A time for Thanksgiving
We have entered the Lenten season now, and I want to draw your attention to something we no longer do.
In the 1960s most theologians believed in the traditional Thanksgiving after Mass. They did so on the assumption that bread was still bread and wine was still wine until digestion was completed. The substance of Jesus was still there then until the form of bread and the form of wine was gone.
Today I suspect most theologians still believe in the traditional Thanksgiving after Mass. But they do not share the assumption of their earlier brothers. For them the reception of the Eucharist is a spiritual thing mediated by physical realities. The substantial Christ remains with the believer, therefore, long after the physical realities of bread and wine are gone.
But look at what happens after a normal Sunday Mass. The celebrant sits a very short time after communion. The final prayer follows, and the final blessing. He and the servers process out, and the people file out to greet him and one another. It is a festival of fraternity, and hand-shaking, and back-slapping, and coffee drinking, and non-stop talking.
But, whether you agree with the old theologians or the new theologians, what happened to the Divine Guest we have just received? Is he not still with us? Does not what we now do drown the Guest in a sea of distraction? Do we not prefer human conversation to the more difficult Divine Conversation?
The German theologian, Karl Rahner, once related a boyhood memory of a priest who sent two servers with lighted candles to follow a man who left the church right after Communion. It is a scene to remember and to think about.
How can we recover some of that? Perhaps through a longer silence after Communion, though it will be uncomfortable at first. Perhaps through a recommended time of Thanksgiving with the church doors closed. Perhaps through sending those who want to talk to a separate place, the cafeteria, for example.
Rahner’s image is something to remember and to think about.
With deep gratitude
I write this on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. A Church in Pittsburg, KS took that name to itself many years ago. And that parish was the spiritual home in which I grew up.
St. Mary’s, as it is known locally, was where I learned to serve the 6:30 Mass riding my bike from our south side home. St. Mary’s was where the school Mass each day was a Requiem High Mass, complete with catafalque. St. Mary’s was filled by a larger-than-life pastor with ties to our Diocese, Monsignor Alex Stremel.
St. Mary’s was the place then peopled by good and holy priests, and by the devoted Sisters of St. Joseph.
St. Mary’s was the place where my vocation to the priesthood first opened its eyes in Sr. Justin’s fourth grade classroom. St. Mary’s was the place where that vocation was confirmed years later in Sr. Justina’s history classroom during my sophomore year in high school.
Father Bob Kocour, Father Mike Blackledge, Sister Cleophas, Sister Paula, Bob Fleming, Jim Schirk, Chuck Clugston, Herb Krumsick, A.J. Wachter: St. Mary’s was the place that helped to make all of these, and me too.
Pilgrims to Lourdes bathe in the holy waters. This pilgrimage in my mind leads me to bathe in these inspiring waters of memory. I bathe with deep gratitude.
My Dear People,
We read just before Christmas that familiar story of St. Joseph: his problem, his decision, and his dream that turned his world upside down.
Scholars remain perplexed by St. Luke’s text. They find it next to impossible to know what really happened. May I suggest one possible way of looking at it?
It may well be that Joseph was tapping into his unconscious, that border-place where God and man meet. He was in the twilight state between sleeping and waking: that state in which the deep fears, and the deep hopes, and the deep feelings jostle and jockey for position.
It was there that the Angel approached him, touched him, and told him what to do about Mary. His admirable response was instant obedience: no more dilemma, no more decision, just prompt obedience.
May I suggest a way of re-living the Joseph experience in this Christmas season? Get up an hour early, and go immediately go to the liturgical readings of the day. Read them slowly, once, twice, a third time. Do not struggle to decipher their meaning, just absorb the words. You are in the twilight state between sleeping and waking. Let the words you read sink into that creative swirl. Let them rest there a while, and a while-and-a-half.
Then take up your pen and begin to write about the first reading. Write whatever comes into your mind. Write quickly. Write automatically. Do the words trouble you? Write it down. Do the words charm you? Write it down. Do the words inspire you? Write it down. Write it all down.
Then take up your pen and begin to write about the Gospel. Write whatever your unconscious gives you. Write whatever comes into your mind. Can you see the Gospel scene? Write it down. Can you hear the Gospel word? Write it down. Does the Gospel touch off fears, and wonders, and hopes? Write them all down without thinking.
Do you not see that you are doing what Joseph did? You are allowing the sleeping unconscious to emerge in your waking life. You are inviting the Angel to approach you, to touch you, and to tell you what to do. We can refuse to do what we are told, we can sin, of course. But the only real answer is Joseph’s answer: instant obedience.
Repeat this exercise on each day of the Christmas season, and you will find your prayer life recharged and rejuvenated. May Joseph the Dreamer fill your twilight time, and call down the Angel to touch you.