Thursday, November 18, 2010

Master, to whom shall we go?

I had my first Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) meeting on Monday. RCIA is what non-Catholics (and Catholics who have not been fully inducted into the Church's sacraments) go through as preparation to join the Catholic Church. I am going to be sponsoring a twenty-something girl whom I will call Kelsey. The first meeting (and next week's) is on the Holy Eucharist.

This prayer was included in the packet of papers we got, and, since it rhymes, I thought it fine to serve as the poem of the week:

"Adoro te devote" by St. Thomas Aquinas (translated by Gerald Manley Hopkins)

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at Thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

On the cross Thy godhead made no sign to men,
Here Thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he;
Let me to a deeper faith daily nearer move,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread, the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Bring the tender tale true of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what Thy bosom ran
Blood whereof a single drop has power to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with Thy glory's sight. Amen.

The original Latin does not rhyme, but is still beautiful. The tale of the Pelican is that if a mother pelican has nothing to feed her young, she will bite into her own side and feed her young with her own blood so that they can survive.

The Eucharist is the most important part of Catholicism. We believe the host and the wine, by the power of God, acting through the priest, becomes the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. This happens through transubstantiation, which thus allows us to re-participate in the Last Supper with Christ, who acts as both as the sacrifice and the priest, connecting and bringing together the faithful in the unbloody and heavenly meal, shared in the communion of saints as substantially present nourishment for our souls.

This doctrine comes directly from John 6:30-69:

"So they said to him, "What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"

So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

So they said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. But I told you that although you have seen (me), you do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and I will not reject anyone who comes to me, because I came down from heaven not to do my own will but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it (on) the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him may have eternal life, and I shall raise him (on) the last day."

The Jews murmured about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven," and they said, "Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven'?"

Jesus answered and said to them, "Stop murmuring among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets: 'They shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?"

Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?"

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you?

What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.

And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father."

As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Jesus then said to the Twelve, "Do you also want to leave?"

Simon Peter answered him, "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God."

I love the part where Jesus asks if this shocks them, and how when people turned away, he did not amend his words or say it was just a parable: and this is why, as hard as it might seem to understand, we Catholics accept this great mystery as fact. The accidents of the hosts and wine are completely normal when one looks at them through a microscope, but there is documented proofs of the consecrated hosts bleeding when broken and priests who say that sometimes, while holding up the host, a thin wafer, it grows so heavy that their arms literally shake. St. Padre Pio had to have people hold up his arms during the mass because the Eucharist would get so heavy during the consecration.

The Eucharist is why mass is different than other services. The Eucharist is why I go to daily mass every time I am able, and not just on Sunday. It can mean nothing to people; it can just be a symbol. But believing one way does not make it so. When I was 12, I went to service with my Protestant cousins. Nothing seemed too different until after the service, when the pastor held up the loaf of bread and asked who wanted to take it home. I was horrified. People are supposed to have a personal relationship with Jesus, but he is also meant to be worshipped and glorified. This includes in our breaking bread with him; he gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins-- he gave himself to us, so that we may have eternal life. Who are we to say and preach otherwise? As Flannery O'Connor said, "If it's just a symbol, to hell with it."

Today is Mom's birthday, so we're having dinner and then going to see the opening night of Muffy's play. It's a rainy day and Dad is in Indiana on business. Also, my former OM and myself are starting a campaign against heavy FDA (Facebook Displays of Affection; patent pending). Its slogan is "Write a letter, Not a post!" I know- so catchy! Stay tuned.

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