June 26, 2011

Behold what you are, become what you receive.

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. We celebrate the great gift that Jesus gives us in sharing His own Body and His own Blood in the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  Unfortunatly in our day, this Gift is becoming increasingly unappreciated.  My docotral project was on the effects of the consumer culture on preparation for First Holy Communion, but it can also be extended to the way many Catholics view the Eucharist.  In my experience, many see it as something they "get" when they come to Mass, and some don't even believe it is the Body and Blood of Christ. I wrote, "The Eucharist is viewed more as a commoditiy rather than an avenue of grace and encounter with God."  Yes, the Eucharist is an encounter, the greatest encounter we can have with Jesus our Lord.  

I thought today I would share with you some of my favorite quotes about the Eucharist.

In today's Office of Readings, we read from St. Thomas Aquinas:
"Since it was the will of God’s only-begotten Son that men should share in his divinity, he assumed our nature in order that by becoming man he might make men gods. Moreover, when he took our flesh he dedicated the whole of its substance to our salvation. He offered his body to God the Father on the altar of the cross as a sacrifice for our reconciliation. He shed his blood for our ransom and purification, so that we might be redeemed from our wretched state of bondage and cleansed from all sin. But to ensure that the memory of so great a gift would abide with us for ever, he left his body as food and his blood as drink for the faithful to consume in the form of bread and wine."

St Augustine:
"You, however, are the Body of Christ and His members. If, therefore, you are the Body of Christ and His members, your mystery is presented at the table of the Lord, you receive your mystery. To that which you are, you answer: `Amen'; and by answering, you subscribe to it. For you hear: `The Body of Christ!' and you answer: `Amen!' Be a member of Christ's Body, so that your `Amen' may be the truth."

Blessed Tersa of Calcutta:
"In each of our lives Jesus comes as the Bread of Life - to be eaten, to be consumed by us. This is how He loves us. Then Jesus comes in our human life as the hungry one, the other, hoping to be fed with the Bread of our life, our hearts by loving, and our hands by serving. In loving and serving, we prove that we have been created in the likeness of God, for God is Love and when we love we are like God.
St. John Chrysostom:
"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."

Blessed Pope John Paul II:
"The Eucharist is the heart of the Church. Where Eucharistic life flourishes, there the life of the church will blossom."

Pope Benedict XVI:
The Eucharist is a 'mystery of faith' par excellence; 'the sum and summary of our faith.' The Church's faith is essentially a eucharistic faith, and it is especially nourished at the table of the Eucharist."

There are so many more I could print here. In my own words, the Eucharist is what gives me strength.  Just as food and drink give me the nourishment my body needs, so too the Eucharist nourishes my soul.  As we celebrate this beautiful solemnity, it is good to focus on your own beliefs and feelings about the Eucharist, and how important it is to your own life.

I end with my favorite quote on the Eucharist.  St. Augustine said, "Behold what you are, become what you receive."  This quote literally changed my life. When I receive the sacred host in my palm, I have the opportunity, for a brief moment, to literaly "behold" my Lord and Savior. When I receive Him into my body, I become "the Body of Christ."  As they say, "You are what you eat!"

June 23, 2011

A Part of Me Died Today

Today I said good-bye to one of my best friends. I know some people would say, "it's just a dog," but she was such a special part of my life and that of my family.  Nikki came into our lives one May afternoon after I took my youngest daughter to the local shelter to look at the puppies. Theresa was always afraid of dogs and I thought that if she could be near ones in cages or get to touch some she might feel better about dogs.  She instantly fell in love with this skinny scrawny German Shorthair Pointer mix with long skinny shakey legs.  I liked the Labs and other dogs that were jumping around as we came near.  This poor little thing just stood on her wobbly legs, wagged her tail, and kept looking at Theresa.  She begged to have them take her out.  So I did and they placed her on a blanket on the floor with Theresa.  I think it was instant attraction and Theresa didn't want to leave without her.  For some strange reason, even though I had my doubts about this dog, I agreed to adopt her.

Nikki turned out to be the joy of our family for over 12 years. Her scrawny, trembling legs became amazingly strong, and she became an unbelievable jumper.  She hardly ever barked, but my husband taught her to "say" I love you, and very clearly I might add.  She got along beautifully with the cats and she was friendly to anyone she would meet. She was sensitive and loving and part of all family activities. 

Age and several medical complications slowed Nikki down during the past year. She couldn't jump anymore, sometimes could not get onto the bed (she slept by my feet most nights).  The last three months, with the discovery of a growth in her abdomen, her health deteriorated.  She was still active and even as late as last week was pretty active despite frequent emergency visits to the vet because of her health.  Yesterday she was very lethargic, disorientated, and this morning could not even get up.  I knew it was time. It's a difficult decision to make, but it is better than seeing her get worse and suffer more and more.

God brought Nikki into my life during a difficult time. She was my friend, my comforter, she made me smile.  I thank God for the twelve years I had with her.  I think God knew what He was doing when He created dogs.  I know Nikki taught me a lot about God's love. If a lowly dog could show me such unconditional love, how much more is the unconditional Love of God, who IS LOVE?  A few years ago I discovered the following video. I offer it in honor of Nikki.  I will miss you.

June 21, 2011

Happy Summer

Summer is here and this is where I will be spending a lot of my evenings - the boardwalk at Jones Beach.  I am not particularly a beach person. I don't like sand and I don't like crowds. Jones Beach is a popular spot and gets very crowded in the heat of a summer's day.  But night time at the beach is different.  The boardwalk is two miles long a filled with lots of excitement.  I like to go down after dinner and walk, usually by myself.  It is a good place to pray and to reflect on the beauty of God's creation.

I have always liked boardwalks. As a child, both sets of grandparents lived in Coney Island, and I fondly remember spending hours "under the boardwalk" getting relief from the heat. That was at a time when under the boardwalk was a safe place to hang out.  When we moved to Long Island, we lived within walking distance to the beach, and many a summer night was spent riding my bicylcle with my mother on the Atlantic Beach boardwalk.  My elementary school was located across the street from the Long Beach boardwalk.

But the Jones Beach boardwalk is special.  There are spots on it that are busy and crowded, but other areas that are quiet and out of the way. God has spoken to me vey clearly many times during my evening walks. Once He surprized me with a bush full of Monarch butterflies when I was feeling a bit low.  Other times I heard His voice in the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, reminding me that His Love is as constant as the rising and falling of the tides.  A number of times he has blown me away by the awesome beauty of the full moon rising over the Atlantic Ocean.

If the sun hasn't set, I sometimes walk down to the water and watch the sandpipers running across the damp sand, or hermit crabs carrying their houses.  While there are not a lot of shells, every once and awhile I do find a real beauty.  God's presence is all around me at the beach in the evening. I feel Him in the cool breeze, in laughter of children as they get their last chance to put their feet in the water before they close the beach for the night, and in couples snuggled together wrapped in a blanket sitting on water's edge.  Back on the boardwalk I could stop to listen to music at the bandshell or, if the wind is right, hear the sounds coming from Jones Beach theatre.  People watchng is always fun.  The cultural diversity of the people on the boardwalk helps me to see that God is in all people.  Everyone is happy on the boardwalk.  You can have an icecream, a cool drink, play volleyball, shuffleboard or miniature golf, or join in square dancing or line dancing.

The boardwalk is a place to relax and be renewed after a day's work.  I feel that is why God made beaches and why He inspired people to build boardwalks.  If you have the time, come down to Jones Beach one night.  Maybe I'll see you there.

June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday

Today we celebrate Trinity Sunday. It is one of those feasts that celebrates one of the central dogmas of our faith, that is that God is a Trinity of three Persons who exist as one God.  This is a mystery that is almost impossible to explain and even harder to understand.  Thoughout the centuries, theologians have tried to explain it using symbols.  St. Patrick is noted for using the shamrock or three leaf clover to explain the Trinity. The three sections of leaves on the plant are each distinct but together they make up one leaf. 

The ancient Book of Kells from the early 9th Century illustrates the Trinity in what is popularly called the Celtic Knot. It is interesting that this has become popular with young people for whom this has become an often requested tatoo image.  I often wonder if the significance of the image is known or if it is just chosen to express their Irish heritage.

My favorite depiction of the Trinity is Rublev's 15th Century icon of the Trinity. It written as a depiction of the angels visit to Abraham from the Book of Genesis, but it is full of  Trinitarian symbolism. If you click the link you will be able to navigate around the images of the icon to learn their meaning.  This is why I love icons, they are so rich in symbolic meaning.

So what does the Trinity mean to me? My favorite way to enter into the mystery of the Trinity is with the word "perichoresis."  It is a Greek word that literally means "to dance around;" peri meaning "to circle" and choresis meaning "dance" (the root of the word choreography).  It is a word that was first used by the early Church Fathers, Basil the Great, Gregory of Nyssea, Gregory of Nazianizus and John of Damascus to describe the relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit. St. John wrote, “The subsistences [i.e., the three Persons] dwell and are established firmly in one another. For they are inseparable and cannot part from one another, but keep to their separate courses within one another, without coalescing or mingling, but cleaving to each other. For the Son is in the Father and the Spirit: and the Spirit in the Father and the Son: and the Father in the Son and the Spirit, but there is no coalescence or commingling or confusion. And there is one and the same motion: for there is one impulse and one motion of the three subsistences, which is not to be observed in any created nature” (The Orthodox Faith, 1.14).

I do like  the image of a dance.  If you look at dancers, and I am not talking about what you see on "So You Think You Can Dance," or "Dancing with the Stars" or other such TV shows, but real ballroom dancing, the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers sort of dancing. The dancers are individual persons, each having their own distinct movements and costumes, but together they create something beautiful and cohesive.  You cannot have someone ballroom dance alone.  It just cannot be done. So too with the Trinity.  The Trinity is a Communio Personarum, a community of Persons who move and flow and draw life from one another in a "Great Dance" of Love. 

The Celtic Knot seems to illustrate this concept, but in a static sense. However, the Love of the Trinity is always moving, like the dance. The best part of this Dance is that God is always drawing us into it. God wants us to be part of Him.  We make the choice to "sit it out" or to accept the invitation to join in the Dance, to be gathered into the very Life of the Trinity for ever.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever.

June 16, 2011

Look at the birds in the sky...

We have a new family that moved in under the eaves by our front door.  As so happened, momma and pappa bird began in early spring making a nest in the light fixture over the front door.  Not wanting to see a fire, we kept removing the nesting material, but these tenacious birds kept coming back. Finally we put a screen over the opening, but still they kept trying to get in. My husband decided to hang a birdhouse close to the door and, lo and behold, they made it their home.  A few weeks ago we heard the small sound of baby birds, and momma and pappa began their feeding runs.  There are three little hatchlings whose open mouths are all we see of them.

It is amazing to watch. Momma and Pappa are very wary of our cat, Jake, who sits on the front porch, and they squawk and squeal to keep him away.  They even make noise to keep away human visitors, although if I sit quietly on the porch long enough they will begin their feeding routine with me sitting only a few feet away.  It is beautiful to watch, although not so great to hear at 4:30 in the morning when they awake.

The great thing is that it shows me that God does provide for all God's creatures.  As Jesus said in Matthew 6, "Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they?"  The birds are very happy in their little home, protected from the elements. God provides them with worms and bugs and somtimes pieces of bread that they bring over to their brood. 

It also shows me that God will always provide for my needs. I may not always have everything I want, but, if I truly trust in God, then I will have all I need...my faith, the Love of the Lord, a community to pray with, and the Eucharist that nourishes me with the very Life of God.  What more do I need?  As St. Ignatius wrote, "Give me only your Love and your Grace. That is enough for me."

June 7, 2011

Tending your garden

It always takes some adjusting when one gets home from vacation. Yes the time away is enjoyable and good, but then we have to come back to reality with its schedules, deadlines, and other responsibilities. I am trying not to let coming back to home and work be too stressful.  I have come to discover that giving into stressful situations is one of my faults which I am working hard to overcome, hence the title of this blog and the scripture passage from where it comes.

One of the things I am doing in the few days I have been back in New York is tending my garden.  I have made a few trips to the nursery and The Home Depot and have been planting flowers around the yard and on the deck. Flowers make me happy.  I don't have a green thumb so it may not look like a botanical garden, but as I sit outside in the morning to say my prayers, with a cup of coffee and the sound of the birds chirping in the tress, I feel at peace and at one with nature and with the Creator of all that is beautiful and good.

It's early in the season and my plants are still small, but soon they will grow and the yard will be filled with color.  I kind of think our spiritual life is like that.  We start out "small," like a seed or seedling, and the more nourishment we get through our relationship with God, the more we grow in our spiritual life.  It reminds me of the inquirers in RCIA.  They start out not knowing that much but have a desire for God and to grow in their love of God. We nourish them with God's Word and help them to understand what it means to be a Christian. By the time Easter comes they are "blossoming" and hopefully will continue to bloom throughout their lives. 

The image of a well tended garden to describe the spiritual life is one that has been used throughout the centuries. Jesus himself used the image in His parables of the Sower and the Seed, and when He spoke of trees giving fruit. St. Teresa used the image of watering a garden to describe advancing in one's prayer life.  Along with water, a garden needs sun.  So too, we need the Son. Just as flowers lean toward the sunlight, we must follow the Son where He leads us.  Only in this way can we expect to blossom in the spiritual life.