Showing posts with label Eucharist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Eucharist. Show all posts

How we should touch Jesus in the Eucharist

Mark 5:21-43 (13th Sunday of Ordinary Time, year B)

A young girl was becoming impatient and antsy during Mass. The homily was long and boring. The Church was very hot. All the prayers seemed to drag on. After the girl could take it no longer she turned to her mother and said, “mommy, when can we get out of here?!” Her mother told her she needed to sit still for just a few minutes longer. Frustrated, the girl slumped into her pew and began looking around the Church to kill time. As she gazed at the backs of the different interesting people at Mass, her eyes caught hold of the red, sanctuary lamp. At that moment, something clicked inside the girl’s head. She pulled on her mother’s sleeve and said to her, “mommy, when the light turns green can we go?”

We can sometimes approach our time in Church like that little girl. The only thing on our mind is when we can get out of here! It's easy to be so focused on when we can get out of the Church that we risk getting nothing out of Mass. The story we just heard about the hemorrhaging woman teaches us how we can prevent this from happening.

A central theme in the story of Jesus healing the woman is the different ways that people touch Jesus and the corresponding effect this has on their lives. Jesus is walking through a large crowd. As a result, many people are touching Him as He makes His way past them. These people, however, touch Jesus without considering who He is or what He could do for them. To them He is just an ordinary person. The people who touch Jesus in this way experience no change in their lives. As He walks along, Jesus suddenly stops and exclaims to His disciples, “who touched me?” They don’t know who to respond to this. They are in a crowd. People are bumping into Jesus at every moment. Jesus realizes that someone touched Him in a way that was radically different from the rest of the people. He wants to know who touched Him with faith. Turning around, He came face to face with the hemorrhaging woman.

This poor individual had been bleeding for twelve years. She had spent all her money visiting doctors in a vain search for a cure. In addition to her physical ailment, the woman suffers emotionally. Because of her bleeding, the Mosaic law dictates that she is ritually unclean. As a result, no one is permitted to touch her or else they too will become unclean. Eventually this desperate woman hears about Jesus and travels a long distance to visit Him. She knows that He is no ordinary man and trusts in His power. She thinks, “if only I can touch His clothes, I can be cured”.  Reaching out, she touches Jesus in a way different than everyone else in the crowd. She touches Him with faith. Because of this, she alone among the crowd is changed by touching Jesus. Power flows out of Jesus and she is healed.

In every Sacrament, and especially in the Eucharist, we have the opportunity to touch Jesus just like the hemorrhaging woman. In the catacombs of Marcellinus and Peter in Rome, there is a 4th century fresco that depicts the scene of Jesus healing the bleeding woman. The image catches the woman at the moment she has touched the cloak of Jesus with great trust and faith. Ancient Christians created this fresco in order for two reasons: 1) to depict this biblical story as well, and 2) to encourage all who look at the image to remember that each time they receive a Sacrament they take the role of the hemorrhaging woman in the story.  Like her, when we approach any Sacrament we come with some woundedness. Hopelessness. A hurt from a relationship. Captivity to sin. In each Sacrament, we touch Jesus. When we touch Him with faith and trust, power, which we call grace, flows from Jesus into us. As a result we receive some healing. We grow closer to Jesus and are strengthened as we follow after Him. The Sacrament in which we have the opportunity to touch Jesus in the most profound way is the Eucharist. When we receive Holy Communion at Mass, we touch Jesus who is truly present in the consecrated Host.

Whenever we receive the Eucharist, it is critical that we touch Jesus in the same way that the hemorrhaging woman did. Unfortunately, we often touch Jesus in the way that the rest of the crowd did. As He walked among them, they touched Him with a lack of faith and trust. As a result, they were not changed by their encounter. Receiving Communion can be like this for us. When we touch the Host, we do it without thinking Who we are touching or what we desire Him to do for us. This is a problem. When we swallow a pill, the medicine works on us regardless of what sentiments we carry in our heart. Receiving Communion does not work like this. Our disposition matters greatly. Unless we approach Jesus in the Eucharist with the faith and trust of the sick woman we do not receive all the graces Jesus wants to give us.

Once I witnessed someone who touched Jesus in the Eucharist in the same way that the hemorrhaging woman touched Jesus in the crowd. At the time I was living in Tijuana. As part of my apostolate I would attend Mass in a poor chapel in a rural area of the city called Ranchito. In this town there lived a young girl whose name was Xóchitl. Xóchitl was born with spina bifida and suffered much from the complications of her illness. As a result, she was often in pain when I saw her at Mass. Xóchitl’s mom once gave an amazing account of what her daughter does at Mass. On days when Xóchitl feels particularly bad, after she has received communion she simply says to Jesus in her heart, “please make me feel better”. When Xóchitl touches Jesus with this kind of profound faith and trust, Jesus certainly floods her with grace and enters into a deeper relationship with her at this moment.

Whenever we are at Mass we should try to imitate Xóchitl rather than the girl who caught sight of the red sanctuary Mass. When you receive Holy Communion today, touch Jesus with the faith of the hemorrhaging woman, trusting that He will heal you and draw you closer to Himself.

Do you go to Mass as a tourist or as a pilgrim?

Feast of the Dedication of Saint John Lateran (Ex 47:1-12, 1 Cor 3:9-17, John 2:13-22)

© Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons
If you have been to Rome, you probably visited the Basilica of St. John Lateran. This Church, whose dedication we celebrate today, is always packed with tourists, and rightly so. The history of the basilica is incredible. It was originally built by Constantine in the 4th century and until the 14th century was the home of the popes. Contrary to popular belief, St. John Lateran and not St. Peter’s is the cathedral of the Holy Father. For this reason, St. John Lateran is called “the mother and head of all churches on the earth”. Artistically the Church is stunning thanks in large part to the large statues of the twelve apostles dominating the interior. In addition to tourists, many pilgrims also visit the basilica. You can see them on their knees praying. They leave with more than just pictures. Maybe they know that before the basilica was named after Saints John the Baptist and John the Apostle it was originally called the Basilica of Our Saviour. The pilgrims realizes that above all else the basilica is a place to encounter Jesus Christ, be changed by Him and return home a different person. This feast challenges us to consider the attitude with which we approach Mass each Sunday. Do we come to church as a tourist or a pilgrim?

Coming to Church is all about encountering the living God in the person of Jesus Christ. Today we heard the memorable story of Jesus cleansing the Temple. Here’s a Bible skill testing question for you: at what point in Jesus’ ministry did He cleanse the Temple? In the beginning or at the end? Trick question! The synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) show Jesus cleansing the Temple at the end of His ministry, presenting it as an event leading directly to His arrest. In the gospel of John, which we heard today, Jesus cleanses the Temple at the beginning of His ministry. John does this to teach a lesson. In the Old Testament we discover that the Jewish people believed that certain physical locations were privileged places to encounter the living God. After the Exodus, as they travelled through the desert, the tent of meeting, or the tabernacle, was the place where God dwelt in a special way in the midst of His people. Later, when they settled in the land of Israel, the Temple was built to be the place of God’s presence. The Temple was THE place to encounter God. It was His home. When Jesus purifies the Temple in the gospel of John He is doing more than purifying the worship of the people that had been corrupted by greed. Jesus replaces the Temple. No longer in God to be encountered in a place but in a person. The living God is now present and dwelling in the midst of His people in the person of Jesus Christ. When we come to Church, we come to meet Him.

At Church we personally encounter Jesus in different ways. Maybe you have heard someone say something like this, “I don’t need to go to Mass or Church. I can pray and get close to God just fine when I  _________ (answers vary, ex: walk through a park)” It is true that we can encounter God just about anywhere, especially in nature. When we go to Church, however, we encounter Him in an incomparable way. Lets look at three ways we encounter Jesus at Church. First, we encounter Jesus in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is really, truly, fully Jesus. During Mass we meet Jesus in a personal way in the Eucharist. He is as real and present to us as we are to one another now. Secondly, we encounter Jesus in His Word. Whenever the Scriptures are read, especially the gospels, it is Jesus who speaks personally to each one of us.  When we hear the readings at Mass, we can all be struck by different words or phrases that speak to where we are in our lives. The Bible is not a document with no meaning for us today. It is alive and active! Thirdly, at Mass we encounter Jesus in one another. We are the Body of Christ. Mass is not merely a private exercise between you and God. We come together as a community to worship Jesus and to encounter Him in one another. The Eucharist, the Scriptures and the community - three ways we encounter Jesus personally that you won’t find during a walk through the park!

Going to Church should change us. Whenever we leave here, we should leave transformed so that we become more and more the presence of Jesus to those we encounter. Remember the two categories of people visiting the Basilica of St. John Lateran: tourists and pilgrims. Sometimes we go to Mass as tourists. We passively observe what is happening, hoping it finishes as fast as possible. Our hearts are not open with a desire to encounter Jesus. When we come to Mass as a tourist, the experience will not change us. It should come as no surprise that we will get in arguments the moment we leave the Church and there is a traffic jam in the parking lot! What a difference it makes when we come to Mass as a pilgrim, with a heart full of a desire to encounter Jesus. Pilgrims participate fully in the Mass with devotion even though they may become distracted at times. They speak with God during Mass, bringing to Him their hopes and fears. They remind themselves of the incredible gift of Jesus in the Eucharist. They ask for His help in the coming week. Pilgrims leave Mass transformed, receiving in some way Jesus’ love and mercy. As pilgrims leave the Church, they are for others a presence of Christ’s goodness in the world, fulfilling Ezekiel’s image we find in the first reading of living waters flowing out of the Temple into the world. Because of their encounter with Jesus, pilgrims leave the Church as what St. Paul calls a “living Temple”. They become a person through whom others can encounter the living God.

Being a tourist is great in certain circumstance. Mass, however, is no place for tourists. Most of us attend Mass at least once a week. Is this experience a personal encounter with Jesus that transforms us to become more like Him? Today let us recommit ourselves to being pilgrims - rather than tourists - whenever we go to Church.