Sunday, May 29, 2016

What does a second grader know about love?

When I was in elementary school I had a crush on the prettiest girl in class.   One day she told me and another boy that she would be the girlfriend of the one who brought her the nicest gift.  The other guy got her a record or something.  Me?  I went home and took a necklace from my mom's jewelry box.  It was a gorgeous golden thing with lots of sparkles.  I knew for sure that I'd win the competition and get the girl! I gave her the necklace and of course she chose it over the record or whatever it was, and there I was.. with a girlfriend.  I didn't know what to do with her.   Now things were awkward and I had to try and figure out what to do with a girl.  My second grade brain hadn't quite caught up to the concept of dating.

Later that evening my mother was in a panic.  One of her favorite pieces of jewelry, worth several hundred dollars had disappeared.  I had never seen her so sad, so anxious.  I felt horrible.   I had taken something that wasn't mine to get something else I wanted.  I went back to school the next day to explain to the girl that it wasn't a cheap necklace and that my mom wanted it back.  The girl got angry with me, gave me the necklace back, and went with the other boys present.  I returned the necklace. My mother told me if I had just asked, she would have given me something to give the girl.  It took me years to learn the fullness of that lesson: gifts only mean something when they cost us something, a true gift is sacrifice, and secondly... relationships should not be based on how much the other gives me, but on how much we give each other. No one should have to buy friendship, it should be free.

Today is the feast of Corpus Christi.  That is the day we Catholics celebrate the thing that makes us uniquely different from all other Christians in the world.  The Eucharist.  We believe that at the words of consecration the body and blood are transformed (transubstantiation) into the body and blood of Jesus Christ himself. We believe in the real presence of God himself in the sacrament.   We don't think it is just a symbol, but rather a reality that Christ himself promised at the last supper.

the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

We believe that when we attend Mass we are transported outside of space and time, that Heaven for a moment kisses earth and that Christ is made present to us.  It is not a new sacrifice, not a re-sacrifice of Christ, but the very sacrifice of Calvary made present to us through the mystery of the Holy Spirit.  We receive then the body and blood of our God himself in the form of the Consecrated Host.  That Host then begins to transform us, if we allow it, into the body of Christ.  We are made one, as He and the Father are One.   We are being formed into the image that we were created to be, the person we were made to be, not the one we have become because of our fallen nature.

That's what it means to live a sacramental life.  It is not enough to only receive, but we must give.   Not enough to simply take this wonderful gift that Christ has given us through the Church, but rather we must become it!  We must become Eucharist for the world, our bodies broken and our blood poured out to the other.  No longer can we simply want our own desires drive our efforts but instead we must get our ego out of the way and allow Christ to shine through us.  "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  It only means something when sacrifice is involved.   Just like when I was a child I wanted to take my mother's necklace and receive the reward for myself, today I must instead give of my own gifts, of my own treasures, sacrificially.. only then does it mean something, only then am I walking in the footsteps of Christ himself.

In the Gospel today, Jesus tells them "Give them some food yourselves."  How often He still says that to us today.   Just like the disciples, instead of realizing who it is that is speaking, we begin to wonder if we have enough.  Despite all the times we have seen Him provide, despite the times we know He has multiplied what little we have to offer into a spiritual bouquet that above and beyond anything we ourselves could ever imagine.. we begin to count what little we have.  "I could give, but then how would I pay for this or that?"  "We should take care of us first."  "Why should we support those who don't work?  They should earn it too!"  "Refugees?  Take care of X person first, or Y person first."

Notice what Jesus does next?  He takes their offering, He blesses it, divides it, and gives it back to them.. and they give it to the world.   That's what the Eucharist is all about.   He takes the bread we offer Him, He transforms it into His very Body and Blood.. then He gives it back to us... to give to the world.  Our calling is to bring that Eucharist out into the world and to become it!   To be Him, His hands, His feet.  To be the Body of Christ in the world, broken for it.. poured out for it.. blood sweat and tears..  until the entire world has been transformed, until every person has encountered Christ and the offer of forgiveness of sins.  As we journey into Memorial Day we should be reminded of all of those who did just that.  All of those who poured themselves out on the battlefields, the ditches, the deserts and oceans.   They died that we could have this opportunity to be free, but we cannot forget.

As my wife and my kids and I sat around the campfire tonight, I began to pray evening prayer.  It struck me just how lucky we have it in this country.   I could hear the neighbors talking about their lives.  The kids were playing on their cell phones.   The other neighbors were cooking and discussing juice cleanses and such.  The sun was setting slowly through the trees and the clear blue sky simply watched as we were oblivious to the blessings that God has bestowed on us.  How many people were somewhere in this world starving to death as I ate my potatoes and onions?  How many were stuck in refugees camps at some border not allowed to pass into the safety of some other country?  How many would give anything to have the cold water bottle that was laying a few feet from me in the grass unfinished?  We have more than enough, way more than enough.  Why do we hesitate when God calls us to "give them something to eat?"   There will always be enough.. and if each of us simply gives a pebble... we can start an avalanche.  It's only when we start to make a difference that the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the broken and the less fortunate will begin to be healed and taken care of.

As a popular meme goes:

His servant and yours,

"He must increase, I must decrease."