April 04, 2010
The Greatest Gift
The Table of Our Lord, the Altar of St Francis of Rome Church Clifton, Louisville KY
The eternal spring is hidden
in this living bread for our life's sake,
although it is night.
It is here calling out to creatures;
and they satisfy their thirst,
although in darkness,
because it is night.
This living spring that I long for,
I see in this bread of life,
although it is night.
- St. John of the Cross
"The Bread that we need each day to grow in eternal life, makes of our will a docile instrument of the Divine Will; sets the Kingdom of God within us; gives us pure lips, and a pure heart with which to glorify his holy name, "
- Edith Stein
"Were it not for the constant presence of our divine Master in our humble chapel, I would not have found it possible to persevere in sharing the lot of the lepers in Molokai...The Eucharist is the bread that gives strength... It is at once the most eloquent proof of His love and the most powerful means of fostering His love in us. He gives Himself every day so that our hearts as burning coals may set afire the hearts of the faithful,"
- Blessed Fr. Damien, Apostle of the Lepers
"Let us go with confidence to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace,"
- (Heb. 4:16)
Father, now Saint Damien Molokai’i ae, is one of the two holy people that have gone before me, that I have selected to be my patrons. The other is Edith Stein, in religion Teresa Benedicta a Cruse, a Jewess who converted to Christianity then after ten years of teaching was received into the Carmelite Order. St. Damien died of leprosy contracted in conjunction with his ministry. St. Edith was murdered for simply being of a certain race. The communion of Saints has always been a reality for me. I never believed that those that die are not alive. They are living on another plane, another dimension. And that they are there for us
I have been asked by many “Why would you change your faith or your religion at this time of your life?...” “ What was it that drew you to this Church so full of controversies and contradictions…” A church that is daily reviled in the news, insulted in the press and scorned by many of my friends who left her angry confused and hurt… A church misunderstood, called stone age, irrelevant, woman hating, superstitious, filled with heresies, idolatry and untruth. None if this is true of course…
Was it the leading of John Michael Talbot, (who said to me recently that becoming a Roman Catholic made him a better Methodist. That by following Christ by studying the example of St. Francis of Assisi, he has become better conformed to Christ in the image of John Wesley…) or my Methodist minister friend,( who was supportive but I think perplexed…). Both have been called by one angry friend “false prophets” but they have had little to do with this journey. They have encouraged me but not pushed me in any direction.
Was it the long period of no church attendance, then the plunge into a liturgical experience over the past few years? Was it my own disgust at the way praise and worship has become top 40 songs that make Jesus sound like He is your girlfriend, and worship leaders treated like rock stars…or how the “Bible” church go-ers have become modern day Pharisees, judgmental overfed sheep that cant make their way out of the feedlot of their churches into the world that sorely needs what they have been so carefully taught!... Is it the incredible narrowness that I have seen in fundamentalist congregations or the outrageousness of some Pentecostal gatherings where people growled like dogs, and flopped on the floor in a crazed abandon, spouting nonsense.
"What Christ gives us is quite explicit if his own words are interpreted according to their Aramaic meaning. The expression 'This is my Body' means this is myself"
In fact it was the Calvary Chapels, the verse by verse exposition of the scriptures and the mantra of their founder Chuck Smith…”Read the Word-What does it say?” that propelled me in an all out search for the Truth. It was 10 years ago, as I was reading Kathleen Norris’s “ Amazing Grace, A Vocabulary of Faith” that I decided to look at what Catholics believed and why they are viewed differently than any other “brand” of Christianity. I read two passages of scripture below with “Catholic” eyes... That study totally rocked my theological worldview
John 6:48-69I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not as the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
James 5:14-16Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
These scriptures are explicit in their clarity. I have read commentary and discussed these with a number of learned people and I am convinced that they are literal and to the point. That Jesus, was saying that He himself would become a Spiritual Food somehow…and that I was to confess to a human and that I would be forgiven…. I am no scholar no theologian, but what the Bible said was what the Church teaches and has taught since the earliest times and this is what convinced me that the fullness of Christian life is to be found in the Roman Catholic Church.
You can be a Christian and not be Catholic, you will go to heaven if you have faith in Jesus, but if you want the fullness of historic Christian tradition, you aren’t going to find it in the feel good mega churches or by staring at a tree in your back yard… You will find it in the depths of the mystery of the Church founded by Christ Himself
Yes… there are many other things that lead me to “Cross the Tiber… I love the pageantry, the theater of the Mass, the many readings of scripture and the comfort of knowing that you are going to get what you get every time you go…But the two things among the many, Two Sacraments of Seven…. They were the clincher. I have written on one of them, Reconciliation and Absolution. The other is the Eucharist… The Real Presence… The Holy Communion that can only be found in Holy Mother Church and her daughters of Orthodox traditions... Sadly it cannot exist in the churches of the separated brethren that I have known all of my life. I am convinced that only consecrated priests that can trace their ordininal lineage back to the Apostles have the authority to consecrate the elements. Anything else is only a symbol, a symbolic ceremony that anyone can perform and if it treated that way, I have no problem with this, but in churches like the Methodist church where only a handful of its ministers have this traceable authority (for example,if there are any women in the line of ordination that will disqualify you for starters) this is a huge issue. There has to be authority, if there isnt then my puppy could confect the sacrament… My friends, if the Holy Sacrament is merely symbolic why should we care…this has been a question that I have asked myself for a long long time"The Bread of heaven puts an end to symbols."
- Office for the Feast of Corpus Christi
I have seen communion services treated like picnics or free for alls that leave a huge mess on the floor. Yes I have also seen reverence and dignity, but I have also seen it done carelessly and with no thought to what is being said by the foolishness, Worse was seeing it done by rote week in and week out with no explanation. I have been in churches that don’t have communion but once a year, and I have seen Open Tables which are a mockery of scripture in 1 Corinthians 11:27-32Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
The Eucharist is for Believers not Seekers. Being a seeker is great I have been one for many years. I went forward and was "blessed" by different priests in different settings. I was not in the least embarrassed to be different. I want what God wants and political correctness for the sake of inclusion has no place here. We really need to get over this..."The Blessed Sacrament is indeed the stimulus for us all, for me as it should be for you, to forsake all worldly ambitions. Without the constant presence of our Divine Master upon the altar in my poor chapels, I never could have persevered casting my lot with the lepers of Molokai; the foreseen consequence of which begins now to appear on my skin, and is felt throughout the body. Holy Communion being the daily bread of a priest, I feel myself happy, well pleased, and resigned in the rather exceptional circumstances in which it has pleased Divine Providence to put me."
- Blessed Fr. Damien, Apostle of the Lepers
The Eucharist is a gift to us here on earth. It is the way Christ would cement the living stones of His church together… a building up…a unifying factor…and I desired this Oneness with Our Lord so much. I knew that and while it was hard to wait I wanted something in my life that wasnt tainted by rushing or choosing my own way. I am so glad that I waited and that I was able to have a first true holy communion..."Neither theological knowledge nor social action alone is enough to keep us in love with Christ unless both are proceeded by a personal encounter with Him. Theological insights are gained not only from between two covers of a book, but from two bent knees before an altar. The Holy Hour becomes like an oxygen tank to revive the breath of the Holy Spirit in the midst of the foul and fetid atmosphere of the world,"
- Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen
And so I began this long journey, Three Churches, Four Catechists, 12 years and 10,000 miles of wandering later, I stood before Msgr Scott and the congregation at St. Steven Church and said more "I do's" than I repeated at my two marriage ceremonies combined. I felt my forehead being signed three times and the heavy sweet scented chrism oil crossed on my forehead and temples...the same kind of oil used to anoint priests and because they are the head of the Church of England, the Kings and Queens of England as well. I am an anointed princess and a priest...a true daughter of God, and of His Church...
Then I heard my new name "Teresa Damien Molokai ea" and there was a roar in my ears and the sound of the drums striking the last note of a Mele or chant and the ensuing silence. I think the roar was voices... and Father said later when I shared this that they were the voices of those forgotten ones, those sent to the fires at the death camps by the Nazis, those lepers tossed off the ships into the raging Pacific off the coast of Molokai'i, too weak and sick to swim they would drown in the heavy surf. My patron saints cared for these people and in turn I will be cared for as well... The struggle of this part of my journey has ended. The Word of prophecy I received last Fall, that before the summer came, my hard journey would end, has come to pass... The final drumbeat signaled a new song was beginning.
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed…”
The final words said by the priest prior to the serving of the Eucharist….
I went forward for the Host and when Father placed it in my mouth, I stood there in a sort of amazed shock..."I have God in my mouth..." was all I could think, but as I tasted the precious blood for the first time I realized that this was different from any experience of Our Lord I have ever known, a closeness and a sweetness that is unsurpassed. I was high, on a different plane than when I walked into the church.
For me and for others that have experienced this celebration, it is a life changing moment. You are never the same again. I am free to worship where I will but the table of Our Lord is now open to me in any church anywhere in the world. I now have 1 Billion brothers and Sisters. The next week as I worshiped I felt the same spine tingle when I received my Lord and my God. When Jesus said he would be with us forever he really meant it physically forever, within us. I never understood the power of that . Christ more than a intellectual expression, more than theology, worship and service… Actually in my hands in my mouth, under my heart. It is my hope that my faith will grow stronger now that I have this tangible reality in my life. It is the Greatest Gift I have ever been given.
With thanks to
Confirmed Hokulea and Mgsr Scott
Labels: Catholic, Church, Current Events, Edith Stein, John Michael Talbot, Personal Growth, Quotable Quotes, RCIA, scripture, St Damien of Molokai