Tag Archives: Eucharist

Pilgrimage to Philadelphia

BannerThis weekend I was blessed to be in Philadelphia for the Pope’s visit at the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families. I do not think words can express how amazing the whole experience was, but I am still going to try – even if it gets a bit lengthy! Going into this trip, we fully expected to be back on a side street somewhere watching the proceedings on a screen. While we would have been perfectly content with this, our experience exceeded all expectations and was more than I had hoped for!

The group from our diocese left early Saturday morning on our bus. This truly was a pilgrimage and each bus trip had time spent in wonderful prayer and song. After arriving at  our campground, unloading, and eating a late lunch, we broke into smaller groups and headed into the city. It took about 45 minutes for our bus to get to the main parking lot at the Philadelphia Sports Complex. From there we took the subway into town. Saturday we knew we would not get close to the main stage for the Festival of Families so instead we headed towards City Hall where Pope Francis would be passing by in a Papal parade that evening.

Pope FrancisWe found a spot about five rows back from the gate to the street where he would pass by and waited. The crowd was large but not overwhelming and everyone was so friendly and joyful! You could hear in the distance the immense cheers as Pope Francis’s motorcade got closer to our spot and we all got our cameras ready. He went by pretty quickly and was looking on the other side of the street when he passed but it was still amazing to be so close to the Holy Father! Being a bit shorter, I could see him mostly through my camera which I held up high and succeeded in getting a (slightly blurry) photo as he rode by. Our small group of eight was amazed at how close we had been!   We walked a few blocks to a large jumbotron to watch the Festival from there. We saw him (on the jumbotron screen) speak at the Festival and stayed to watch a few performances before heading back to our bus.

SongThe next morning we woke up, ate, and made lunches for the day. Again we boarded the bus but this time when we arrived at the parking lot we were instantly aware that today the crowds would be much larger. With this in mind, and being fully convinced we would have to find a jumbotron far from the action, we took our time to keep our group together as we journeyed on. The subway station was packed and the lines long but the atmosphere was so filled with joy and excitement that we didn’t even care! We met people from near and far, Quebec, Pennsylvania, Dominican Republic, Chicago, and even some fellow pilgrims from Ohio!

When we got into the city, we headed towards the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. We found a security checkpoint but had to walk along the line to try and find the end of it! As we walked, we came to a block with angry protesters on each side. With their megaphones, yelling, and hateful signs, perhaps they thought they would discourage us. But walking by them only made the experience even richer as we joined together, the whole line of us, in singing the Our Father over and over until we passed their section. It was such a beautiful thing to see people so filled with love and joy in the Lord joining in song and prayer together without even stopping to pay any mind to those who were against us. ‘If God is for us, who is against us?’ Romans 8:31

CrowdThe line was so long and there was no end in sight when we passed one of the many military members helping in the security efforts. As we passed, we heard him say that the checkpoint one block over was just being opened to the general public (it had previously been for ticketed guests only.) Our group cut over a block and got in the (much shorter) security line. We could not believe this blessing! We made it through security and were amazed at how close we were. Since we were so close to the ticketed area that each of us received a mass booklet as well! We had not been anticipating this at all!

Our first spotWe found a spot on the corner right in front of a large jumbotron that was directly behind the ticketed area. We literally were as close as non-ticketed guests were able to get! We set up our blankets and chairs. There was a sewer vent right near our spot and one of the volunteers informed us that since we were “in limbo land” we would not have access to any restrooms. The restrooms were either closer up in the ticketed area, or we would have to go out to the non-ticketed area behind us which would require going through security again. Despite this, we decided to stay at our spot.   We ate our lunches and then decided we would say a rosary together. We had just begun the first three Hail Marys of our group rosary when that same volunteer came up to our group. She told us to quickly gather our things, there was additional room in the ticketed section and they were going to let us in!

Our final spot for MassWe scooped up our blanket and quickly went forward. We ended up setting up a spot right behind the handicapped viewing area. We were close enough that you could see the art museum ahead of us and could make out the crucifix on the altar for mass! We were so thankful and thrilled! We finished eating and finished our rosary. We had plenty of time still until mass so we began to sing. One of the members in our group had put together a booklet of popular hymns that we had been singing earlier on the bus. We took out our booklets and started singing. People around us began to join in. It was beautiful.

From our spot, not only could we see the altar, but we were also right by a huge jumbotron where we Pope Francis in his procession before Masscould see the mass up close. We saw on the screen that Pope Francis was beginning his procession prior to mass. We watched in anticipation for him to pass by our spot as he slowly went through the crowds, stopping to kiss several babies along the way. When he was nearing our spot, I held my camera up above me but did not stop to look through it. I clicked away figuring I will get whatever photo I get. I wanted to watch the Holy Father pass by with my own eyes. He went much slower this time and was facing our direction so that we got a clear view of his joyful self, greeting all of us with love.

After the procession it was time for mass. The mass was more beautiful than I could ever describe. It is said that during mass we are the closest to heaven. All I can say is that you could truly feel that. Celebrating mass with a million people, not to mention the millions who watched from their homes, and with Pope Francis! It was beyond words. The readings were in Spanish, English, and Vietnamese, with some of the prayers in English and the Eucharistic liturgy all in Latin. The Holy Father gave his homily in his native Spanish. The jumbotron had translated captions along the bottom so we could follow along.

When it was time for communion, the priests who were distributing the Eucharist were signified in the crowd by yellow and white umbrellas held high above them. To see over a thousand yellow and white umbrellas as they made their way through the crowd for people from all over the world to receive our Lord in the Holy Eucharist was so moving. As we began to sing the communion hymns and made our way to the nearest umbrella I felt tears in my eyes. How awesome to celebrate this most Blessed Sacrament with so many others in one place together! Before mass ended, we received our blessing from Pope Francis.

The crowds leaving Philadelphia after Mass were certainly large but it was so well organized and everyone was so joyful that we didn’t mind. People were singing and laughing and celebrating together all the way back to the bus. You could truly feel the Holy Spirit among us all this weekend.

It is hard to describe our pilgrimage to Philadelphia. The photos don’t do it justice and while I pray my words express what we felt, I know they cannot. It was not about just seeing the Pope. It was not about getting as close as possible (although I am incredibly thankful that we were blessed to be as close as we were!) This was about worshiping together with so many people, led in prayer by our dear Pope Francis. It was an experience filled with prayer, love, and the joy of the Lord. It was inspiring and truly life-changing.

Glory to God for watching over us all this weekend! Thanks and praise for the wonderful blessings we received on this trip. And thank you to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, for inspiring us all each day by your words and your actions. For helping to draw the Church closer to Christ. And for coming here to America with your message of love and mercy. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I feel so blessed to have been a part of it.

Altar

Never Hunger

A few weeks ago we were singing “Eat This Bread” as our Communion hymn during Mass. It is a familiar hymn, one that I have sung countless times. And yet on this particular Sunday it hit me in a new light.

Eat this bread, drink this up, come to me and never be hungry.

Eat this bread, drink this cup, trust in me and you will not thirst.

These words sung over and over in the refrain come from the Gospel of John, Chapter 6.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)

They are simple words. And yet, as often seems to be the case, a deep and profound meaning comes forth from these few words. Jesus is the bread of life! And whoever comes to Him will never hunger; never thirst.

Never hunger. Never thirst.

What is it that we hunger and thirst for? Perhaps someone hungers for a big promotion at work. Or maybe someone is thirsting to meet that special someone who might one day be their spouse. We hunger and thirst for many things throughout the day and throughout our lives.  These hungers, these thirsts, these desires within us leave us aching feeling that seems to be ever present. A feeling that something is missing. My heart hungers for a child. And while I might try to ignore the ache, it is still there. That constant, aching hunger is exhausting. That thirsting leaves you tired. Yet we keep at it,   forging ahead doing whatever we can to alleviate the hunger; to conquer our thirst.

The Lord wants what is best for us. He knows what is best for us. While the things that we hunger and thirst for might be worthy causes, we cannot let these desires come before the Lord. When we place our hope and our trust 100% in the Lord, there is no more hunger! Because to trust so deeply in Him means knowing beyond a doubt that He has a plan. If the desires of our hearts were placed there by the Lord, then we should be able to fully trust that He will fulfil them! And if these desires do not come to us from the Lord, then we should trust in Him to change our hearts and open us up to His will. There is no need for me to hunger so deeply for a child when I know that God is the Creator of life! He has a plan for me and my family far greater than I can think of.

Being only human, it is hard to completely let go of all those hungers and thirsts, big and small, throughout our day to day life. To let go of all of that and fill our lives instead with Christ is a noble task, but a difficult one.

How do we go about relieving this hunger? Jesus says to come to Him, to believe in Him. How can we do this in a practical way? We can spend more time in prayer, set aside quiet time to read and reflect upon the Word of God in Scripture, and take count of our blessings rather than focus on the things we lack.

But perhaps the best way to help us grow closer to Christ, to fill our heart, soul, and in fact our entire being with Him, is through the miraculous Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Jesus tells us,

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” John 6:56

To partake in the gift of the Eucharist is to abide in the Lord and to welcome Him into our very selves in the most beautiful and complete way. Through Holy Communion, we are able to let go of all other hungers, all other thirsts, and to focus solely on Christ, physically present there with us.  In this way, we truly fill our souls with Him and His love. Jesus is the bread of life. To eat of this bread means that we will no longer be hungry. Through this most holy Sacrament, we are given the strength to let go of all our desires and to be filled with Jesus. Through this beautiful gift of the Eucharist, we no longer hunger or thirst because we are filled completely with everything that we need: Jesus Christ our Lord.

With Us Always

sun-441565_640As the apostles gathered on that mountain preparing to say goodbye to Jesus once again, I imagine there was quite a mix of emotions. They had already said goodbye before, in a very different setting.

That night of the Last Supper may have been on their minds. Then they did not know what was to happen. They were confused and frightened by His words. They scattered when Jesus was arrested. They hid in fear and shame at betraying their teacher, their friend, their Lord. They wondered what they were supposed to do next. With Jesus dead, now what?

And the Jesus was resurrected from the dead! He was there with them! Not merely as a vision or a ghost, but as an actual person with flesh and bones. A person who ate with them, talked with them, and once again taught them. In these moments spent with Christ after His resurrection, I imagine the apostles were filled with joy. Despite the fear of persecution that followed them, they knew now that Jesus had conquered death! They knew that He truly was God! In the presence of His fully glorified body, they knew in their hearts that He had changed everything and that following Him was the only way to live.

Now, here they were preparing to say goodbye again. Not goodbye forever. No, they knew they would see Him in Heaven one day. But for the remainder of their time here on earth, this was goodbye. Before He ascended into Heaven, He told His apostles to go! They were not to merely sit around amongst each other and reminisce of the “good old days” when Jesus was here. They were not to hide away in secret so that no one would ever find them or know who they were. No. They were called to go forth! To share the Gospel, to baptize, to do all that Jesus had taught them to do while He was there with them.

I wonder if they felt inadequate. If they were worried about how they would fulfil this call. I wonder if Peter’s mind raced back to his betrayal. I wonder if Thomas remembered his doubt. I wonder if in that moment, as Jesus commanded them to go forth and continue on in His work, they felt scared and uncertain. After all, they had messed up before. What if they failed? How would they carry on His mission without Him? How would they know what to say? What to do? How would they know where to go?

Jesus doesn’t leave them stranded though. No. Instead, He blesses them, He tells them of the signs and good deeds they will do in His name, and He tells them that they will be receiving the Holy Spirit.  And then He assures them that He will still be with them. Not just for a few days, not just a few weeks or even years. Jesus promises them “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20)

Jesus is always with us. It is something we learned as children, something we may have sang songs about in Sunday School. Something that perhaps, sometimes, we begin take to take for granted. Something that we are so used to saying, so used to hearing, that we fail to recognize the awesomeness of it! Jesus, our Lord and Savior is with us always!

When we are lying in bed at night worrying about bills to pay and work to do; He is there. When we are busy with the family, rushing from one event to another, making phone calls all day long; He is there. When we are angry, when we are sad, when we are joyful; He is there. He is always there.

Jesus is here with us in our hearts, in our minds, and in our souls. And through the immeasurable beauty of the gift of the Eucharist, He is here with us not just as a vague idea but actually, physically present among us! We are blessed with the wondrous gift of receiving His Precious Body and Blood into our very selves each Mass. How truly amazing that is!

Just as the apostles were told to go forth in Christ and spread His word, we are called to do the same. And just like the apostles, we are not expected to go do this alone. Through the Sacraments, we have been baptized, we have received the Holy Spirit, and we are able to receive Christ Himself in the Holy Eucharist. We have been given all that we need! Sometimes we may feel inadequate or doubt that we could ever live up to what it is we have been called to do. We need only to remember that He is truly here with us. Right now, in this very moment, and in every moment still to come.

After Jesus ascended into heaven, the apostles “after worshiping Him, returned to Jerusalem with great joy” (Luke 24:52) With the gifts we have been given and the promise we have of Christ’s constant presence here with us, we are called to do the same. To worship Him and to go forth in joy to spread His word. All the while knowing that He is still here.

Heal My Soul

rain-316579_640Do you ever find yourself crying during Mass? I know I do. Sometimes it is related to my prayers for a child. Other times it might be from missing my family. Sometimes the tears start to fall without me even really knowing why.   It seems that each time I am overcome with emotion like this, it is during Communion. Sometimes I feel silly or even guilty for crying, especially if I am not entirely sure what brought on the tears. Here we are at the highest point of Mass and I am crying…what is wrong with me?

For a while I thought maybe it was just me. That I was just some crazy person who couldn’t control her emotions. But as I have talked with some family members and friends, I found that they have similar experiences.

Why? Why do the tears begin to fall and emotions take over? And why does it seem to be during or leading up to Communion? Is it just a coincidence?

I don’t think so. You see, when I find myself crying during Mass, it is generally not out of sorrow.   They are not tears of anger or sadness but rather tears of pent up emotions of all sorts.  I have come to realize that perhaps it is not my emotions taking control over me, but rather it is the release of these emotions that causes the tears to flow.

As we prepare to receive Our Lord in the Eucharist we pray:

“Lord I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

We are sinners. Time and time again we fail to do the Lord’s will, to trust Him completely, to love as He loved. But the beauty of the grace and love of Christ is that He looks past all of that and still loves us so much that He gave His life for us. Before receiving Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we take time in prayer to acknowledge our failures, welcome His mercy, and prepare our hearts to receive Him.

To make room for Christ to we need to let go of some of the things that may be taking up unnecessary space. Things like worry, doubt, fear, sadness, confusion, anxiety, jealousy, anger, negativity.   These things try to take over the spaces that should be filled by God and His love, mercy, and peace. And so in order to receive Jesus fully in the Holy Eucharist, we empty out all of these negative feelings. We empty ourselves before the Lord in the full trust that He will fill us with everything that we need and more.

For me, sometimes that emptying of myself comes out in tears. As I empty the negative feelings and emotions from my heart, the tears flow. And when I receive my Lord in the Eucharist, I am filled with peace. The tears fade away and I feel renewed in mind and spirit. I feel the Lord’s presence within.  I feel the Lord healing my soul.

I may not cry every Sunday, but the experience is still there. I believe we all experience it in one way or another, the release of ourselves to be more fully filled with Him. Whether released in tears, in song, or in quiet prayer, it is the healing of our souls as we prepare to receive Christ. For we are not worthy, but by His grace, His love, His word, our souls are healed.

Adoration

adorationI love going to Mass on Sundays.  The peace and joy that I feel does wonders for my soul and rejuvenates every part of me.  Even if I am having an emotional day and find myself crying during Mass, when we are given the instruction to go forth in the peace of Christ and sing that final hymn, I always leave feeling uplifted.

Throughout the week though, sometimes life gets in the way.  Despite my prayers and trying my best to remain focused on His light and His love for us, by the time Sunday comes around again I am in need of more.  I am relieved to be able to go to Mass once more and refresh my soul in the community of prayer and in the ultimate peace that comes from being in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

Recently I decided that rather than waiting until I am overwhelmed by the usual weekly worries, I should work to find a way to continually be in His peace.  Not to take the place of the prayer life I currently have, but to enhance it.  While I cannot attend Mass daily, my church has Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament every Tuesday.  I decided to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity.  I went and was not disappointed.  My soul was refreshed, my worries were gone.  Everything melted away until only the peace and love of Christ remained.  I was eager to return next week and again found the same peace.

This week I was unable to go after work.  I found myself sitting at my desk Tuesday morning feeling again overwhelmed.  My brain started to derail and head down a path of negative thinking.  Worries crammed into my head and stress began to eat away at me.  I thought to myself, it is too bad I cannot attend Adoration at my church tonight.

But then I thought, why let that stop me?  I remembered hearing a listing on my local Catholic radio station of all the parishes in our area offering Adoration.  I looked online and sure enough I found a Catholic church not even five minutes from my office that holds perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament!  Immediately I started to feel better and was looking forward to going on my lunch break at work.

I only have a half hour lunch so I had to be quick.  I was worried I would find myself feeling rushed and wouldn’t be able to focus or relax.  In five minutes I arrived at this little chapel set back from the main church.  I went inside and was immediately at peace.   Tiny pews just big enough for one person, or perhaps two people if they squeezed together close,   lined a short aisle leading up to a beautiful altar where the Blessed Sacrament was exposed beneath a large Crucifix.  A statue of Mary was on one side of the altar, and St. Joseph on the other.  There were little stained glass windows lining the walls of the tiny chapel.  It was very beautiful.

But more than the beautiful appearance of this little chapel, you could feel the presence of the Lord.  There is something about sitting silently in Adoration, knowing that in a mystery we will never understand, Jesus is right there before us.  Not as a representation.  Not as an invisible presence.  Truly, visibly there.  I sat in a pew and took a quick glance at my watch making a mental note of when I would need to leave to be back to work in time.

As I began to pray, time stood still.  I did not feel rushed.  I did not feel the need to continually check my watch.  I prayed and knelt in the presence of my Lord and felt at peace.  When my prayers were finished and it was time to leave, although I had only been there for perhaps 15 minutes, it felt so much longer.

I went back to work and about my day as usual.  Nothing was different about the rest of the day.  The things I was worried about before, they didn’t disappear.  The things that were stressing me out, they weren’t magically gone.  What changed was me.  Instead of letting those things control me, I did what I needed to do to refocus myself on Christ.

My schedule will change and there will be times I cannot make it to Adoration.  Work obligations, family obligations, travel, weather, appointments, these things happen.  But I realize now how to deal with the little things that threaten to overwhelm me.  It is to place myself fully in God’s presence.  Through prayer, through Scripture, through Adoration.   Through being with Him and letting His Spirit fill my body, my mind, and my soul, until there is nothing but the love, joy, and peace of Christ.

“In this silence of the white Host, carried in the Monstrance, are all His words; there is His whole life given in offering to the Father for each of us; there is also the glory of the glorified body, which started with the Resurrection, and still continues in Heavenly union.”  – St. John Paul II, June 19, 1979 – Angelus Address At The Vatican

The Cross and The Eucharist

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him might not perish
but might have eternal life.
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17

Yesterday we heard these words as a part of our Gospel reading at Mass. It was the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and hearing these familiar verses emphasized just how important the cross is. Before Christ’s crucifixion, the cross was a symbol of death and cruelty. And if the story ended at the crucifixion and death of Jesus, the cross would mean nothing. But the story did not end! Jesus rose from the dead and conquered sin and death, forever opening the way to eternal life with Him and the Father in heaven. The crucifix and the empty cross serve as symbols of the immense love God has for us.

As we were preparing to receive communion during Mass, I opened my hymnal to join in our communion song and was surprised to see the music choice: “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” While I love the hymn, I am used to singing it solely during the Lenten season. But as I listened and joined my voice in our sung prayer, I could not think of a better song for the moment.

During Lent, I sing this song and find myself meditating on what Our Lord went through at Calvary.  Meditating on His sorrow and pain and the incredible fact that He did it all willingly for us.  Certainly a worthwhile and emotional meditation, but it was in a past tense.  The song lyrics, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” drew my meditation to the past.  Singing this hymn outside its typical Lenten context and during Communion gave it a whole new meaning.

“When you look at the Crucifix, you understand how much Jesus loved you then. When you look at the Sacred Host you understand how much Jesus loves you now.”  – Blessed Mother Teresa

The Holy Eucharist is a beautiful mystery beyond comprehension or explanation.  It is the full presence of Christ, of His crucifixion and death.  It encompasses His love in a way we cannot fathom.  This most Blessed Sacrament brings us to Calvary, to the foot of the cross, to our Savior in a way far more personal than we might even realize.

The Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross draws our attention to the beauty and love that is held within the cross.  By singing this hymn, it connected this wonderful Feast to the Eucharist in a way I was not anticipating but that truly resonated with me.  The love that is spoken of in John 3:16, the love that resulted in Our Lord’s sacrifice to us in the crucifixion, the love that we see in the empty cross as a symbol of the Resurrection and conquering of evil and death, that love is still present to us here today.  We can feel the love of the Lord within us, surrounding us, and in others.  That love is felt so strongly and shared so miraculously with us through the Blessed Sacrament.

“Were you there when they crucified my Lord?  Oh sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.  Were you there when they crucified my Lord?”

While we may not have been there some 2,000 years ago for the actual crucifixion, through the mystery of the Eucharist, we are united with Christ in that moment.  And that surely is a cause to tremble.

 

Love Stories

The world is full of love stories. Fairytale love stories. Tragic love stories. Funny love stories. We read books about love stories. We watch movies featuring love stories. Most of our television shows include some sort of love story. From the snippets we read online about a particularly romantic engagement, to the photos of an extravagant wedding, to the touching stories of a man and wife by each other’s side through the most trying of situations until the very end.

hOn August 2 my little sister took a big step in her love story. Family and friends from all over came together to be a part of her and her new husband’s wedding day. It was a beautiful Mass full of reverence and love followed by a joyous celebration at the reception. She is an absolutely beautiful girl but looked even more beautiful than usual as she was filled with the joy of marrying the love of her life. All the planning and preparing paid off as the day was absolutely perfect and a wonderful time was had by all.

In the days following the wedding I have found myself reminiscing about my own wedding three years ago and thinking about weddings, marriage, and love.  A joyous marriage with Christ at the center of it presents one of the best love stories we can live out in our lives.  After all, the love that a husband and wife share carries with it respect, forgiveness, patience, and a lifelong commitment.  What could be better than that?

“The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white host.”  Archbishop Fulton Sheen

sacrament-of-holy-eucharistAll the love stories in the word, all the perfect wedding days and long lasting marriages and romantic engagements, cannot compare to the greatest love story of all: the love of God the Father shown to us through His Son, Jesus Christ.  We may not have been there at Calvary with the Lord.  But we are blessed to have the most precious gift of the Eucharist to receive our Lord and be filled with His love.

The love stories we write here on earth are only ever possible because of the greatest love story of them all.  Love is a wonderful gift given to us by the Lord.  The love between a man and wife through marriage is the human attempt to mirror the divine love of the Trinity.  Fully and freely giving of oneself to another as Christ fully gave of Himself to us.

We are called to share the love of the Lord.  With the love stories we take part in through marriage, family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers, we grow in love.  As we strengthen our own love stories, we find ourselves pulled deeper and deeper into the mystery of true love shown to us through Jesus Christ and made fully present to us in a reality far beyond our understanding in the Holy Eucharist: the greatest love story of them all.

Eucharist Image: http://www.family-prayer.org/sacrament-of-holy-eucharist.html