heart. In faith and hope I know that it is possible, that God’s grace can make something out of my nothingness, and therefore I must not—I will not—be discouraged.
My own trials have opened my eyes, my ears, and my heart to something I never noticed in my youth. Maybe it is because I have finally started listening to people. The fact is that so many people are struggling with suffering, most of them more than me.
Indeed, suffering is deeper than the immediate external struggles that engage most of us. Everyone has something missing in their life, something that has disappointed them, something that does not measure up to a once-cherished hope, something that inhibits their freedom, some burden that tires them, some hunger that is never satisfied.
People usually accommodate themselves to reduced expectations about life, especially as they get older. How else could one get through the day? Sometimes, however, one can still catch an echo of a cry of pain, that deep and mysterious pain at the heart of every human life. Life is, in some measure, always something that has to be endured.
Why is this? We suffer because of sin: original sin, our own personal sins, and the sins of the world. We suffer in Christ, who is God’s love made personal and particular for each one of us. Jesus is God drawn close to our wounded humanity, so close that He takes it upon Himself—not only in some “general” way, but in a way that encompasses each one of us.
Jesus is the intimate companion of each and every human person, even those who do not know Him. He knows each one of us; He unites Himself (He—God the Eternal Son of the Father) to my humanity and to your humanity; He lives in us and suffers in us and through us.
He knows “who I am” and who He wills me to be. He knows the secret of why I was created. He knows my sins. He knows how to heal me of them, how to draw me to Himself, how to make me the “adopted son” that I am meant to be in Him for all eternity.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

What I Wanted to Write About....

I wanted to write a post, but I've got nothing to say. I'm too tired.

And yet, here I go; I keep writing. I wanted to say something about the need to keep trying, in the face of whatever kind of obstacles. I wanted to say something about not being defined by failure, because I fail over and over again, but I still have to get up and keep trying.

Why do I keep trying? What am I trying to do? If I am trying to fix myself, to make myself worthy, to scrub myself clean so that I can finally look in the mirror and say, "I am a good person, I have achieved self sufficiency, I am immune to failure"...then I am wasting a lot of energy.

I can't eliminate the fact that I am constantly in need of forgiveness.

What I wanted to write about was how I have these kids who look at me every day and call me "Daddy" and who actually love me. Who I am and what I do matters to them. I have to keep trying, because I am their father.

I wanted to write about the wife who loves me. She is talented and competent and capable of doing the work of three people. Still, she loves me, and she needs me to love her. There is an unbreakable bond between us. If I hurt myself, she suffers. I love my wife. I have to try to give her whatever I can muster of myself.

I have to keep trying. And that includes trying to write, because that is where my work is right now. "Work" is the word we use to indicate this process of trying and failing and getting up and trying again. The other word we use for this effort is "love."

What I wanted to write about was that even if I thought there was no one in this world who cared for me or depended on me, I would still have to keep trying, working, loving. This is because I know I am not made for nothing. I am made to be a gift. I am made to love. My heart begs to be able to love. I can't give up on this: no matter how desperate or small or broken I am, I have to keep begging for love.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thoughts of a Tired and Troubled Mind

I'm plugging along. Some times are better than others. I may as well write something.

I am still a bit too close to the edge of things. Perhaps its better not to write too much. The intensity of my writing turns too much toward brooding right now. Brooding is not healthy. I want to avoid that.

As I have emphasized in my book (in different terms), it is a constant struggle to avoid getting sucked down the hole of ... what is the phrase? ... feeling disgusted with one's self? Something like that.

But it is not a matter of self-pity. I can't emphasize that enough, so let me emphasize it again: it is not a matter of self-pity. This is not something you "do" or "consent to" with intellect and will. It is something that pulls you and eats at you and tries to consume you.

Yes, it can be an occasion for self-pity or other kinds of self-indulgence; these are things you might mistakenly take up as part of the struggle, the effort to block up the hole. I expect it can also be triggered by self-indulgence and sin; there is a mysterious unity of soul and body, and sin can have many kinds of consequences. And Screwtape gets in on the act as well.

But not everyone who sins gets sucked down the hole. Many people sin with a vigorous mental health. And there are saints who are bi-polar, depressed, obsessive, or wracked with all kinds of neurological disorders.

These things are afflictions. They are diseases. Whatever else may be going on in the moral or spiritual realm, you are sick.

If you can struggle against it, then that means the sickness is not so bad.

A lot more people struggle than we realize. The brain is a delicate instrument. It has its strengths and weaknesses and propensities in different people, and we will probably never reach the end of analyzing the material factors that shape it. Heredity is certainly a major factor. We can mark certain overall common tendencies in whole peoples. Brain health is also affected by many things in a person's particular experience; things which a balanced and not overly ambitious psychotherapy can help to identify and modify.

And, please, take the medicine. If you need it, don't be ashamed to take it.

Who knows what role bacteria and other microbial agents might play in all of this? Environmental toxins? Heavy metals? Processed food? Hormones? The crazy, hyper-lifestyle of the contemporary western world? There are all sorts of theories.

In my own situation I have to take into account the possible role of a chronic infection. Its one reason why I need to be especially careful. 

Enough. I said I wasn't going to write too much.

Really, my problems seem like nothing when I hear about what some are called to endure. But who can understand the depth of another's suffering (much less make comparisons)? We cannot even measure our own. The question is not, ultimately, about who is suffering "more" or "less" ...  the truth is very simple: we are all suffering.

The question is: "How can we help one another?" We can stay with one another in solidarity, giving and receiving mercy, embraced by the heart of Jesus.

Ultimately, what is it that gives each of us value and meaning? It is the fact that each of us is loved by Jesus.

Maybe our brains and bodies don't work very well. Maybe we've failed at everything we've done. Maybe we constantly disappoint people. Maybe we are dull, cantankerous, bad company. Maybe we are ill-tempered, or boring, or too intense, or too reserved. Maybe we are uninteresting, uncultivated, poor, wretched human beings. Maybe we're just not very good people.

But Jesus loves, right now, each and every one of us with an infinite love.

Remember this. Remember your dignity. You are loved. Do not be discouraged.