The Blessed Sacrament: How?

Lucas Cranach Feeding Five Loaves
Feeding of the Five Thousand by Lucas Cranach

How could the Lord Jesus feed 5,000 men and their families? The Apostles wondered. Reminds us of another question, in the synagogue in Capernaum. [Spanish]

Jesus had said, “I am the living bread come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever. The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” The inquiring listeners asked: How?  How can this man give us His flesh to eat?

He gave His flesh, when He underwent His bitter Passion and death. Without this gift—Christ offering His Body, for us, on the cross—without it, the world languishes in death. Indeed, taking a sober look around us, we see that death reigns as the inevitable conclusion of all our labors. We stave off death for a while, by eating plenty of salads and sandwiches and bowls of cereal, etc., and keeping ourselves hydrated. But we can keep death at bay for only so long.

The Messiah, the Savior, possesses flesh with a greater, more enduring life. Eternal life. He conquered death in His Body—not for His own sake, but for all mankind. He gives all mankind His life-saving flesh through the Holy Mass.

The Blessed Sacrament of the altar provides eternal, divine “nourishment,” if might dare to put it this way. The Father, from all eternity unto all eternity, “nourishes” His eternal Son with divine life. Just so, the Son gives divine life to those who feed on His living Body.

How can this man give us His flesh to eat? “This man.” Jesus. How can ‘this man’ do it? Well, this man is… God. That’s the decisive fact here

MonstranceGod made the cosmos out of nothing, after all–by an act of creation so powerful that we cannot imagine it. We cannot imagine God making everything out of nothing. We cannot imagine nothing. But that is what He did: make the universe out of nothing.

So, we reasonably figure, He can give us His human flesh and blood as nourishment, too. Not impossible for the Creator to do such a thing. The question simply is: How?

Well, we know the history. The Last Supper, the first Mass. Endowing His Apostles with this mission and this sacred ministry. The handing down of the unique office of the priest through all the generations… All this history is part of the answer to How? Christ gives us His flesh to eat by the ministry of Catholic priests, which began at the Last Supper and has extended in an unbroken succession to here and now.

Not all the priests, bishops, or popes have been saints. But even the bad priests—and the lame, boring priests, like me—every priest, when he has said Mass, has given Christ’s Body and Blood as food and drink. Some priests, certainly, have even wound up in hell, for their own sins. But they still gave the Body and Blood of Christ to their people, when they celebrated Mass.

But there’s more to the question of How? How can the God-man give us His flesh for us to eat? Yes, His flesh is uniquely life-giving; it offers the “nutrition” of God. But we human animals would not seem to be equipped to consume the living flesh of the resurrected Christ. We are used to eating tacos and fried chicken and stuff like that.

So: He works a double miracle. The consecration which Christ instituted at the Last Supper involves the double miracle by which…

1. The bread and wine we present to God on the altar become His flesh and blood, in accord with His own infallible divine words. 2. His flesh and blood retains all the sensible qualities of the simplest food and drink. So that we may receive this transcendent nourishment, using our limited natural capacities to receive food.


In other words, the Lord gives us sustenance that totally surpasses our capacities in a way that He has suited to our capacities. The life of God Himself, given to us as a little edible morsel of food, a sip from the chalice.

Let’s focus on this second aspect of the miracle—the fact that God Almighty comes to us in such an unassuming, humble manner; that God gives us Himself in such utter silence and powerlessness. Nothing could be quieter, more gentle, more unassuming than a Host. It reflects the way it all began…

He exposed Himself to the violence of the evil men who cruelly scourged and crucified Him. He veiled His glory then, in quiet gentleness. He did not cry out; He did not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. And in His silence then, He showed the greatest eloquence. He silently declared: I willingly die so that men may live. I willingly die for the very sinners who kill me unjustly.

So, likewise, in the Blessed Sacrament: He freely exposes Himself to people thoughtlessly receiving Him. To people receiving Him with un-confessed sins burdening their consciences. He even exposes Himself to people receiving Him without faith.

But He maintains His silence and vulnerability because it reveals the truth.  The God Whom we worship in the Sacred Host wills only to build up, to fortify, to give life.  He does not will to tear down; He does not will to destroy. He wills only gently to feed us. With Himself.

Extra Time to Say ‘My Lord and my God!’

“You are the Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)

We don’t have enough time. During Mass, I mean. At the elevation of the Host, following the consecration.

We do not have adequate time then to say, ‘You are the Christ!’ with the deliberateness, the love, the devotion, that we want to say these words with.

MonstranceThe holy angels are much faster than us.

Before time as we know it began, the holy angels beheld the mystery of the Incarnation in the divine mind. Instantly they humbled themselves and worshipped with their entire beings, consecrating themselves completely to the glory of the Word made flesh.

But we are slow. We poke along. Our minds move forward like mules move up a steep, rocky hillside–ie., very, very reluctantly. So we need more time to adore the Christ.

That’s why the monstrance got invented. To extend the elevation at the consecration, to give us more time to say to the Lord, ‘You are the Christ!’

In exactly one week, we will observe the usual First-Friday custom at Francis of Assisi in Rocky Mount, exposing the Host in the monstrance for adoration, from 10am-noon, and from 6pm-8pm. Then on Sunday, October 5, we will have adoration all day from the end of Mass at 9am until Benediction at 4pm.

At. St. Joseph in Martinsville, we will expose the Blessed Sacrament not just for the usual First-Friday Holy Hour next Friday, but for forty Holy Hours—until Sunday morning.

Even all these extra hours will not give us enough time to say everything that we can and should say to the Lord. But let’s make a decent start of it.

In Henry Cty, Va., Mount Sinai is located at 2481 Spruce St.


How to Handle the Blessed Sacrament

Penitent Magdalen de la Tour

There was a sinful woman in the city who learned that He was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. (Luke 7:37-38)

“If this man were a prophet, he would know what sort of person is touching him, that she is a sinner.”

Touching the Body of Christ, with contrite love.

The Apostles saw Jesus after He rose from the dead. St. Paul got to see Him, even after the Ascension, because the Lord gave Paul a unique vision. They all saw a body they could touch. St. Thomas, we know, touched the Lord. And we cannot doubt that others did, too, even though He said to Mary Magdalen, “Do not hold onto me.” We cannot doubt that the Lord embraced His mother when He saw her on Easter Sunday. Nor can we doubt that St. Peter touched His risen Master, that the penitent fisherman bathed his Master’s shoulder with tears.

Long story short, sinners have touched Jesus all along—that is why He became man. His Incarnation is, in fact, the most intimate act of touching ever. God touching us, in the most interior center of our human nature, by Himself becoming one of us–the Almighty divine Person Who had hands and feet that could be pierced by nails.

Ecce Agnus DeiSo the gospel reading for today’s Holy Mass has to be our fundamental guide regarding how we dispose ourselves with respect to the Blessed Sacrament.

1. With total faith. Chances are, the weeping woman may not have had the word ‘Incarnation’ on her lips. But she knew with the eyes of faith that her all, her salvation, the love worth living and dying for, sat right here, at the table.

2. With contrition. Simon the Pharisee’s murmurings ring with unfathomable irony: ‘She’s a sinner, so if he were godly, he wouldn’t let her touch him.’ Au contraire, mon frère. He’s not just godly, He’s God. And He came to have mercy on sinners. He has made it abundantly clear that there is only one category of people He wants touching His Body, namely the contrite sinners who weep for joy, because we have found our Savior.

3. With hope. Complete, total, blind, and unbounded hope. The woman had no idea what exactly she hoped for. She simply knew that this man, whose Body sat right here, would make everything okay and more than okay.

Stumbling into the Presence

Sabrett vendor

Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind. (Luke 14:13)

The Lord has always blessed me with generally good health and a solid physique. But I don’t mind telling you: 22-23 years ago, I walked the streets of my hometown spiritually very poor, morally somewhat crippled. As a man of prayer, I was lame. And when it came to the future, I was blind.

Seems like a good day today to recount what happened to me during the noon hour on a rainy Washington day in February of 1991. Maybe that seems like a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. But we would not be chatting here together like this–were it not for the events I am about to recount.

Continue reading “Stumbling into the Presence”

His Dwelling with Us

raiders nazi_officers_ark_of_the_covenant_chase

Let’s start with an antithesis. On the one hand, God dwells everywhere. Nothing could exist at all if it were not upheld immediately by God’s power. On the other hand: We cannot see; we cannot grasp; we cannot know God.

See? Antithesis. Both true. God everywhere. But everything we see, know, conceive: not God. Human beings search constantly for God, Who is everywhere.

Then: God began to work with us to help us deal with this problem. He drew close to the ancient Israelites. He gave them His holy name to invoke. He led them out of slavery to their homeland. He established a dwelling place with them. The Ark of the Covenant.

Continue reading “His Dwelling with Us”

Who Does He Love?

I was sent to the the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 15:24)

Who does Christ love? Does He love the Israelites only? Or everyone?

Christ came as an Israelite, lived among the Israelites, spoke the language of the Israelites, had Israelite friends and associates and generally followed Israelite customs, including the religious customs. The Israelites claimed to have a unique relationship with God, claimed to have been singled-out for special divine favor and closeness. The Lord Jesus never contradicted this idea. To the contrary, He evidently accepted that idea altogether.

The_Head_of_Christ_by_Warner_Sallman_1941Nonetheless, the incarnate Son of God exposed the limits of Israel’s ‘special’ relationship.

The Chosen People did not recognize their own God. Their human king tried to have their divine King killed as a newborn. The Pharisees, supposedly so close to God, obtusely rejected God incarnate. The Jerusalem authorities condemned to death the divine founder of Jerusalem.

Christ shed His blood not just for Israelites, but for all the baptized. He instructed His Apostles to baptize all nations.

We read how, centuries before all this, God grew angry with the Israelites. They doubted His Providence in clearing their enemies out of the Promised Land. “We look like grasshoppers compared to these people. We could never conquer this land.”

We read that the people “spread discouraging reports.” The murmurazio mewled and fussed about how terrible the situation was. God help anyone who spreads discouraging reports about the prospects of the Chosen People! The People of God, united under their legitimate shepherds; the People of God, acting together as a family: that’s an unstoppable force, because the favor of God rests upon us. No enemies can stop the people of God, marching into the future under the loving care of the divinely-instituted hierarchial leadership! Suffering and contradiction will come our way, but that is precisely how we advance the cause of the Crucified.

I think we could say that God grew angry with the murmuring Israelites because the people underestimated His power. God knew perfectly well that the Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites dwarfed the Israelites. The Hittites, Jebusites, Amorites, and Canaanites had much more money than the Israelites. But that doesn’t matter. The point is that God dwarfs everybody.

So, back to the original question: Jesus loves the Israelites. Nothing Christ ever did or said contradicts the idea that He loves His own people. He loves the “home team,” so to speak–the people who built the walls of the Temple and handed down the sacred tradition.

But God help us if we underestimate the power of Christ’s love. God help us if we do anything to discourage the faith. God help us if we spend so much time fighting among ourselves that we forget to look outside and see the souls that need Christ. Christ’s love has infinite power. Christ’s love has the power to unite the home team and the visiting team into one winning team.

[Special Message for my Rocky-Mount, Va., peeps:]

In my humble opinion, unworthy man that I am–in my humble opinion: This summer we missed an opportunity. The Lord opened a door to our future together in this town, and we did not go through it. I blame myself, because I communicate so inadequately. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but no sense dwelling on what’s done. Time moves on.

God never gives up on His Chosen Ones. Let us not doubt that He will open another door for us–sooner rather than later. And there will be one way through it, the same way that always leads to the good future: Jesus Christ.

One of the many things I have learned over the course of the past six weeks is this: In early June, I vaguely thought that moving the tabernacle into the sanctuary would improve our lives by making the celebration of Mass smoother. I thought it would be a practical improvement. Now I see that this is not simply a practical matter. Moving the tabernacle into the sanctuary has to be our #1 spiritual priority. The Real Presence of Christ in the tabernacle, and how desperately we need His Presence, and how desperately our neighbors need to find Him here–this will have to be the focus of our efforts for the forseeable future.

Back to our question for today: Does Jesus Christ, present in the Blessed Sacrament–does He love Jew or Gentile? Yes. Does Christ love us, or does he love the people outside the Church? Yes. Does Christ will us to march forward together and evangelize the world with patient love?

St. Norbert and Corpus Christi

st norbert overcoming tanchelm rubens

The Lord, of course, works in His own ways. We celebrate our faith in the Body and Blood of Christ nine weeks after Holy Thursday. The Solemnity of Corpus Christi falls shortly after Pentecost every year.

Also: the Memorial of St. Norbert comes shortly after Pentecost every year. Because the saint died right after Pentecost. Generally we keep the saints’ feasts on the dates on which they went home to God.

So: Is it a fluke that Corpus Christi and St. Norbert Day always fall pretty near each other? Don’t think so.

St. Norbert died almost 900 years ago, before there even were any “Protestants.” But guess what? He had to contend with people who denied the Real Presence. He helped confused Christians who had been taught that the Eucharist is only a symbol. He lovingly preached to them and brought them back to the more simple faith of Christ’s Church.

The heresy is called “Sacramentarianism.” It eventually became the doctrine of the Swiss Calvinists.

Listen: Of course we love all our brother and sister Christians. We rejoice to call them brothers and sisters in the Lord. But sometimes we have to ask them: Which part of the ‘This is my Body’ and ‘This is my Blood’ don’t you get?

Not that we claim to understand it. We most certainly do not understand it. We believe in it, and we trust that we will understand all when we get to heaven, please God.

In Here, Lord?

The Lord be with you… (et cum spirituo tuo)

Weddings in ancient Israel involved a number of customs we do not observe. The business in the parable about virgins waiting into the night with lighted lamps may leave us a little confused. When we go to weddings, we don’t usually see that.

But the end of the parable touches a familiar chord: At a wedding banquet, you want to be inside, as opposed outside. The food, music, and dancing take place inside. Outside, it is either cold, or there are a lot of gnats, mosquitoes, and crickets.

Or—even if it is a beautiful, crisp fall day, and the wedding banquet takes place on the lawn or in the garden—you still want to be inside the hedge or the fence, not outside it. You don’t want to show up at the garden gate and have someone say, “Ah. No dice. Take a walk. I never knew you.”

When the Lord Jesus walked the earth, He wound up inside sometimes and outside sometimes.

Continue reading “In Here, Lord?”

God’s Dwelling

If it please the king, and if your servant is deserving of your favor, send me to Judah, to the city where my ancestors are buried, that I may rebuild it. (Nehemiah 2:5)

Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head. (Luke 9:58)

The two readings today present us with a contrast, even a paradox: In the first, we read about the re-building of the Jerusalem temple, the earthly dwelling place of the Lord under the Old Covenant. Then, in the gospel reading, the Lord says that He has no place to rest His head.

Where does God dwell? We know the manifold answer: He exists universally as the cause of everything. His image shines forth in the spiritual dimension of man. He pours out His grace and mercifully unites souls to Himself. He dwells personally in Christ, Who abides with us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. In heaven, He fills the blessed with Himself in an unending consummation of love.

Perhaps this thought will help to resolve the paradox presented by the two readings: God has no place to rest His head on earth, not because the earth is not His—it is His; He made it, sustains it, consecrates it, and moves it to its fulfillment. But He has no rest on earth, both because He altogether transcends His creation, and because His will for the salvation of every soul consumes Him with zeal and peripatetic restlessness. The Lord has no rest on earth until everyone rests in Him.

So…the Lord dwells in our humble church. Nowhere between Martinsville and Roanoke, or between Danville and Stuart, does the Lord dwell like He dwells in our tabernacle, and on the altar during Mass. We cannot get through life without coming to Christ’s holy dwelling to commune with Him.

But we cannot rest in church anymore than He can. We come to His house, He takes up His dwelling in us, and then He propels us into the great mix outside. He sends us on His mission, because He wills to dwell in everyone as He has been pleased to dwell in us.

When everything is said and done, please God, we will enter forever into the Lord’s dwelling, and we will find rest unlike any peace we have known on earth. In the meantime, though, we cannot rest until everyone dwells in the love of Christ.

Seven-Church Bikeride

In Rome, there are so many churches so close together that you could walk to seven without breaking a sweat.

St. Philip Neri used to lead groups of walkers to visit seven altars of repose on Holy Thursday after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

The churches aren’t quite as closely situated in downtown Washington as they are in Rome. After Mass I rode my bike to seven churches to visit the Blessed Sacrament.

If you would like to join the seven-church bike pilgrimage, bring your bike to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper at Holy Name parish next year. We will visit the parishes of: St. Peter, St. Joseph, St. Dominic, St. Patrick, St. Mary Mother of God, Holy Rosary, and St. Aloysius. It is a decent little way to keep watch with Christ.