1/1/12, Living Eucharist

(Nm 6:22-27,2 Gal 4:4-7,Lk 2:16-21)

During the Advent season, I gave considerable thought to the interplay of darkness and light in life: in particular, my own life.  I am deeply grateful for the dark times as well as the light. Without the contrast of those times, the joy that I feel today would not be as deep and rich as it is.

In late 1991, just before Thanksgiving, I found a lump in my breast that turned out to be cancerous.  At the time, I was 43 years old and had six children at home.  Before me was the possibility of not seeing them grow to adulthood.  But God’s grace provided in both chemotherapy and answered prayers gave me a new lease on life.  10 years went by, during which time I finished my seminary work, moved from CA to OR, became a Catholic and saw most of the children graduate from high school.  Then in 2001, an aggressive cancer reappeared in the scar tissue of that 10 y/o surgery.  The diagnosis this time was even more threatening.  But once more, rigorous chemo and prayer and the supportive actions of friends saw me through. Another ten years have passed and I have seen our children finish their college educations, marry wonderful spouses and give us 7 grandchildren.  It was also during those ten years that my Protestant metamorphosis into Catholic faith metamorphosed further into an even more mysterious call into Roman Catholic priesthood.  And today we stand at the threshold of another year.  Literally, God only knows what will happen next!

You probably remember the bumpersticker saying that circulated some years ago: “Please be patient- God isn’t finished with me yet.”  Well, I feel that I’ve been living that bumpersticker.  As humanly fallible as I am, as confused and uncertain about life and faith, my place in life and the meaning of all of it… when I consider how grateful I am today to be standing in this community of faith, my heart overflows.  There’s no way I could have imagined today’s reality. Yet, all that has been of the dark times- the tears, the questions, the anger, the confusion- has given way to the light in which we stand today.   For this, I am grateful beyond words.

On this first Sunday of the new calendar year 2012, we celebrate the solemnity of Mary the Mother of God.   A teenage girl becomes pregnant out of wedlock, endures social stigma, raises her son in the adverse circumstances of political and economic oppression, and then sees him die a common criminal’s death: now there’s a woman whose life was a mixture of dark and light if ever there was one.   Mary had yielded herself to the work of God in her life when she told answered the angel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”  Was she grateful for all that unfolded in the course of her life?  Being a normal human being like you and me, we can imagine that she cried many tears, entertained many questions, felt confused and angry.  But of her, today’s gospel reading says simply: “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.”  

GRATITUDE for it all.  Holding all of life with an open heart of thanksgiving and trust for God’s ultimate intention is the challenge given to us as we continue our journey of faith through times of darkness and times of light.  We can’t know in the moment what the ultimate meaning of things that happen to us is, but a mature position to hold is simply that which Mary held.  We can keep all things and ponder them in our hearts even as we CHOOSE to be grateful for life itself.

This year, it is my hope that we as a community who are commissioned to be Lumen Christi- the light of Christ- will discover what it really means to live the Eucharist that we celebrate at the table hosted by Jesus.

 By calling our sacramental ritual of communion Eucharist, which is the Greek word for “thanksgiving”, we make a profound statement.  Our epistle reading from Galatians affirms that we have been adopted as sons and daughters of God through Christ. We are part of the family of God. By being brothers and sisters of Christ, we share his life and his very body.  So we also are called to enter into the complete gift of self to God that Jesus made. ”… Jesus took bread and when He had given thanks He broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is My Body which is given for you.” In the same way he gave thanks for the cup after supper, saying, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:15, 19-20). Like Jesus, we who have received all we are from God, give ourselves back to God in an exchange of thanksgiving/love.

When we come to the table, then, it is not only to receive the life of Christ present in bread and wine.  It is to bring to the table ourselves as an offering of thanksgiving. Even as we go out into our daily lives, seeking from God on a moment by moment basis the strength and grace to live faithfully, we continue to make that exchange of thanksgiving by intentionally  living our lives as acts of gratitude. 

Perhaps you had a chance to give consideration to the Examination of Conscience that I sent by e-mail several days ago.  If not, each of you has as an insert into your liturgy guide a copy of this Examination.  I encourage you to take it home, put it in a place where you can give it reflective attention every week, and then determine to find ways to actively LIVE  Eucharist as an offering of thanksgiving for all that life brings you as you are progressively transformed into the image of Christ.   This year, we will focus on living this challenge of actively being Eucharist- Lumen Christi- the light of Christ carried out and offered freely in our world.

God also gives us the opportunity to seek the grace of reconciliation as we make gratitude an active part of our community life.  The word reconcile means to restore to friendship or harmony.  Part of my priestly role is to aid others in restoring their sense of friendship or harmony with God as well as with one another.  For Catholics, the sacrament of reconciliation has most often been a penitential rite receiving special emphasis during Advent or Lent. It is associated with confession and forgiveness of our failures or sins. Forgiveness is certainly a key element in restoration of relationships, but a proper exercise of gratitude might be equally important for the restoration of harmony in every season.  If we learn to live with gratitude for others, for our world, our Church, our own bodies, then forgiveness for what is imperfect and choosing actions that promote health and wellbeing will come more easily.  Both forgiveness and gratitude will bring reconciliation.

Please know that I am always available to any of you as a representative presence of Christ with whom you can explore your concerns for restoring harmony in your life.  If you need to unpack some hurts or sense of failure, or discuss ideas for actively expressing gratitude, or if you simply need to explore some questions about your spiritual journey, let’s make an appointment to meet and talk and laugh and pray and celebrate reconciliation.  My cards are out on the table in the library so that you can easily contact me at any time.

The LORD bless you and keep you!
May the LORD’s face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace! 

By Sandi DeMaster