Thoughtful Reflections on Religious Experience
Seeking God, Decision-Making and the Ignatian Examen by SusanTMahan on Thursday 24 October 2013 3:23 pm PDT

three-candles-by Alice Birkin

Finding Peace and Freedom

We cannot find peace if we are arguing with God in whatever form we perceive the sacred. The Divine Reality loves us without reservation. We cannot find happiness and peace in any other place. Even non-believers will only find peace in the Reality that has created the universe and encloses all of it within Itself. God has given everything in the universe love and freedom. God’s love is total. It encompasses everything that promotes our growth and transformation. We have been created for union with this sacred reality, so we learn and experience during all our lives ways to be like God: to be knowing, understanding, wise, discerning, reverent, courageous and in awe of the transcendent. Everything in the universe has degrees of freedom. The nature of everything determines the degrees of freedom. I cannot flap wings and fly. I cannot breathe under water just as I am. I will always be a middle child. But, there are many ways in which I can determine my course in life, work with limitations or with strengths.

As I live my life I have many possibilities before me. I also have a certain amount of freedom. If I believe in the reality of God, I see myself in a relationship with God, a God who is close or distant. All religious and spiritual traditions have concepts of the relationship of human powers and divine powers. These relationships involve change, improvement, decision, freedom, human failure, consequences and divine intervention. The theological terms often used for these phenomena are: conscience or consciousness, grace, nature, discernment, acts, harm or sin and moral good, and judgment or karma.  If I am thinking about getting more money I have a number of reasons as to why I want more money, what I possibly want to do to get money, and what the pros and cons are with various options. I can look at the decision from many angles. I can line up my ideas and come up with what I think will work the best. I can talk to others or read various sources. I can also present this to God in prayer and say: “Please tell me what You see as best for me.”

This is not easy to do because most people feel that God does not think of my little side to things; God is only interested in the Bigger Picture and saints or martyrs. In fact, God is very interested in individuals. God as most Westerners conceive of God is a personal Reality who sees us fully and knows exactly what would make us happy. We are still not too sure about that because it sounds too mature for us. Attending to our health and saving money may sound difficult, so long term happiness planning may seem very hard. I am the first to say that buying something new sounds like fun. But, wanting to surrender to God as our source of wisdom and a guide is the only way to have peace.  We are also very rational in the West and often think God is so intangible or un-provable as to be neither reliable nor a reality with which we can have a two-way communication.

Time for Centering

Taking time each day to practice centering in God for the direction of our day and our lives is necessary. There are many ways to do this: journaling, walking a labyrinth, and having a spiritual counseling session are ways to think and pray through where I am in my life, where I feel drawn, and what God sees in me that I might benefit from.  Another way to have an experience of being counseled by God is the Ignatian Examen.

Very briefly, sit quietly and think of or imagine things you are truly grateful for. They can be big or small: Clean sheets, good food, your dog, ways you have been loved, accomplishments, a family member or friend, your house or job etc.  Tell God what you are grateful for. See, if God has given you things you are grateful for: a rescue in life, money you needed, safety, a trip you took.  Then think of the things in yourself or your life which you have chosen that have harmed you, undermined your well being, or side-tracked you.  These can also be big or small: being resentful, feeling superior, or not being willing to do something new that you need to do. Ask God to help you with these fears or hurts that have held you away from Him. Lastly, ask God how you can spend the next part of your day or life doing what is best.  You will get answers. You can surrender to what is best and see how much more peace-filled you are. I do this every day, sometimes more than once. I act on what I hear and I am much more at peace.

Image: Three Candles by Alice Birkin, public domain

St. Hildegard of Bingen by KathyPozos on Tuesday 17 September 2013 10:59 pm PDT

 

Hildegard of Bingen

Hildegard of Bingen

St. Hildegard of Bingen lived in the 12th century. A remarkable woman, she founded a Benedictine convent, served as abbess of her community, studied medicine and physiology, including the use of medicinal herbs, composed and played hauntingly beautiful religious music, wrote poetry and morality plays, produced artistic works, and was a prophetic leader and preacher within the Church of her day.

Hildegard was also a mystic, having had visions beginning around the age of three. When in her early 40s, she began writing of her visions and their meaning. These were presented in three major works: Scivias (Know the Ways of the Lord), Liber Vitae Meritorum (Book of the Rewards of Life), and Liber Divinorum Operum (The Book of Divine Works).

Many of her musical compositions have survived to the present and have been recorded by contemporary artists and orchestras. Her music goes beyond the traditional chant of her day, with a much broader range of notes in her melodies than was common at the time.

Hildegard saw humans as the thinking heart of all creation, called to work with God in shaping our world. Humans, and indeed all of creation, are “living sparks,” “rays of his splendor, just as the rays of the sun proceed from the sun itself.” She taught that our separation from God through sin brought harm to us as humans and to all of creation, but through Christ, we have the way for all to return to our original state of blessing.

In her words:

All living creatures are sparks from the radiation of God’s brilliance, and these sparks emerge from God like the rays of the sun. If God did not give off these sparks, how would the divine flame become fully visible?

Hildegard is honored as a Doctor of the Church. We celebrate her feast on September 17.

St. Hildegard, pray for us as we seek to see God’s face in each other and in all of creation.

 

St. Dominic’s Insight and Evangelization Today by KathyPozos on Thursday 8 August 2013 11:59 pm PDT

St. Dominic

Insights from Conversing with an Innkeeper

Dominic Guzmán (1170-1221), a Spanish priest traveling with his bishop in southern France, spent an entire night talking with an innkeeper who was a believer in Catharism, a dualistic religious cult that originated in the East. He discovered that the man had not really rejected Catholic teachings but rather was ignorant of them. This discovery led to the founding of the Order of Preachers (the Dominicans), a group dedicated to learning theology and other disciplines and communicating the beliefs of the Church to all they met, while living as beggars and travelers on the highways and byways of Europe. Many great theologians and prophets, both men and women, have served the church through the centuries as followers of Dominic and his early companions.

Moving into a Changing World

Dominic’s insight that the Gospel must be taught both with words and through the lives of the ones proclaiming it in the contemporary world with all of its challenges holds as true today as it did some eight hundred years ago. In many ways, we as a community of faith had, until recently, settled into an almost self-satisfied attitude that all of the answers to the questions of faith and  moral behavior had been resolved by theologians of the Middle Ages and/or at the Council of Trent. As Tevye (of “Fiddler on the Roof”)  might have expressed it, “Everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to be!”

Yet such an attitude of self-confident satisfaction with who we are and what we believed did not serve us well. The world’s people continued to discover new truths in science and new understandings of human behaviors and cultures. Industrialization brought changes in family life and opportunities. Education of both boys and girls has become a given in Western societies and increasingly this is also the case in non-industrial societies around the world as well. More strikingly, perhaps, we did not as intelligent inhabitants of this planet learn how to live together in peace, with the common good as our highest concern. Instead, we set about conquering each other, with the nations having the strongest military plundering the regions they had conquered. Somehow the old teachings no longer answered the new questions about God, life, and the reality of evil in the world.

Evangelization Today

Pope Francis and his recent predecessors have called the Church to a new focus on evangelization. The teachings of the Church, including new insights from theology, philosophy, anthropology, psychology and other disciplines, must be presented to the world and lived out joyfully by Christian believers. Pope Francis repeatedly stresses the importance of going out into our communities and meeting people where they live and work. We are to work to alleviate poverty and suffering. We are to serve without judging others whose lives and values differ from ours. We are to be true to the traditions of our community, but recognize that those traditions may need to be presented in different words and explained using different images. Some of those traditions may need to be stretched so they express the lived experience of a new generation of believers. This is the age of the Holy Spirit in salvation history and we must recognize that God is so much bigger and more amazingly wonderful than we could ever imagine, that no human formulation could ever totally express the full reality of who God is.

Like the times of Dominic Guzmán, there is a great need in today’s world for people of faith to learn about God, about our Christian beliefs and traditions, and about the newly emerging insights of our living faith community. The days when the catechism lessons of childhood sufficed for an adult life of faith are long since gone, if they ever truly existed. We are all called to continue to learn, to study Scripture, to reflect on God’s active presence in our lives, and to share what we have learned with others. And we do this not just at Church or in catechism classes, but also in our daily activities on the highways and byways of our lives. The People of God are once again called to be proclaimers of the loving presence and activity of our God.

And that innkeeper with whom Dominic spoke all night? He returned to the Catholic faith once he understood what the community really believed.

St. Dominic, Pray for us!

Image: St. Dominic by Fra Angelico, Side panel of the Altarpiece in Perugia

Becoming Radiant in the Presence of the Lord by KathyPozos on Wednesday 31 July 2013 11:43 pm PDT

 

Sun Shining Through Clouds

The readings of the Church recently have been focused on the experience of entering into the Presence of the Lord and spending time there. One way of describing the experience of spending time with God is to use the word prayer.* An ancient definition of prayer, attributed to St. Augustine, is this: “Prayer is lifting our minds and hearts to God.” On this feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, it seems fitting to spend a few moments reflecting on ways we enter into the presence of God and the results of doing so.

Jesus taught his followers to be very direct and straightforward in their prayers, asking for what they needed with confidence and persistence. They were (and we are) to ask for the coming of God’s kingdom and that God’s will be done both in heaven and on earth. Their prayer was also to include such seemingly mundane issues as requesting their daily bread and forgiveness for having hurt others,  failing to live in loving ways, as well as the much more serious concern that they be spared from the soul-shaking temptations that sometimes afflict even good and holy people at difficult points during their lives. Jesus himself spoke familiarly and intimately with God, calling him Abba — a word that means Father in the sense of a loving parent, a “Dad,” or even the “Daddy” of a small child. The result of the conversation would not always be the reception of exactly what was requested or preferred (remember the Agony in the Garden and Jesus’ prayer there), but it was always frank and based in trusting love. Those who learn to rely on God for the “little” things (daily bread and forgiveness) become more able to rely on God for the big things (courage to make the hard decisions and accept the consequences of following the Lord).

Among those whose relationship with God we have seen as examples are Abraham, who spoke with God directly, pleading for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah if as few as ten good men could be found within their walls. Many years later, Moses met God and entered into the cloud with God for forty days, returning to the people with the gift of the Law that would guide their lives in holiness. When Moses returned to the people, his face was so radiant it was frightening to the people. He covered his face when among them and only lifted the veil when he again entered into the presence of God. Jesus’ friend Martha, who had spent many hours in easy friendship with him, did not hesitate to speak frankly to him, complaining at one point that she had been left to do all the work of entertaining the large group of people who accompanied him on his visit. But Martha also is known for her declaration of faith in Jesus: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” These and many others model for us the importance of speaking directly with God and of doing so on a regular basis.

Ignatius called his followers to contemplation in action, recognizing that the fundamental basis for a fruitful discipleship is the time spent in the company of the Lord. Out of the experience of friendship with God comes the gift of seeing how God would respond to those we meet in our lives today and the courage to act accordingly.

Entering into the presence of the Lord is not for the faint of heart. The great mystery of Love is not tame, nor is it particularly predictable. Love is a powerful force that can sweep away obstacles but can also be as gentle as a mountain stream bubbling through a meadow and washing the feet of children playing by its side. Yet as we enter regularly into the Presence, we are changed subtly and profoundly. Peace, joy, patience, gentleness, kindness, persistence, confidence, compassion, and zeal for justice become characteristic of ones who have spent much time with the Lord. Like Moses, if to a somewhat lesser degree, they become radiant with the joy of that relationship. And when at last they return to their Father and we remember them with love, sometimes we portray that radiance with a golden aura or halo surrounding their heads.

*Philip St. Romain offers a good presentation of Christian prayer and contemplation. See also Fr. Ron Shirley’s reflections on prayer.

Public Domain image by Robert & Mihaela Vicol

A Song of Praise as a World Turns — The Benedictus by KathyPozos on Monday 24 June 2013 11:51 pm PDT
Zechariah and John the Baptist

Zechariah and John the Baptist

 

On the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist, I find myself reflecting on the song of praise attributed to his father, Zechariah, known by its Latin name, the Benedictus.

Who was Zechariah?

Zechariah was a priest from the family of Aaron. His wife Elizabeth was of the same family line. They were elderly and had no children. According to the Gospel of Luke, one day when Zechariah was serving at the temple in Jerusalem, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord to offer sacrifice. This was the most solemn duty for any priest and large numbers of people gathered outside to pray. Suddenly, an angel appeared to him, “standing at the right of the altar of incense.” The angel announced that his prayers and those of his wife for a child would be answered. The child would be a son and was to be named John. The angel explained that this child would be filled with the Holy Spirit while still within his mother’s womb and would bring back many of the sons of Israel to God. He would prepare “a people well-disposed” for the Lord. (Lk 1:5-17)

Zechariah found all of this hard to believe, so he asked the angel for more details about how it could happen — after all, both he and Elizabeth were beyond their normal child-bearing ages. The angel, Gabriel, responded that because he questioned the message, he would remain mute until the birth of the child. Then he would see that the Lord’s promise had been fulfilled. And so it happened. (Lk 1:18-25)

Nine months later, the child was born. Elizabeth’s cousin Mary, who had also been blessed by a visit from Gabriel, had come to help her for a few months and the child within Elizabeth’s womb leaped with the joy of Mary’s coming. (Lk 141) When John was born, all the relatives and neighbors expected that he would be named for his father, Zechariah, but both Elizabeth and Zechariah insisted that the child’s name would be John. With that, Zechariah’s tongue was freed and he spoke, praising God and uttering a prophecy regarding his son’s role in salvation history.

A Prophetic Canticle

Zechariah’s prophetic song is not a statement like that of a fortune teller. Prophecy in Biblical terms refers to speaking on behalf of God of the underlying reality of what God is doing in the lives of the members of the community.

Zechariah begins by blessing God as the God of Israel who visits and ransoms his people. God raises a savior from the House of David, the royal house, as promised in days of old. This savior will rescue the people from the hands of their foes in fulfillment of the covenant established with Abraham, delivering them from fear and freeing them to serve the Lord all the days of their lives. Only after laying out the ancient promises, Zechariah speaks briefly to his own child –  a child who will be called a prophet of the Most High because he will go before the Lord to announce the coming of salvation and to help the people prepare to receive it (the image used is to prepare straight paths for the coming savior). Zechariah concludes by noting that all of this is a work of kindness from the Lord, the Dayspring who in his tender mercy will visit Israel, freeing those who sit in darkness and guiding their feet into the way of peace. (Lk 1:68-79)

A World Turns

In the birth of John the Baptist, the trajectory of history began to turn. The final step of God’s plan to reclaim all of creation and return it to the initial unity with God has been initiated. God does not force this transition or the people involved in it to cooperate. But God persistently works with humans and through human history to bring it about. Zechariah reminds all who hear his voice through the ages that God keeps the covenant, rescues the people, gathers the community, and wants to bring all people back to joyful unity in Love.

The Christian church (community) remembers this song of prayer, praise and promise in the Liturgy of the Hours. As part of Morning Prayer, the People of God around the world recite or sing this canticle daily. Some chant it. Some arrange its words to fit other religious or popular tunes. One of my favorite versions was set to the tune of an English folk song by Ruth Duck. Those who really listen deeply to it find a special joy bubbling into their day as they join Zechariah in praising a God who works such wonders.

 Image from Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem

Dorothy Day, Servant of God and Follower of Christ the King by KathyPozos on Friday 30 November 2012 10:23 pm PDT

 

Dorothy Day, 1934

Dorothy Day, cofounder with Peter Maurin of the Catholic Worker Movement, died 32 years ago, on November 29, 1980. Like many other activists who have struggled for social justice and worked among the poorest, most forgotten members of society, she is more respected by mainstream Americans, religious leaders, and commentators now than she was during all but the last decade of her life. In life she had the annoying habit of pointing out the discrepancies between our Gospel calling to serve the Lord in those around us, especially in the poor and most vulnerable, and our national focus on the value of making money and enjoying a middle class or higher lifestyle. She opposed war and participated in demonstrations against all wars, including World War II. She supported Cesar Chavez and the labor union movement. She was not unwilling to go to jail and did so on multiple occasions. She lived and died in a Catholic Worker house of hospitality in New York, providing services including food, clothing, shelter, and a cup of good coffee to the poor and homeless. With other activists, she also participated in non-violent direct actions aimed at changing the social structures that lead to poverty and homelessness.

Movies have been made and books written about this woman whose work led to the establishment of the Catholic Worker. Church leaders today speak of her with respect and support her cause for sainthood. Men and women around the world join together in soup kitchens, hospitality houses, and communal farms to carry on the work she began.

This year, Dorothy Day’s feast falls outside of Advent. Last Sunday we celebrated the Solemnity of Christ the King. The convergence of  our celebration of a King who was crucified, died, and rose from the dead with our celebration of the life of a woman whose life was focused on serving that King in the poorest of the poor is one that does not happen often. Yet it seems fitting that this connection should be noticed. Serving the poor and disenfranchised is hard, dirty, smelly, frustrating work. Most people who live on the street are not there by choice, yet some prefer to remain on the streets rather than deal with the requirements of the various shelters or programs in their communities. Some have mental illnesses that are untreated. Some battle post-traumatic stress. Some have lost their homes as a result of loss of employment or long-term illnesses. Families and single people live on the streets. Children and old men and women live on the streets. It’s cold, lonely and dangerous there and all too often, the rest of us pass by without noticing them or if we do see them, we somehow assume it’s their own fault and feel no compulsion to try to help.

Those who enter pastoral ministry, social workers, and others who regularly deal with the homeless and disabled quickly learn that it is not glamorous or easy to provide support and care for this population, particularly with scant resources and personnel. Yet as Dorothy noted, “The mystery of the poor is that they are Jesus, and what you do for them you do to Him.” This doesn’t mean she was never frustrated or angry with God. Anyone who regularly deals with impossibly difficult individuals, bureaucracies, social structures, and disdainful or fundamentally unaware fellow church members or citizens will experience times of total anger and frustration. Faithfulness to the call to serve Jesus in this way requires continuing anyway — telling God what a mess it all is, maybe telling God how angry one is feeling, complaining about how hard it is to keep going or to deal with the physical realities of life on the street or in poor neighborhoods, and then going out and continuing the work. This is the connection with Christ the King: faithful following of the call to service of the poor and vulnerable and to change those social institutions that keep so many people trapped in poverty.

Dorothy Day is on her way to officially recognized sainthood. Nevertheless, we would all do well to remember her thoughts about what might result in such an eventuality, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

Photograph from New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

A Quote from St. Clare for her Feast Day by KathyPozos on Saturday 11 August 2012 9:37 am PDT

St. Clare of Assisi was a friend of Francis of Assisi and founder of the Poor Clares. Her advice to her sisters and other followers, as well as for us today is this:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance! And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation!

Quote of the Day – St. John Vianney by KathyPozos on Saturday 4 August 2012 1:54 pm PDT

St. John Vianney

August 4 is the feast of St. John Vianney, patron of parish priests. John Vianney was born to a peasant family in Lyons, France. He wanted to be a priest, but his education was limited and he was not a very good student, despite his great desire to learn enough to be ordained. Finally his bishop took a chance on him and agreed to ordain him. John was assigned to a remote town far away from any place of note. He was not a great homilist. His knowledge of theology was limited. But he was a good listener and a compassionate man whose advice and counsel was welcomed by those who came to him for confession. Before long, he was spending up to eighteen hours a day, sitting in a confessional, hearing the confessions of people who traveled from all over France to receive forgiveness through his ministry.

St. John Vianney also loved the Eucharist. Among his many insights was this one on God’s love for us.

“The soul hungers for God, and nothing but God can satiate it. Therefore He came to dwell on earth and assumed a Body in order that this Body might become the Food of our souls.”

 Image of St. John Vianney is in the public domain.

Baby Galaxies in the Night Sky

When I stare at the night sky, especially if I am out in the country, I get almost overwhelmed at the immensity of the universe.  I am in awe of the beauty of the stars and then amazed at a God who can create and manage such an enormous and complex reality and yet be with me personally.  One billion galaxies!  Possibly two billion.

Even if a person does not believe in God as the reality defined in traditional religious terms, the beauty of the night sky, the roar of water down a canyon, the amazing chatter of birds and animals can take the breath away — almost bring one to tears.

The gift of AWE AND WONDER helps us to know and to feel that God is the fulfillment of everything we desire.  That there exists  perfect love — perfect knowledge, goodness, power, action, discretion, justice, healing.  With this gift we perceive the mystery that God is.  We realize that there is an aspect of the Sacred, the transcendent, that we cannot know on this side of death, but that we get glimpses of such majesty and glory.  We see that God can know, interact with, and sustain billions of people.   It’s amazing.  You either believe it or you don’t.  If you believe in such a possibility then it is mind blowing.  My particularities matter.  I am fully known.  Nothing is impossible.

In 1974 When Annie Dillard published Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, it made two inaccessible worlds available to an entirely new audience.  The first world was the natural world known in a scientific way.  All of a sudden cells and their biochemistry, ecosystems, the interdependence of species, and the rhythms of nature were explained in lay terms and could be understood and celebrated.  Secondly, this joy and excitement was not just intellectual but also solidly spiritual.  There was no separation of the secular from the sacred.  The world was whole and we felt whole in it.  How nice!  My body and the whole physical realm was God’s love and creativity writ big in the awesome processes of life in mitochondria,  chloroplasts, T cells, blood, genes, the periodic table, and atomic particles.

Dillard took all the lovely words, images and sounds of a poet like Gerard Manley Hopkinsand showed us the genius of God, down to the most minute details.  Hopkins’ dramatic words: grandeur, greatness, ooze, dearest freshness, dappled, brinded, original, spare, and strange now showed the grandeur of God as Dillard explained the incredible scientific reality of ooze and freshness, dappled and brinded.  She also opened up very wide the whole subject of suffering and death and gave the reader a new perspective on the meaning and purposes of both.  As a spiritually anemic graduate student, I soaked up the theology of Dillard’s book and saw for the first time the consistency of God in the natural and supernatural realms.  How could God have a cycle of growth, disintegration and integration in the natural realm and not have one in the spiritual realm?  What was all that talk of planting, pruning, cultivating and harvesting in the Bible all about if God was not also doing it in society and in my soul? And was God a genius in nature and then mindless and distant in the spiritual world?  No, we can and do find God in the wonder of the universe and in the many parallel things we know in our lives.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning speaks of awe when she says, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God; But only he who sees takes off his shoes.”  Having Awe and Wonder is not automatic.  It is a gift.  We can be so over-indulged or over-stimulated that we miss beauty or grandeur.  Last Sunday morning I saw a small fox trot by a glass door of a building where I was in a meeting.  It was very close.  The sun was shining through its translucent tail all colorful and fluffy.  What a pointy nose and whiskers!  Wonderful round dark  eyes.  Such a lovely animal.  So light on its feet.  I couldn’t dismiss it.  It made my day.  God is near.

 

Red Fox

The fox looked back at us as he or she trotted on.  I wanted to go with it as it ran into the woods.  In Psalm 139 it says that we are wonderfully made.  Yes, we are.  Sometimes squirrely and difficult;  other times sleek and dolphin-like.  But we are all wonderfully made, “The work of his hands.”   And, awe, wonder and gratitude are our best response.  Hopefully we can at times “Take off our shoes” at the thought of all this splendor.  Maybe we can shake off the darkness of this world a little as we drink in “all this juice and all this joy”!

 

Image of the fox from wpclipart.com – public domain.
Image of Baby Galaxies from NASA – public domain.

 

Corpus Christi Procession

Known as the solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ and celebrated on the Sunday following Trinity Sunday, the Feast of Corpus Christi has been officially celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church since the mid-thirteenth century. The feast is the result of a series of visions of St. Juliana of Liege, a Belgian canoness regular (a member of an Augustinian order) and a mystic. The visions occurred over a period of more than 20years before she began to understand their meaning. In the vision, she saw a full moon with a dark spot in it. Eventually she came to believe that the dark spot represented the lack of a solemn feast dedicated specifically and exclusively to the Body and Blood of Christ. Working with her confessor and a group of theologians and Dominicans living and working in Liege, she arranged for the feast to be instituted as a local feast of the diocese of Liege in 1246. She and her confessor, Canon John of Lausanne, composed the first music and prayers for the feast. Later, Pope Urban IV commissioned the composition of an office (a ritual of music and prayers)  for the feast by St. Thomas Aquinas.  Aquinas’ hymn, Pange Lingua, composed for this feast, expresses the idea of transubstantiation– the doctrine that the substance of the bread and wine offered in the Mass are transformed into the substance of the body and blood of Christ without changing in outer appearance.

The Church’s belief in the Eucharistic transformation of bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood dates to the earliest days of the Christian community. Christians have always gathered to celebrate The Lord’s Supper. The disciples on the road to Emmaus described recognizing Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Understanding of the implications of this great gift, however, has developed and deepened over the centuries.

Like many of the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the mystery of the Eucharist defies easy explanation. That’s part of the nature of mystery: part of the wonder and awe we experience in the face of the great love God has poured out into all of creation and each of us through the life of Jesus and the gifts of their Holy Spirit. As St. Augustine explained it in his Confessions, Christ says to us, “You will not change me into you, but you will be changed into me.”  In the Eucharist, the divine takes over and transforms the profane — the everyday reality we experience. We see and experience no obvious change, yet when we eat the bread and drink the wine that have been transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, we are ourselves transformed into his mystical Body and Blood. Our bodies don’t absorb his; rather his transforms ours and we are strengthened and pulled into his mission of transforming our world into God’s Kingdom.

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