Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Day 4 - A Congress or retreat experience is also about making room for others....

WEDNESDAY THEME: The Eucharist builds up the Church, sacrament of salvation
SOUTH AMERICA

On days 2 and 3 I was humbled by being 5 to 10 minutes later than my 5 passengers... having slept only 5 or 6 hours on a mattress too soft for a deep sleep.... Then this morning, having made an effort to be on time at 7:30, it was my turn to wait up to 15 minutes for the others.... So we still have to fight traffic and for the third morning in a row arrived after Morning Prayer had started... and I forgot my umbrella in the men's washroom.... needless to say it was gone.... in a Christian community as in a family, what gets left hanging around becomes common property.

My late nights caught up with me and I had trouble focusing on the simulataneous translation of the excellent catechist at 9 o'clock, his Eminence Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S.J., Archbishop of Buenos Aires and Primate of Argentina, who reflected on how the Holy Eucharist builds up the Church, Sacrament of Salvation. He had an energetic and powerful voice and the sound system in the Colisée is excellent, so it was tough to try to focus on the sound coming from my little ear phones with the one good ear I have....

So I drowsed....

Poor Father!!! So what, you might ask, does this have to do with the grace of attending such a serious and spiritual event as a Eucharistic Congress? Well, nothing, and everything. A Congress like a retreat is not just about lofty spiritual matters, but more importantly how I relate to those spiritual matters, or better, how I experience those spiritual matters and how this experience has changed and continues to change me.

At Baptism our heavenly Father shared with us the life He enjoys with his divine Son through a spiritual adoption making us his children. What follows then is our willingness to live as children and participate in the divine life He offers and gives us through the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in us. Of course, God can give us spiritual and divine helps without our consent, but when it comes to our progress in the divine life made visible to us in Jesus, no real progress can be made without our consent and willing participation.

It follows then that we accept the awareness the Holy Spirit gives us of our own inner states, so that we can understand in what ways we need God's help to change and grow. So this morning I saw how easily, under the right circumstances, I can feel irritated by the minor faults of others. Believe it or not, it took a while for me to realize that I too make other people wait at times when I am late; so now the shoe was on the other foot and the opportunity was now mine to be kind and patient with others.

It's harder to do that when you're feeling tired or burdened in any other way. Then I began to recall some of Catherine Doherty's teaching and formation of staff workers at Madonna House Apostolate at the Training Center in Combermere Ontario. She often spoke of the duty of the moment, which she was inspired to understand from her contemplation of the life of the Holy Family in Nazareth.

For the Christian and child of God, the duty of the moment isn't just doing what we know to be the will of God for us at any given moment, although it is also that. In addition, inspired by Mary and Joseph caring for the Holy Child Jesus in Nazareth, we can see that in response to the great love of the Father for us, it is right and good that we do what we know to be his holy will with all the love we can muster, and so to do whatever we do with our whole and undivided attention and heart, as though we were doing it personally for God. After all, Jesus did say in the parable of the judgement by the great king that whatever we do to the least of these his brothers we do it to Him.

So my thoughts wandered to the countless people, parents, aged, youth, and children all over the world who suffer far worse irritations and even violence against their human dignity, health and well being and that of their loved ones. Suddenly I found myself very small in the face of so much patient suffering by so many people manifesting far purer and more generous hearts than me....

Such a revelation and self discovery is an important part of any Eucharistic Congress, because the Jesus that is ever waiting for me hidden in the Sacred Host under cover of the Tabernacle is the very same Jesus who desires to lift me up from my smallness, forgive my sinfulness, heal my wounds, cure my diseased sensitivities, and strengthen my weak character.... As Fr. Nicolas Buttet of Switzerland shared with us yesterday, it is better to be transformed by adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament than to be disfigured by consumerism and various dependencies.

We then prepared for the Mass which today was longer, being the Divine Liturgy celebrated in the Byzantine Tradition of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Canada. Such dignity and beauty in pageantry of vestments and multiplicity of participants and roles, multiple incensings, candles, gestures, processions, and beauty of ritual and words, and solemn music led by the joint choirs...

I later met Fr. Michael McKenna of Montreal who today celebrated his 79th birthday, being a priest now for 52 years! He shared with me that he had rarely prayed so much during the Mass, which was longer with many beautiful prayers absent from the briefer, more streamlined Roman Rite. At Madonna House, since 1992 I have had the privilege of celebrating the Byzantine Divine Liturgy in the Melkite Rite several times, and so am prejudiced when I say that I have never experienced a more beautiful, touching, and life changing Liturgy than that one. The exquisite beauty of the schola and congregational singing, the intimacy of the participation of the priests, the beauty of the icons and pageantry, all make it truly a glimpse of Heaven.... which is what the Eastern Rite Divine Liturgy was originally intended to be from its early development.

It would be an amazing experience for our youth to go to Madonna House one summer for their Summer School for youth and other guests, where they would be treated to opportunities to learn much about prayer and contemplation, the spiritual life, community living, the Church and Church history, the faith and morality, Liturgy and the role of the laity in the Church, and much more. A number of youth from across Canada, the States, Europe and even the Far East come for this Summer School and leave enriched and having made new friends in the faith.

So I had lunch with Fr. Michael and later wandered around, in awe of the "bath of people" we are experiencing here.... thousands of people from all over.... and stumbled into one of the Adoration Chapels.... After my experience yesterday I wanted to go back.... I snoozed again, but also prayed and kept the Lord company only to find He was keeping me company.... After quite some time, there was a request for English speaking confessors, so I went in and received two French penitents, go figure.... But it seemed the Lord wanted me there just for them....

I wandered around outside taking in the rare sunshine and bumped into some people, among whom was Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, originally a Montrealer, who is such a kind and warm hearted man.... I saw Paul and Connie from St. Luke and we progressed our plans for Sunday morning, our departure day....

It was a graced day, though so very simple, because grace isn't only dramatic... it is often quite ordinary, though long lasting.... and in the end I came home early, relaxed, ate supper, chatted with other delegates living here, and here I am back at the blog.... Good night to you, pilgrim of the Absolute....

For more on the love of Jesus in our lives and how to enter more deeply into his love even in our relationships with others, see Fr. David May's reflection "Prayer at a Roadside Shrine."

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