Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day 5 - continued... The Eucharist, the life of Christ in our lives....

THURSDAY THEME: The Eucharist, life of Christ in our lives

I encourage you to click on the title to get to the catechesis given by Luis Antonio G. Tagle, Bishop of Imus, Philippines, from Thursday morning. He is a young bishop and dynamic teacher who led us on a remarkable reflection on the life of Jesus in our life. Jesus guides us on the true way of spiritual worship and authentic adoration.

1. The sacrificial worship Jesus offered was unlike that of the Temple and was authentic worship in that He offered himself in cries and tears to the Father, so that He could express to the Father our own cries and laments which He made his own. Jesus' sacrifice of himself to the Father was also authentic worship because He offered himself in obedient submission to his Father's will, not out of any personal desire, identifying himself to our weaknesses and sins so as to lift them up to the Father rather than judging us. In Jesus' sacrifice and worship obedience and compassion are inseparable.

2. Baptism unites us to the sacrificial death and perfect worship of Jesus, and in Christ we can offer our lives to God, and this involves dying to sin, which is the fundamental worship of the baptized. We are to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1) and joined to the sacrifice of Christ build the Church. Part of Jesus' suffering was the irony that his free offering of himself in obedience to the Father and out of compassion for us was not recognized as obedience to God or communion with us. Instead, he was condemned as a blasphemer because his authenticity was a threat to those considered the good people, people of influence. The One who proclaimed God's mercy was shown no mercy.

Jesus denounced the worship of false gods such as profit, prestige, pleasure, and control, which made those who engage in it insensitive to the needs of others. The false god is self interest, it is the self, and to maintain false gods other people are sacrificed in order to maintain self interest; while Jesus sacrificed himself in order to offer true worship to his Father. "How many factory workers are being denied the right wages for the god called profit? ...women are being sacrificed to the god called domination? ...children are being sacrificed to the god called lust? ...trees, rivers, hills are being sacrificed to the god called progress? ...poor people are being sacrificed to the god of greed and defenseless people are being sacrificed to the god of national security?"

The bishop then added it's not enough for us to point the finger, but we must examine ourselves as Church, because, like those who condemned Jesus in the name of authentic religion, we can become blind to God and neighbor through self-righteousness, spiritual pride, and closedness or narrowness of mind. The authentic and generous faith and love of simple people regularly puts us clergy to shame and teaches us, puts us in the presence of authentic worship of God which enlightens us.

3. "Worship and adoration are so intimately connected that they could be considered one and the same. The spiritual worship of Jesus on the cross is his supreme act of adoration. In the Eucharist the Church joins Jesus in adoring the God of life, but the practice of Eucharistic adoration enlivens some features of worship. We believe that the presence of Christ in the Eucharist continues beyond the Liturgy. At any time we can adore the Blessed Sacrament and join the Lord's self offering to God for the life of the world.

Adoration connotes being present, resting, beholding. In adoration we are present to Jesus, whose sacrifice is ever present to us. Remaining in Him we are assimilated more deeply into his self giving. Beholding Jesus we receive and are transformed by the mystery we adore. Eucharistic adoration is similar to standing at the foot of the cross of Jesus, being a witness to his sacrifice of life and being renewed by it. Apart from the Blessed Mother and the Beloved Disciple who kept vigil with the dying Jesus, the Roman centurion who had been watching over Jesus when He died could be a model of adoration.

Probably the centurion started guarding Jesus from his arrest in the garden up to his death. Seeing Jesus betrayed, arrested, accused, humiliated, stripped, and brutally nailed to the cross, he surprisingly concluded, "This man is innocent. Truly this is the Son of God." Already hardened by many crucifixions he had supervised, he must have seen something different, something new in Jesus. At the end of a routine execution came a profession of faith. It was not just another crucifixion after all. It was a manifestation of innocence, a manifestation of the Son of God. We learn from the centurion's adoration that the sacrifice of Jesus cannot be appreciated unless we face the cross.

Mark's gospel says the centurion stood facing Jesus. Like any leader of guards he kept careful watch over this criminal. He did nothing but look at Jesus, but physical nearness was not enough.
He had to be vigilant, observant, focused, so that he could account for every detail. We learn from the centurion to face Jesus, to keep watch over Him, to behold Him, to contemplate Him. But first, the centurion spent hours watching over Jesus out of duty, but ended up contemplating Him in truth. The Holy Spirit had guided him to confess "Jesus is the Son of God."

What did the centurion see? I can assume that he saw the horror of suffering that preceded the death of Jesus. He was an eye witness to the torment, humiliation, and loneliness inflicted on Jesus when friends betrayed Him and left Him. He must have been shocked to see Judas plant a seemingly caressing kiss that was in fact an act of treachery. He heard the lies fabricated in the Sanhedrin and Pilate surrendering to the crowd despite the lack of a case against Jesus. He heard a painful cry, "My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?"

The centurion saw unbelievable cruelty from friends, leaders, and the silence of a distant God. Betrayal, inhumanity, viciousness continue up to our time in the many crucifixions of the poor and of creation. We cannot help but wonder why friends, leaders, and even God cannot respond. But I also believe that the centurion saw incredible love, love for God who had failed to remove this cup of suffering from Him, and love for neighbor. For his enemies He begged the Father's forgiveness, to abandoned He promised Paradise, for his Mother He secured a new family, and to the God who had abandoned Him, He abandoned Himself: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit."

The centurion saw love blooming in the desert of inhumanity, amid the noise of ridicule and lies. This man saw truth, only yes to God, yes to neighbors, yes to mission. On the cross of hatred and violence the centurion found love, a love that refused to die, a love that is as strong as steel against evil, yet tender for the beloved. His death was transformed into life. Jesus survived the horror of the cross with hope and love and conquered the evil with tenderness. He was innocent. He was from above. He was the bread of life. He was from the Father. He us truly the Son of God."

Because of God, we can find goodness, beauty, and love in unexpected places, like the 13 year old the bishop met in a nutrition program. She was too old for the program but was feeding her little brother in place of her mother. The bishop offered to have food given to her, but she said, "No bishop, there are many other hungry children in the village. Give the extra food to them." He was struck by her honesty and innocence and drawn into deep silence. "My God, my God, why are these children going hungry. I did not expect to see love, sharing, honesty in this place of death. Truly these are innocents. Truly these are children of God."

"In eucharistic adoration let us join the centurion in watching over Jesus and see what he has seen. Let us spend time too with the multitudes of innocent victims of our times; we might be able to touch Jesus who knows their tears and pain for He has made them his own and changed them into hope and love. Watching over our suffering neighbors we could be changed like the centurion into discerners of truth and heralds of faith, and hopefully, when people behold how we carry each other's crosses in love, they too would see innocence and the Son of God in us. Let us adore Jesus who offered his life as a gift to the Father and breathed the Holy Spirit on us sinners. Let us adore Him for ourselves, for the poor, for the Earth, for the Church, and for the life of the world. Thank you." (Loud and sustained applause and extended standing ovation, the longest of the whole Congress)

Needless to say, this young bishop had an incredible impact on the entire congressional assembly and on me personally.... Next came an older Vietnamese woman and sister of a bishop who was incarcerated for around 30 years by the communist regime and became incredibly close to Jesus and even ministered to prisoners during that time. Salt and Light has or will air a show on his life entitled "Road to Hope." Her account hit very deeply after what we had just heard in the deep catechesis by a lively bishop and witness to Jesus, and we were then three for three in the lead into our celebration of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.

"La Table de la Réconciliation" was an exquisite drama written by l'Abbé Robert Gendreau of Montreal who staged and produced the Way of the Cross for WYD 2002 in Toronto when he used in its integrity the text written by Pope John Paul II. This time he adapted key Scripture texts pertaining to Reconciliation: the fall of Adam, the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, and Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son.

His Eminence Claudio Cardinal Hummes, Archbishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil, gave a masterful homily highlighting the points demonstrated powerfully in the play. Adam tried to give himself life rather that continue accepting to receive life as gift from God, and the result was fear of God over his own nakedness. Cain was jealous of his brother's approval from God because he refused to face his own selfishness and greed and was bothered by his brother's innocence, generosity, and love for God, and the result was fear of himself being killed by strangers.

Jesus' response to overcome Adam's fear and shame was to allow himself to be rendered naked and tortured, and make himself close to him. His response to Cain was to allow himself to be killed by strangers, that He might win Cain over.

The prodigal on his return was afraid to look into his Father's eyes, lest he see disappointment and no love. His elder brother pointed out that of course the Father loved him, and the ensuing dialogue, it came out that the elder brother was no so perfect after all but played the part of a good son in order to enjoy the abundance, power, and influence he could have from the father's estate and approval. In the end, the elder convinces the younger that he has a lot in common with their father and should go to him, and the younger convinces his elder brother that he has forgiven him now and he too should go to the father, and they both do.

It was so real and revealing and touching - we all saw ourselves - that the assembly broke out in spontaneous applause and even cheering at various points at the end, as the drama unfolded in a satisfying conclusion and reconciliation at the father's table, which was a powerful image of the Eucharistic Table set for us by Jesus with his Body and Blood.

to be continued....

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