Come to the feast — Eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart…

Again I dwell on the splendor and sweetness of the Eucharistic feast – the mysterious fulfillment of the promise that we would have joy in fullness regardless of our circumstances.

In the temple of old, the faithful chant and sing…

Psalm 117 (118)
[15] Hark, glad songs of victory
in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
[16] the right hand of the LORD is exalted,
the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
[24] This is the day which the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
[27] The LORD is God,
and he has given us light.
Bind the festal procession with branches,
up to the horns of the altar!
[28] Thou art my God, and I will give thanks to thee;
thou art my God, I will extol thee.
[29] O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures for ever!

In the temple built anew that fulfills the old which is His very Body, the faithful chant and sing…

Deck Thyself, My Soul, With Gladness
Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness,
leave the gloomy haunts of sadness,
come into the daylight’s splendor,
there with joy thy praises render
unto him whose grace unbounded
hath this wondrous banquet founded;
high o’er all the heavens he reigneth,
yet to dwell with thee he deigneth.

Now I sink before thee lowly,
filled with joy most deep and holy,
as with trembling awe and wonder
on thy mighty acts I ponder;
how, by mystery surrounded,
depths no man hath ever sounded,
none may dare to pierce unbidden
secrets that with thee are hidden.

Sun, who all my life dost brighten;
Light, who dost my soul enlighten;
Joy, the sweetest man e’er knoweth;
Fount, whence all my being floweth:
at thy feet I cry, my Maker,
let me a fit partaker
of this blessed food from heaven,
for our good, thy glory, given.

Jesus, Bread of life, I pray thee,
let me gladly here obey thee;
never to my hurt invited,
be thy love with love requited;
from this banquet let me measure,
Lord, how vast and deep its treasure;
through the gifts thou here dost give me,
as thy guest in heaven receive me.
Source: Oremus Hymnal

A reading from “The Commentary on Ecclesiastes by St. Gregory of Agrigento

“Go, eat your bread with joy and drink your wine with a merry heart, because it is now that God favours your works.” (Eccles 9.7)
If we want to explain this sentence in an obvious and ordinary way, we rightly assert that it appears as a just exhortation by which the Preacher admonishes us to embrace a simple rule of life dedi­cated to sincere faith in God and joyfully eat bread and drink wine in peace of mind; not to slip into evil conversations, nor wander into roundabout paths; but rather to dwell always on good things and, insofar as we can, benevolently and kindly come to the aid of the poor and needy. We must abandon ourselves precisely to those sentiments and actions in which God himself takes delight.

However, the anagogical explanation brings us to a higher knowledge and teaches us to consider the celestial and mystical bread which has come down from heaven and brought life to the world; and with a right heart to drink the spiritual wine, namely, that which issued from the side of the true vine immediately at the moment of his saving passion. Concerning these, the gospel of our salvation says: Taking bread and giving thanks, Jesus said to his disciples and Apostles: Take this and eat it: this is my body, which is sacrificed for you in remission of sins. Similarly, he took the cup and said: All of you must drink from it, for this is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins. Hence, those who eat this bread and drink this mystical wine really rejoice and exult and can exclaim in a loud voice: You put gladness into my heart.

Furthermore, I believe that even in the Book of Proverbs the Wisdom of God subsisting in himself, namely, Christ our Saviour, referred to this bread and wine when he said: Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed, indicating the mystical participation in the Word. Indeed, those to whom these words are to be applied, because of their merits, at all times present their vestments as works of light no less resplendent than the light itself, as the Lord says in the gospels: Your light must shine before all so that they may see goodness in your acts and give praise to your heavenly Father. In this way, oil may perpetually be poured out over their heads, that is, the Spirit of truth, who protects and preserves them from any sinful offence. Source: TWO YEAR LECTIONARY, PATRISTIC VIGILS READINGS, ORDINARY TIME, WEEKS 18 to 34: YEAR II

In the fear of God and with faith draw near. Receive the Body of Christ; taste the fountain of immortality. Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

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Shepherd of (Pilgrim) Souls, Refresh and Bless

arrowI love the Divine Liturgy. I find in it a fathomless treasure. It, along with Holy Baptism, constitute the normative and essential cornerstone of the Holy Tradition — our environment of transformation — the Way, Truth, and Life. This morning I am blessed by the “way” in which it encourages us and provides the very opportunity for us to be nourished by the example, companionship, and voice of a great cloud of witnesses with whom we share our discipleship. The journey, the pilgrimage of our salvation (our camino of transfiguration). See, among so many other Biblical passages, Hebrews 11-12. This is a company that exhibits the characteristic of mutuality We give and receive the transformative power of fellowship in the Spirit.

The head of this great company of witnesses is Christ Jesus Himself. He was not immune to the need for the encouragement of those with whom He shared life in the Father (see Matthew 26).

One of my favorite Eucharistic hymns is “Shepherd of Souls”:

Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless
thy chosen pilgrim flock
with manna in the wilderness,
with water from the rock.

We would not live by bread alone,
but by thy word of grace,
in strength of which we travel on
to our abiding place.

Be known to us in breaking bread,
and do not then depart;
Savior, abide with us, and spread
thy table in our heart.

Lord, sup with us in love divine,
thy Body and thy Blood,
that living bread, that heavenly wine,
be our immortal food.

Our Lord shepherds us by, among other things, being an example to us of life in the Father and, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, offering us this very same example in the life of our brothers and sisters in the faith not only in our own generation but across the boundaries of time and space.   This example is Eucharistic food for us. By it we are nourished to walk the way (the camino of sainthood).

St. Augustine voices this mystery in his reflection on Psalm 38 (39):

The just shall see and be afraid, and hope in the Lord.”
Those who already have their feet firmly fixed on the rock should be a model for the faithful: As St Paul says, become a model for the faithful. The faithful themselves are just. They take notice of those who outstrip them in goodness, they imitate and follow them. How do they follow them? The just shall see, and be afraid. They shall see, and be afraid to follow the wicked ways when they see that some better people have already chosen good ways. They say in their heart, in the same way as travellers are accustomed to, when they notice others walking on the road with supreme confidence while they themselves are still unsure of the road, and in two minds about which way they should go. They are not going this way without good reason, when they are going to the place where they want to go. And why are they going this way with such confidence other than because it is dangerous to go that way? Therefore the just shall see, and be afraid. They see a narrow road on the one side, they see a wide road on the other. On the one they see only a handful, on the other quite a crowd. But if you are just, do not simply count them, but weigh them up. Bring a well-balanced pair of scales, not one you have adjusted, because the name you yourself bear is ‘the just one’.

The just shall see, and be afraid – this refers to you. Do not spend your time, then, counting the hordes of men and women who take the wide roads, filling tomorrow’s circus, celebrating the city’s birthday with their shouting, while at the same time befouling the city with their evil living. Do not follow them, then! There are many of them, and who could possibly count them? But there are only a few who take the narrow road. I am telling you, produce a pair of scales, weigh them. Compare the amount of chaff it takes to balance a few grains. This is what the faithful just who are follow­ing should do.

The just shall see, and be afraid, and hope in the Lord. It is like what there is in another psalm: I have lifted up my eyes to the hills. By hills we understand the spiritual elite of the Church, significant and outstanding figures, outstanding for their solidity rather than by their pride. It is through them that all Scripture has been dispensed to us. These are the Prophets, the evangelists, the sound teachers. That is the place to which I have lifted up my eyes to the mountains, from which help will come to me. And in case you think that this help is human, the psalmist goes on to say: My help is from the Lord who has made heaven and earth. The just shall see, and be afraid, and hope in the Lord. Source: TWO YEAR LECTIONARY, PATRISTIC VIGILS READINGS, ORDINARY TIME, WEEKS 18 to 34: YEAR II

Crucible

Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “crucible as: “a place or situation in which concentrated forces interact to cause or influence change or development.” Crucible is a fitting synonym for the Holy Tradition. It is a stable container in which transformation can and does occur. Other definitions include the details of heat, wilderness, wild animals, fear, going beyond the edge, etc.

My thoughts turn to the exodus wanderings of the Hebrews in the heat of the Sinai desert for 40 years. The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days. The passage from St. Luke’s gospel account in which Jesus says:

I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished! (Luke 12.49-50)

Or, yet again, the passage from St. Paul’s epistles in which he says:

Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3.12-15).

Our life of discipleship involves deliberately placing ourselves in a crucible in order that that which we desire most – transformation – can occur. It includes the heat of the desert – the wilderness – challenge in a variety of forms. Crucibles always have an exit sign. We can opt out in a variety of ways. I happen to believe that that is part of the crucible’s terrible power. It invites unceasingly rather than compelling or forcing. It is, therefore, a transformation we choose (“choose this day…” [Joshua 24]).

How does this happen? It issues forth from the realization, after much self-effort (noble attempts though they be) we realize that we are incapable of changing ourselves. We realize that it is not a matter of not exerting effort but of a different kind of effort that is synonymous with yielding and letting go and co-operation within a larger environment of effort – God’s effort. Our effort, first and foremost, is redefined and re-created. It is “in-breathed” within this crucible with the effort of God.

The transformation is inner and outer in its operation. That is to say, it is about who we are and what we do outwardly and who we are and what we do inwardly. It is a matter of physicality and spirituality. It is incarnational. Transformation involves not only a simultaneous material and spiritual operation but the union of the two. In reality, God is not accomplishing two purposes, one material and the other spiritual, but one action that is incarnational in nature and transformational in character.

This brings me to the point of offering you a reflection I came across recently that dates from 2007, by Rob Des Cotes, director of Imago Dei (take time to visit the website here). In this reflection you will find the reiteration of some of the themes I have just mentioned, in much more eloquent and reflective form. (Rob’s writing never fails to stir me deeply and engender an encounter with the Lord. Bravo, Rob!!) I hope you are as blessed by what follows as was back when I first read it.

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The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.      Mat. 26:41
It is a dismayingly common experience, having finally settled down to pray, to find that you are not able to do so.  The mind seems to suddenly become more active than usual with a thousand concerns, all unrelated to our goal of prayer.  Why is this?  Is there any hope that we can ever adapt to the Spirit of stillness and become what prayer requires of us?  The late psychiatrist and spiritual director Gerald May thought so, and in his book, Addiction and Grace, offered a physiological explanation of what takes place within us as we set out to pray.

Over the course of our lives, each one of us has established what our bodies understand as their “normal” inner disposition—a  particular equilibrium that it strives to maintain.  Even if the “normal” that we live with is an uncomfortable one, it is the one that we have become habituated to and any attempt to alter this inner state is going to be met with physiological resistance.  We are, in a sense, “addicted” to whatever constitutes our norm.  As Gerald May puts it, “I am attached to whatever makes things normal to me.  And I don’t let that normality change without a struggle.”  He identifies the struggle involved in any attempt to transform our norms as similar to that of someone withdrawing from an addiction—in this case, an addiction to self.

For many modern spiritual pilgrims, the simple matter of taking time for daily prayer can become a battle of will excruciatingly reminiscent of that encountered in chemical addiction.  Issues of control and willpower, surrender and defeat all rage within the drama of a true spiritual warfare. Increasing numbers of us are discovering that we would rather stay the same than experience the real discomfort that becoming peaceful produces in us.

Prayer, by its very nature, encourages an altered state of reference within us.  It seeks to establish a new norm.  We should not underestimate the withdrawal process that such transformation entails.  We have, after all, spent years establishing a “norm” for ourselves, apart from God.  As Gerald Mays puts it,

Mediating all the stimuli they receive, the cells of our brains are continually seeking equilibrium, developing patterns of adaptation that constitute what is normal.  Thus the more we become accustomed to seeking spiritual satisfaction through things other than God, the more abnormal and stressful it becomes to look to God directly for these.

This logic particularly applies to the “ab-normal” demands that the practice of prayer places on our physiology.  It also explains why, at least initially, our bodies register this sudden change of inner state as discomfort.  Since we are addicted to a much more active inner life, we naturally have trouble letting go of it as we attempt to enter a state of prayer.  As Gerald May notes,

 If a person takes a vacation or tries to settle down to pray, the sudden removal of external stress immediately causes the body to generate less stress chemicals.  The neurons, having been adapted to high levels of stress chemicals, now react as if something were wrong.  They send signals, ironically, of stress to the rest of the body, trying to get things going again.

Prayer is a catalyst for transformation and, for this reason alone, we should anticipate that this will imply a struggle between the flesh and the spirit.  Adapting to change will inevitably mean going through the stress of withdrawal from our old
normality, until our new one is established.  We are people in transition.
Rob Des Cotes, May 31st, 2007  

Maintain Inner Peace — Simple? Simple!

My spiritual father has taught me: “do not resent, do not react, maintain inner stillness.” It is that simple. I know it to be true intellectually, but I have yet to have it be what I live unceasingly. It is what I live in my “best moments.” (Emphasis on moments.) It is the difference between knowing something and living something. I believe that is the real definition of wisdom. Wisdom is the way of lived truth in union with God and others. Wisdom is the lifetime journey toward and in this Lived Truth. I am reminded of St. Teresa’s counsel…

Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
— St. Teresa of Avila

And so I journey on The Way of The Truth, yearning for the living of that which I already possess, The Life. Lord, have mercy — Grant it, O Lord.