We welcome this reflection from Fr. Jeffrey Stephaniuk on the Eucharist. As we anxiously await the re-opening of our Churches it is useful to reflect on this great gift, which opens our human nature to the amazing and transformative power of God as God as unites himself with us, and we are in Him, truly in communion with one another. We could meditate on the mystery for the rest of our lives and still not plumb it’s depths. Thank you Fr. Jeffrey!
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I heard a radio interview recently on John Gormley Live with Bill Howat, the author of Stop Hiding and Start Living. “There’s a theology to that psychology,” I thought, thinking about those who turn to science to explain the truths of Christian theology, and those who look to theology to verify the truths of science. For example, the founder of Project Rachel, Vicki Thorn, has a talk entitled, “The Biology of the Theology of the Body.” Employing a technique often used by G.K. Chesterton, I thought I’d reverse the order of the inquiry from science to theology rather than theology to science.
The theology that came to mind is the phrase, “Why are you hiding?”- “And the Lord God called Adam, and said to him: Where art thou?” (Genesis 3:9) Early in my pro-life ministry, around 2009, I remember how this question and the context offered a powerful and liberating explanation for what was happening psychologically and spiritually in the lives of people who were oppressed and burdened by the ideology and activity of abortion; and the path to healing and freedom.
When a person answers, “I am hiding because of my sin,” the Church offers the Holy Eucharist. As I like to repeat, the manner in which we distribute Holy Communion is a re-enactment of Isaiah 6. In the presence of God, Isaiah is overwhelmed by his sinfulness: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that hath unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts.”
To alleviate the impulse to flee and hide, “one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said:
Behold this hath touched thy lips, and thy iniquities shall be taken away, and thy sin shall be cleansed.” As God is our Father and we have the forgiveness of our sins through the sacraments, we are liberated from shame or the need to hide.
Dr. Howat explained in the interview how fear can be immobilizing. There is a theology for that, too, in the form of an exhortation by our Blessed Lord: “Fear not, only believe.” And in what is perhaps a more dramatic translation, “Fear is useless. What is needed is trust.” Kevin Burke, co-founder of Rachel’s Vineyard, made an entire pro-life presentation on this translation, which was very encouraging to me when I heard it. He showed a clip from an Indiana Jones movie where the drama meant following a path out a cave, but until the hero ventured out and off a cliff, it didn’t look like there was a path. It wasn’t arbitrary, though; that was the legend of that trail. Similarly, for us, these true words from our Saviour are neither arbitrary nor magical, but they are grace-filled words with power, as Canadian literary critic, Northrop Frye, used to say.
Dr. Howat remarked that to a certain extent, individuals are born with coping mechanisms. This comment highlights for me the importance of taking care of yourself you that you can pass along the best of everything to your children and future generations you yourself will never meet. The author’s point is that notwithstanding genetic strengths, a greater percentage of these psychological successes are actually learned habits, which sounds familiar, like something Aristotle or St. Thomas Aquinas would say.
There is, then, first nature, and second, learning, which includes a great deal of work with the intellect at a uniquely human level; these two levels are part of Dr. Howat’s psychology. The Church adds a third: our soul, our spirituality. It is this supernatural life within human life that moves on a range from completely misunderstood to totally ignored in contemporary Saskatchewan political and civic culture. Catholic University of America professor, C.C. Peknold writes that we “are religious by nature. This is irrepressible. And if you won’t have true religion, you’ll not have no religion — you’ll only have bad religion.” And there is Carl Jung’s comment, “You can take away a man’s gods, but only to give him others in return.” That’s how fundamental is our need to seek God and avail ourselves of supernatural graces, and it is no wonder that the Church is referred to in The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World as the “sign and defender of the transcendence of the human person.” (GS 76)
I don’t get out much, which, of course is a general experience these days, even as an understatement. So, it was quite the sight the other day to see two Canada geese crossing the grid road with a little one, walking, then hurrying their pace when I drove along, but still walking because the tiny gosling could not fly. Then in my rear-view mirror, I could see the male goose hissing at me with outstretched wings of an enormous span. It didn’t matter the tonnage of threat he faced; instinct was at work to protect the young.
Later that same trip, I saw a deer with a fawn not more than two or three days old. When they heard and saw me, they scampered through a shrub in along the ditch and into a cultivated field, as if the doe were saying, “Follow me, I’ll teach you how to survive this.” Both natural sights of the geese and deer were beautiful. Then I thought, no matter the beauty of nature and the power of instinct, I have something more beautiful added to nature, namely the life of reason and spirit. Humans are rational animals, in Aristotle’s phrase.
Fr. Theodosii Lezhohubskyi wrote a small book on this topic in “The Human Being and the Animal World.” As he explains about Christian insights into reality, “the human being possesses a soul, endowed with intelligence and free will. Between the world of the animal and the world of the human being there exists an abyss that cannot be bridged, and even for the most developed of animals it cannot be traversed.”
Fr. Bachtalowsky, a Ukrainian Redemptorist Father, once wrote an Akathist prayer on the theme of Mary the Mother of Perpetual Help. Several lines in the prayer very pastorally address these themes of the need to foster both our physical and spiritual life so that we become the men and women God envisions us to be. Here is one example: “Rejoice, Ruth of the New Testament, for you gather abandoned heads of grain.”
Dear Faithful, continue to be faithful. Permit Mary to collect you for her Son, and in return we will receive the bread of life: “We, the faithful, with trembling, approach Your Mystical Supper and divine table, desiring to drink of the fountain of immortality; but fear and trembling seize us because of our numerous sins. Through You we wish to be cleansed of them, by the supplications of our Lady, the Mother of God.” (Prayer for the Feast of Holy Eucharist.)