Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
"The Miracle of the Eucharist"
by Bishop Blase J. Cupich
(From the April 18, 2013 edition of the Inland Register)
There is an ancient adage, lex orandi, lex credendi. We know and understand what we believe by the way we worship and pray.
The Evening Mass of the Lordís Supper on Holy Thursday provides us with a rich opportunity to reflect on the Eucharist, which we consider ďthe source and summit of our Christian life.Ē
For instance, just take a look at the readings from Exodus and the Gospel of John for that Feast and notice how the Passover and the Eucharist are marked by a good deal of detail and precision.
Godís instructions for celebrating the Passover are meticulous. The lamb must be a year old male, secured by the family on the 10th day, and slaughtered before the community on the 14th day. After smearing its blood on the door post, it is to be roasted, eaten with herbs and unleavened bread. There is even a dress code. The people are to eat with loins girt, sandals on their feet and with staff in hand. Each year, as this feast is celebrated, this same attention to detail is paid.
It would be a mistake to think that his is a mindless ritual, to be followed in a mechanical way to satisfy the whims of a demanding God, a task master God who cares only that we get it right. No, it is clear from the context that in all of this, God is conveying how present, how close he is to our lives.
He is as close to us, present to us, as we have to be to these details requiring our attention. Godís care for us is not vague or sporadic, but is as precise and focused, just as we are to be to these details.
Jesus on the night before he dies, reinforces that message, and goes even further, as we see in John 13. Instead of giving instructions, a list of precise details for his disciples to follow, he attends to the details himself. We are told he is fully aware, fully present to himself. In that awareness he rises from the meal, takes off his outer garment, looks for a towel, ties it around his waist, fills a basin with water, stoops down, unties the sandal, washes the feet of the first disciples, dries them with the towel, and moves to the next. This is not a rushed task to get over with. Clearly this action is about caring about the particular needs, that is, the feet, of those he has asked to walk with him the way of discipleship. His washing of each pair of feet conveys that so dramatically, but even more so does his tender patience with Peter, taking time to deal with his stubbornness, confusion and yes, even pride. Jesus stops what he is doing, as important as it is, because Peter has a present need. Jesus stops to take care of that detail before moving on to what he must do next. In all of this, Jesus wants to convey how present God is to each of us, but also to invite us to believe that he gives us the grace to show that kind of caring presence to each other. That is our inheritance, the inheritance he bequeaths to us on the night before he dies, and like all inheritances it is a sharing in his life and legacy.
If we are honest we know that this kind of attention to detail, to the needs and demands of another, does not come naturally or easy for any of us. We know it takes something beyond our nature to do this. I know it does for me.
During Holy Week, I was reminded of this as I helped to serve breakfast at the House of Charity. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with the staff and the regular volunteers. They knew the names of most of the 200 people who came for breakfast, how people liked their coffee, if they were wearing something new, their personal emotional needs, challenges and stories and so many other details.
My admiration for them was so deep because I know I do not know the poor of our streets that well and I also know how much it takes to be present to those who have so many needs. It can be overwhelming and our natural tendency is to hesitate, to withdraw into ourselves, to focus on how ill-equipped and inadequate we are. The Eucharist invites us to shift our attention away from ourselves, and believe that Christ is offering us precisely the grace to go beyond our nature, to wash the feet of others.
We believe that something supernatural takes place whenever we celebrate the Eucharist. Christ in our midst takes the bread and wine in our natural world and makes it supernatural food. He takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. But the miracle promised does not stop there. That is what Jesus wanted to tell his disciples in the washing of the feet. The miracle of the Eucharist is also about how he transforms, changes and graces us with our natural self-centered inclinations, so that we can respond with ease and grace to the needs of others.
To be honest, it is much safer, easier and convenient to believe that Christ in the Eucharist changes the bread and wine into his Body and Blood than it is to believe he is changing us.
By featuring the washing of feet at the Last Supper, the Gospel of John reminds us not to limit our belief about the great miracle of the Mass to Christís changing of the Eucharistic elements, but to believe that the miracle extends to the change his grace-filled action is working in us: to care for a fussy and sick child as a parent, to attend to the details that make the lives of others easier and safe, as do health care workers, to be patient with those who provoke or exasperate us as a policeman is often called to do, to stop what we are doing and attend to the stubborn of heart or the obtuse of mind as does a teacher, to approach the smelly and troublesome person with respect as do the staff at the House of Charity. Here, where bread and wine are graced and changed, so are we graced and changed to wash the feet of others. Believing that is just as much a part of our Eucharistic faith.
To believe we can do all these things, not because we want to or by our own power, but because here Christ offers us his grace to do them gracefully, is what it means to share in his inheritance.
Lex orandi, lex credenda. Yes, on the night we celebrate Christís institution of the Eucharist, the source and summit of our Christian lives, we are called to believe that Christ is present and active in the Eucharist, that something supernatural happens when we gather at his table. But, he also wants to tell us that we are part of that supernatural happening and transformation, which graces us to care for each other with the precision and attention to detail that it takes to wash anotherís feet Ö or to serve breakfast.
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