Tag Archives: bread and wine

Saint Irenaeus

Tagbha carol roth

“We are all called to be holy. ‘Each in his or her own way,’” Pope Francis says in his exhortation “ Gaudete et exultate”.  We’re all different; saints are different too.

Today, the church remembers St. Irenaeus,  yesterday was the memorial of St. Cyril of Alexandria. You can’t find two people, two saints, so different. Cyril was a the forceful, confrontative bishop of Alexandria; Irenaeus, as his name suggests, was a fair man who worked tirelessly for peace.

Many years ago I took a course on Gnosticism in Rome under Fr. Antonio Orbe, SJ, an expert on the subject. Gnosticism was an early heresy that threatened Christianity in the 2nd century and afterwards most of its writings were destroyed. In the last century a large cache of those writings buried in the sands of Egypt was discovered and Father Orbe was just back after studying them. Until then, the Gnostic teachings  were known mostly through the writings of St. Irenaeus, whom we honor today in our liturgy,

I remember an observation Fr. Orbe made about St.Irenaeus. He said that, as he compared the writings, he was struck how accurately and fairly Irenaeus reported what the gnostics taught, not distorting anything they said or omitting their ideas. He was very fair and respectful. From what we know of Irenaeus, that’s what he was, fair minded and respectful to friend and foe alike. He was a peace-maker. Cyril of Alexandria had a different kind of personality. He would have left those writings buried in the sands of Egypt.

Irenaeus is not a bad example for today when hot words and smear attacks, distortions and lies dominate so much communication. Irenaeus was a peace-maker. Peace makers don’t destroy, they heal and unite. That’s why they’re called blessed.

Irenaeus also had a deep respect for creation. Some scholars today say the ancient gnostics were broadminded, creative people–rather like themselves–  more progressive than the plodding, conservative people of the “great church”– a term Irenaeus used to call it.

In fact, the gnostics made the world smaller than it is, because they made much of the world evil, only some of it meant anything at all. Forget about the rest of it.

All creation is God’s, Irenaeus replied. “With God, there is nothing without purpose, nothing without its meaning or reason.” All creation is charged with the glory of God.

Irenaeus pointed to the Eucharist as a sign of this. Bread and wine represent all creation. God comes to us through these earthly signs. We go to God through them.

“God keeps calling us to what is primary by what is secondary, that is, through things of time to things of eternity, through things of the flesh to things of the spirit, through earthly things to heavenly things.”

Moses struck the rock and water comes out. People drank and were refreshed, but something more happened–they knew through the water, though dimly, the generous God who slaked their thirst.

We should not demean creation, Ireneaus taught. That’s also the message of Pope Francis in “Laudato si.”

Feast of Corpus Christi

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio file below:

A man I know built himself an oven and bakes bread “the old way,” he told me. He goes about the process meticulously: the flour’s carefully chosen, the right amount of water is used, the fire that bakes the bread is just the right temperature. It takes time, but what a feast results!

Bread

I mentioned to him how so many homilies on the Eucharist from the days when they baked bread “the old way” see profound spiritual mysteries in this same process. The flour represents creation itself; the water and the fire represent the work of the Holy Spirit whom we invoke in this sacrament. “The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life.”(Laudato Si 235.) Simple created realities like water, oil, bread and wine speak for all creation.

In our prayer over the bread at Mass we say: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we received the bread we offer you, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”

The bread we offer, the wine we offer are signs of creation and the human efforts involved in creation. They’re signs of everything that the “God of all creation” gives us and of everything that comes from our hands. “The word bread stands for everything,” Augustine said in one of his commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer. (Epistle to Proba) No wonder Jesus chose these two precious signs to give himself to us.

The bread and wine stand for everything. Think what that means. Scientists say that our universe came into existence about 15 billion years ago. The bread and wine stand for the 15 billion years our universe has been in existence. About 3.5 billion years ago life began on our planet. The bread and wine represent that 3.5 billion years of life on our planet. When they’re brought to the altar the whole universe is brought here. About 200,000 years ago human life emerged on our planet. 200,000 years of human life are represented in the bread and wine. Our lives are part of the human story represented in the bread and wine .

We believe that when Jesus sat down with his disciples at the Last Supper and took bread and wine into his hands he took all creation, all life, all human life into his hands.. “This is my body.” “This is my blood,” he said. He is God in human flesh giving himself to us and to everything that God made. In love poured out, he renews the covenant God makes with us and with creation.

Pope Francis in his letter “Laudato Si.” emphasizes the cosmic dimension of the Eucharist. Our created world is there with the dignity and purpose bestowed on it. As he takes bread and wine into his hands, Jesus takes the whole universe to himself. “ Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucha¬rist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards the unification with the Creator himself.” (LS, 236)

We celebrate this great mystery on the “humble altar” of our church. The created universe as it was, as it is and as it will be is before us. A marvelous sacrament, so simple in appearance and so tremendous in reality.

Holy Thursday

Lent 1
Readings
“Love makes one little room an everywhere.” That’s what happened  when Jesus entered the supper room in Jerusalem the night before he died. A dark fate awaited him as powerful forces readied to take his life. His disciples, “his own who were in the world,” were arguing among themselves as they took their places at table. Jn 13,1-15

What would he do? Understandably, he might do nothing, disappointed  like the servant whom the prophet Isaiah described, “I toiled in vain; and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength…” (Is. 49).

Jesus, however, took bread and gave it to his disciples. “Take this,” he said, “this is my body.” He took the cup and gave it to them. “This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, to be poured out in behalf of many.”

That night, without wariness or regret, he gave himself to his Father and to his disciples. As our Savior and Redeemer he gave himself unhesitatingly for the life of the world. In the supper room a love was tested and a love was displayed that reached everywhere.

Holy Thursday night. “Now is not the time to write, rather to weep. Jesus is dead to give us life. All creatures are mourning, the sun is darkened, the earth quakes, the rocks are rent, the veil of the temple is torn. Only my heart remains harder than flint. I will say no more. Join the poor mother of the dead Jesus as her companion. Ask the dear Magdalene and John where their hearts are. Let the sea of their pains flood within you. I end at the foot of the cross.” (St. Paul of the Cross,Letter 181)

How shall I make a return to the Lord
for the goodness he has shown to me.
The cup of salvation I will take up
and call on the name of the Lord. Ps 116

Praying at Mass

IMG_1517

Catholics are not going to Mass as much as they did.  People are busy, of course. Some say they don’t get much out of it. Whatever the reasons, US Catholics aren’t going to Mass as they did before.

We have new texts for Mass, will they turn things around?  I don’t know. Better preaching? That would help. But there’s more. We need to look at the way we pray and participate at Mass.  The Mass is the central act of our faith, and we need to bring everything we have– our bodies, our minds, our memories, ourselves– to it.

We’re there to pray, from the moment we enter the church to the moment we leave. Only by praying at Mass will we appreciate it.

The way we pray at Mass is simple. It begins as we enter church and make the Sign of the Cross. It’s a key to a world of faith. Taking  holy water  we bless ourselves “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” We are reminding ourselves  that we’re blessed by God with the gift of life and everything it means through Jesus Christ. Water is a sign of that life. 60% of the human body is made up of water, and so it’s a reminder we are being blessed by the God of life.

Water, like bread, is a sign of life.The signs of water and bread stand for the totality of blessings we receive , and we acknowledge our blessings and give thanks through them.

Jesus said “If anyone is thirsty come to me.” He also said “I am the bread of life.” As we make the Sign of the Cross,  we’re reminded we’re at the source of life now and of life everlasting, Jesus Christ. We’re blessed by his life, death and resurrection. We trace his sign on ourselves, on our foreheads, our hearts and our shoulders. We’re blessed in mind and heart and all our being.

So, as Mass begins, the priest leads us into this great  act of blessing and thanksgiving by inviting us to make the Sign of the Cross.

Notice we bless ourselves  a number of times at Mass besides its beginning.  We bless ourselves as the gospel is proclaimed, asking that our minds and hearts be blessed to hear God’s Word. We bless ourselves as we leave the church at the end of the Mass, because we carry God’s blessings to our world.

Besides the Sign of the Cross,  simple acclamations at Mass  draw us into this blessed mystery. So,  as the priest concludes a prayer or action, we often say “Amen” an ancient Hebrew word, which means “Yes” we agree. The “Amen” at Mass calls us into the blessing of God. Simple word like “Amen”  draw us to the prayer of the church.

“The Lord be with you.” “Lift up your hearts.” “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.”

Listen carefully to those words and the readings, the songs and the music at Mass. Say them and mean them. Sing them when they’re sung, for“Someone who sings well prays twice.” So we join our voices in song. At Mass we pray together.

We pray with our eyes, too, as we see the actions and signs of Mass. Walking, kneeling, standing are prayers. Simple actions, like bowing and offering our hand to receive the Host are prayers. At Mass we pray with our whole being. Our walking, seeing, listening, speaking become acts of prayer that bring us into the presence of God.

Of course, we often come to Mass with a lot of things on our mind that distract us from this great mystery. So often we’re on overload. Our faith may not be the strongest. We have our doubts. We get sunk in the everydayness of our own lives.

But God’s grace is here in this great mystery and God will draw us–weak as we are–into this great mystery.  God will give us– all of us– the gift to pray and find blessings here. God draws us here to bless us.

The World Trade Center

world trade

Today is the 14th anniversary of the terrorist attach on the World Trade Center in New York City, September 11, 2001. Like many others I remember where I was then. I watched the towers fall from a rooftop in Union City, New Jersey, just across the river. Many from that area died that day and as the days went on their bodies were recovered and they were buried in nearby churches. A frightful time.

About a year later, I went to an exhibit about the attack called “Recovery,” at the New York Historical Society. The exhibition rooms were filled with debris from the tragedy: parts of smashed police cars and fire engines–I remember a little child’s doll, parts of one of the planes that crashed into the buildings. A black and white film of the disaster played silently in one section of the exhibit. Grim reminders of that awful day.

It was the exhibit’s opening day and media people were there. One of them came up to me with a notebook in hand. “What do you think of this?” he said. I had my clerical collar on so he knew who I was.

I told him I really couldn’t put into words what I thought. It was an overwhelming picture of evil.

He wrote what I had to say in his notebook and then put it in his pocket and said, “You know I don’t believe in evil.” That began a conversation that lasted for a hour or so.

I asked him first of all why he didn’t believe in evil, so evident here.

“Yes, this is bad,” he said, “ but we can change the way people behave. We can rinse out the evil in them by giving them a better world.” How? “Science and technology can change the world,” he said, “we can give people what they want and give them all they need.”  Later I found out that he was a writer specializing in science and technology

“Do you believe in God?” “No, I don’t,” he said. “In fact, it would be better to get rid of God altogether. And that goes for religion too. Get rid of it. The fanaticism of religion was responsible for this.”

At the end of our conversation, it seemed to me his hope about creating a better world through science and technology seemed naïve and unreal. Even if everyone in the world were given a new iPhone, his kind of thinking doesn’t seem to be the answer. Evil is hard to rinse out of our world.

In a post-modern world, optimism about science and the rationalism that came with the Enlightenment seems on the decline and nothing is taking its place. Post modernism is against everything from the past, including religion and religious truth.

Today, in the New York Times, there was a story about St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, destroyed in the World Trade disaster and now being rebuilt in the World Trade complex. An icon of Christ within the church will be visible even in the dark. A good sign.

Corpus Christi

 

To listen to today’s homily, please select the audio below:


I missed my train last week because I wasn’t paying attention to signs in the subway announcing delays due to track repairs. Keep your eye on signs.

Today’s Feast of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ calls our attention to the signs of bread and wine; They’re sacred signs Jesus gave us; we can take them for granted. They point to a great mystery.

Our first reading today from the Book of Exodus points to the altar where Moses called the people to remember through signs the life they received from God. It’s a covenant moment, Moses says. God graciously gives himself to us and we are called to give ourselves to God. That’s what we do here at our altar as we bring the signs of bread and wine.

The prayers we say help us to understand these sacred signs. In our prayer over the bread at Mass we say: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we received the bread we offer you, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”

The bread we offer, the wine we offer are signs of creation and the human efforts that are part of creation. They’re signs of everything that the “God of all creation” gives us, of everything that comes from our hands. “The word bread stands for everything,” Augustine said in one of his commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer. (Epistle to Proba)

The bread and wine stand for everything. Let’s think of what that means. Scientists say that our universe came into existence about 15 billion years ago. The bread and wine stand for the 15 billion years our universe has been in existence. About 3.5 billion years ago life began on our planet. The bread and wine represent that 3.5 billion years of life on our planet. When they’re brought to the altar the whole universe is brought here.

About 200,000 years ago human life emerged on our planet. 200,000 years of human life are represented in the bread and wine. Our lives are part of the human story represented in the bread and wine .

We believe that when Jesus sat down with his disciples at the Last Supper and took bread and wine into his hands he took all creation, all life, all human life, he took us into his hands.

“This is my body.” “This is my blood,” he said. He is God in human flesh giving himself to us and to everything that God made. In a love poured out, he renews the covenant God makes with us and with creation.

Of course, we can miss the signs.

Bread and Wine

The Easter season is a time of sacraments, the way the Risen Jesus comes to us today. It’s the time for First Communions, when little children are initiated into this mystery and we adults are reminded of it again.

I often think how impoverished we moderns are compared to generations long ago who experienced bread and wine so much more concretely than we do today. They watched bread made in their own homes and  probably helped pressing grapes for wine.

You can see that experience in the old commentaries on the Eucharist, like this one from St. Gaudentius of Brescia.(+410) Bread-making and wine-making help to understand the mystery:

“ Daily this mystery is before our eyes as a representation of the passion of Christ. We hold it in our hands, we receive it in our mouths, and we accept it in our hearts.

“It is appropriate that we should receive the body of Christ in the form of bread, because, as there are many grains of wheat in the flour from which bread is made by mixing it with water and baking it with fire, so also we know that many members make up the one body of Christ which is brought to maturity by the fire of the Holy Spirit.

“Christ was born of the Holy Spirit, and since it was fitting that he should fulfil all justice, he entered into the waters of baptism to sanctify them. When he left the Jordan he was filled with the Holy Spirit who had descended upon him in the form of a dove. As the evangelist tells us: Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan.

“Similarly, the wine of Christ’s blood, drawn from the many grapes of the vineyard that he had planted, is extracted in the wine-press of the cross. When we receive it with believing hearts, like capacious wineskins, it ferments within us by its own power.”

The Passionist Nuns from Erlanger, Kentucky, make Communion wafers for many churches and they made a video of how it’s done, for children making their First Communion.