St. Augustine is famously quoted as teaching that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. The word “restless” captures this truth well, although here in Texas the condition might also be described as an itch that can’t quite get scratched.
However it is described the great bishop of Hippo is correct. Our hearts are restless until they rest in God. We humans are never fully satisfied in our earthly existence, always wanting more.
The “itchy” believer looks past the grave in hope, with joyful anticipation. As the old black spiritual goes: “When I get to heaven… gonna put on my wings…gonna fly all over heaven…”
And that is how most of us think about it. “When I get to heaven.” But there is more to say.
We are not just baptized Christians on a pilgrimage to an everlasting life to be found only in the future after death. We are that for sure, but we are more. Our very mode of existence is both that of a pilgrim looking and traveling toward the anticipated destination of everlasting union, and one who already is in relationship, in communion now with the same Divinity eyed by the pilgrim at the journey’s end.
This is so because that journey to heaven is a Eucharistic journey that takes place in communion with the Eucharistic Lord. In real communion. Not just metaphorically.
If Jesus is the way, he is the Eucharistic way. If he is the truth, that truth is found in the Eucharist. If he is life, then that life is the “living bread,” the bread that “comes down from heaven for a man to eat and never die. John 6:50”
As Benedict XVI has instructed us over the years, grace is relational. The relationship to which he refers is our relationship with the person of Jesus who grants us such grace, a relationship that extends to those whom Jesus brings before us to be served.
As Benedict has also taught us, although eternity and eternal happiness surely await the pilgrim at his or her destination, eternity is also now, even if not in its fullness. A baptized Catholic is a sacramental being who lives both within and beyond space and time, especially in his or her encounter with Jesus in Holy Communion.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me. John 14:6” This is the fundamental promise made to us for eternal life in heaven. But it is a promise of both the future and the present.
“The man who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the Father who has life sent me and I have life because of the Father, so the man who feeds on me will have life because of me” (John 6:57). The Good News is that as we live and go about our daily lives in a broken world deformed by sin, our relationship with the Divine, which alters our very mode of existence, is open to us first through Baptism and then in the Eucharist at every moment along our earthly journey.
How do we respond to this reality of present eternity in the Eucharist? How do we conduct ourselves in worship? The short answer is that if all of this is true, and it is, we must act and think, and worship and pray in a manner that reflects the awesome reality of the Eucharist.
If the Eucharist is “the source and the summit of the Christian life” as the Church teaches in the Catechism (#1324), then there is joy. Great joy! The opportunity to literally, sacramentally, commune with the person of Jesus Christ and his/our Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, while bound by time and space in our earthly existence is the source of a peace which surpasses any peace short of the fullness of the beatific vision.
We do ourselves and our fellow Catholics -and non-believers too! – a disservice when we are complacent, even insouciant about this gift.
Some thoughts about our response to the Eucharistic gift, and a proper participation in the Sacred Liturgy.
The big picture. If you do not truly acknowledge the omnipotence and total otherness of the Supreme Being whom we acknowledge as the Creator of all ex nihilo, then you will not appreciate the unfathomable richness and depth of God’s love in the most intimate gift of Holy Communion.
The story of the Incarnation is love. If you do not confess the majesty and power of the lover you will never value the gift of communion with the lover.
Confession. A trip to the confessional is a recognition of the need for the Eucharist. The Sacrament of Reconciliation puts us and our sinful nature in the presence of Jesus, face to face with him who is the fountain of all mercy.
The grace of this sacrament of mercy carries the penitent in only one direction, and that is to the Holy Eucharist. To the convergence of heaven and earth. Infinity incarnated. True Holy Communion with the Divine. A communion that in turn provides us with order in the chaos of our lives. We see more clearly the Divine plan, and get a glimpse of a redeemed world, even as it “groans” toward full restoration with the Creator.
Dei Verbum. Read and meditate on the Word of God. Start with Chapter 6 of John’s Gospel. For each Mass prepare by reading and meditating on the Scriptures for that Mass.
If you are talking to the person next to you before Mass, you are not listening to God who is speaking to you in those Scriptures. If you are a bobble head watching every coming and going, you have lost your focus on the tabernacle which is (hopefully) in front of you in the sanctuary.
Also read great works on the Eucharist and the Sacred Liturgy. Read The Spirit of the Liturgy and God Is Near Us, both by then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, or Looking At The Liturgy by Aidan Nichols O.P., or With Us Today by John Hardin S.J. or The Hidden Manna: A Theology of The Eucharist by James T. O’Conner, or the encyclical letter Ecclesia De Eucharistia by St. John Paul II.
These ideas surely apply to both laity and clergy, but the clergy are especially required to teach about the Sacred Liturgy and the Mysterium Fidei. This duty is never fully discharged, and requires a continual effort by pastors.
The Mystery is never fully preached. Nor do the faithful ever fully comprehend the Mystery. (It is a mystery.) And the centrifugal force of sin is always drawing the faithful away from communion with God. There is always need for more preaching and teaching.
The point here is to recall that the very purpose of every human being and certainly every Catholic, and the only reason for our existence, is to engage in a continuing encounter with Jesus Christ, and through him a relationship with the Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.
Our fundamental direction in life is toward eternal life and total, eternal communion in the Holy Trinity. But because of the Eucharist the future is already with us. The then is also now.
The then may be the fullness of union and peace which surpasses all understanding and which we are unable to completely grasp with our human limitations. But because of grace, we have in our now a measure of that same union and peace, even if only a foretaste.
In our earthly existence the encounter with the person of Jesus Christ is ultimately a communion with him in the Holy Eucharist. The Sacred Liturgy is the portal to eternity and to the river of life which carries us to the Source of all life and goodness. Our conduct in worship, and that of our priests and bishops, should reflect this reality.