Saturday, June 21, 2008

Day 6 & 7 - When life becomes so intense it sweeps you off your feet, don't resist; rather listen for the gentle breeze of the Holy Spirit within....

The last 3 days have blurred into one.... not just because they were full and we went to bed late, but more importantly because of the transparence, maturity of faith, and incredible depth of the witnesses offered to the Congress delegates and pilgrims....

If you've read my previous post, you can catch a glimpse of the power of God's truth radiating from the young Philippino Bishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle.... Click on the title above and see the powerful Liturgy of Reconciliation and the original drama performed as a theatrical proclamation of the Good News. The whole morning and Cardinal Claudio Hummes' homily brought home to me that much if not all of our human suffering and confusion is related to preferring to try to give ourselves life rather than receive it from God (Adam), letting ourselves be dominated by our jealousy of the love others enjoy and refusing the opportunity to awaken to our own sinful selfishness (Cain), or allowing ourselves to become distant from our loving Father (the prodigal son openly rebelled while the older brother openly remained obedient but secretly rebelled).

The first result of all serious sin is fear, fear of God, of not being loved, of being rejected, hurt, or killed, fear of living fully, fear of God's will for us. The Son of God made himself small and weak in order to allay our fears; yet some of us continually or all of us occasionally continue to be afraid. Though Jesus was an innocent little baby, Herod was still afraid of Him. Because of his preaching the religious authorities were afraid of Jesus.... yet what we all desire is to come to our Father's table and have a place there. When we let ourselves be driven by fear, we end up trying to control the very life we can only receive as gift. We must let go, repent, and accept to receive the gift of his love our Father freely offers us in Jesus.

The wonder, truth, and beauty of our catechesis, testimony, and Penitential Liturgy was felt by all as awesome and profoundly moving.... Our faith was stirred to the very depths, and our need for repentance was awakened.... I had already had the joy of going to confession a few days earlier and also had the privilege of hearing a few confessions and celebrating Reconciliation with those penitents... on this day I had not signed up to hear confessions before coming and now they didn't need my; so I had a few hours "off" and wandered around then went to the adoration Chapelle Don de Dieu to pray.

During the Mass at 4 pm I dozed during the homily, but the Liturgy was beautiful and moving.... Afterwards, some of us got together and had supper in the same manner as lunch, filing through the distribution tent along with thousands of others to receive a box lunch and then finding seats in one of the 12 tents named for the Apostles in which there were dining tables and chairs. We began making our plans for the end of the week....

EUCHARISTIC PROCESSION THROUGH THE STREETS OF QUEBEC

I realized I didn't want to carry my bag so I did a little extra walking and brought my bag to the van at the other end of the grounds in the free parking area, decided what to bring in view of the wet weather we've been having, and returned to the Colisée Pepsi for the start of the procession. Well, they had already started, but I didn't realize it right away and wondered where the 100's of bishops and 1000+ priests were and only saw them later... they were far enough ahead of the "Host Mobile" as some called it.... I joined a few dozen priests who with seminarians carrying torches and incense made the vanguard. We were followed, accompanied, jostled, and generally crowded by the faithful, who could not contain their desire to be close to Jesus and contemplate Him in the Sacred Host....

We walked for 3 hours along some 5.1 kilometers, and saw the full range of humanity along the way.... It was wonderful to manifest our faith and affection for the Lord and accompany Him in his procession through the streets, as though He were reclaiming his rightful place in the city of man, from which He has too long been banished, at least in the minds, hearts, and eyes of some.

I hadn't brought my camera, though originally I planned to bring it. I forgot when I dropped my bag at the van, but I was glad I didn't have it, because it was an immersion of grace to attend to Jesus, listen to the prayers and reflections on the little portable radio we had for simultaneous translation, and watch the people in the procession and on the sidelines... and reflect on the love God has for all his children, for all of humanity, and for creation....

BOOT CAMP FOR WYD 2008

We've been walking all week, some 2-3 kilometers, and with the procession on Thursday, it was more like 8-9. This is far tamer than a real military boot camp, but in a way, I've been feeling that this week has been just that for me, a boot camp to tone up for WYD 2008 in Sydney. We have been doing things we don't normally do: walk a lot, carry a backpack all day, go out in the rain and wind, eat food that has little or no resemblance to a familiar diet, get immersed all day long day after day in a sea of people, sleep less hours than the body craves, pray a lot more than usual, and so on....

The shocking result is that as much as the body feels unhappy and wants to complain loud and long about what it's going through, by the end of the week it suddenly finds itself feeling better than it has in a long time. That just goes to show that our feelings - both physical and emotional - are so often unreliable in telling us what's really going on. Could it be that discipline is actually good for us? Imagine that!


FRIDAY THEME: The Eucharist and the Mission
OCEANIA
On Friday, Cardinal Telesphore Placidus Toppo, Archbishop of Ranchi, India, asked "Who is this God who shares with us his own mission?" He is a God of love. Jesus in the Eucharist is the secret of the successful mission and conversion of the poor and oppressed tribals centered in Ranchi since 1845. Then as now, the challenge for the mission to the poor, oppressed, and those whose human rights and dignity are denied is threefold: social and economic disparity, diversity of religion, and cultural diversity.
Today, the bulk of humanity and of the poor are in Asia. 1.9 billion in Asia live on less than US$2 per day, and 900 million live on less than US$1 per day; yet increasingly those who are well off and rich are increasingly restless. Lingering trends are a need for personal meaning, freedom, love, equality and peace; the desire to make a more just, equitable, and better society; and the need for communion with other human beings. In addition, given Jesus' command of mutual love and unity in Him, there is no place for religious rivalry and discrimination. We must dialogue and work together with other Christians.
The first Christians understood that because of Jesus' love for each of them, they were no longer apart but one body together, and their fraternal love and caring engendered a new society based on mutual respect and sharing in the midst of diversity. It is because of our human condition that this new society is not finalized and we struggle against inequality, injustice, and exploitation. Christians learned that it made no sense to honor Christ in the beauty of the Liturgy and church adornments while showing contempt for Christ when He is poor, hungry, naked.... which is why the Eucharistic Liturgy and community must be different from the world.
Because Jesus lay down his life for his Church, now his Church of every generation is able in Him to lay down her life for the world. God made visible in Jesus his desire that all humanity may experience the life nad love of God offered in Jesus at every Holy Eucharist, when Jesus gives birth to and develops a loving, sharing, humanizing faith community as a leaven for a new society anticipating the fullness of the Kingdom of God....
TESTIMONY
It was good that I heard in simultaneous translation Jose H. Prado Flores' workshop on Tuesday and appreciated all the more his testimony on Friday. He proposed that the sin of good people is getting used to God, prayer, the Eucharist, and all the things of God and then trying to give something to others while in this frozen state, like offering someone a frozen steak uncooked. He was in this state, talking more about Jesus than with Jesus, not being taught by his Word, not more than a reporter relating what others have said, caught in a routine like the disciples on the road to Emmaus who were trying to control God, to control the hurricane of Pentecost into air conditioning that I can control and not allow myself to be disturbed.
This is the sin of good people: "I am the one who decides." Then one day I asked God to drive the car, but I kept the map, wanting to decide where we're going and when to turn. But He had mercy on me because He is God and allows no one to control Him. So Jesus taught me the meaning of his Word and I began to live the Liturgy of the Word and became on fire with his Word burning in my heart like a steak sizzling on the Bar B Q - other people notice, they smell and come to find out what's cooking. Still I needed surgery on my cataracts to see that God is God. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal this or bring us close to the mystery. The Eucharist is beautiful, and it's good to understand but we need to enter into the mystery of God.
I thought I was good, he says, and didn't need any conversion, like the Pharisee who was pleased with himself and was in effect changing the God of Mount Tabor for a god of rewards. The conversion of the sinner to the just is easier than the conversion of the just to a son of God who knows God as "Abba, Father", which only the Holy Spirit can reveal to human hearts.
In addition, I needed conversion from a master of the Word - I was at that point a professor of biblical languages and theology - to a disciple and servant of the Word, letting God be God. Then He transformed me. "You seduced me, O Lord, and I let You seduce me. You overcame me because You are stronger." So this is how the St. Andrew School of Evangelization came to be formed to train and form disciples to train and form other disciples to look for Peter's just as Andrew found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus.
The Holy Spirit showed me that the Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit and constantly expiring the Holy Spirit, as Mary was filled and made pregnant with the Word of God, but I wanted to control the Holy Spirit like a tied balloon, but then the Holy Spirit can't breathe out or blow where He wills. (Prayer) "Father, through your Son Jesus, grant our Pope, Bishops, Priests and all yor people to be filled with your Holy Spirit and serving your Word allow the Spirit to blow where He wills. Amen."
In his homily, Cardinal Joseph Zen Zekinn s.d.b., Archbishop of Hong Kong, made the point that when we hear "Ite, Missa est." we know the Lord sends us into the world. The Eucharist is of the faithful but for the world. God wants to bring all humanity to the eschatological banquet. The Eucharist makes the Church a sacrament to be an instrument of God to bring humanity into communion with God. The New Covenant is universal, for all mankind. "When I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw all things to myself." John 12:32
We must keep the windows and doors of the Church open to the Holy Spirit and to allow people to come in. God can and wants to save everyone; yet He wants us to share the Bread of Truth with all for the full knowledge and experience of his salvation. "Come to me and I will give you rest." See all the restless people in the world, and all the calamities. Where was God when these calamities strike? Jesus was letting them complete what is lacking in his sufferings, and at the moment of death surprising them with an occasion to know and love Him and fullness of life. We accept to be messengers of God's offer of life and love both by Word and works of justice and love. These varied works are like planting trees which will naturally bear fruit.

SATURDAY THEME: Witnesses of the Eucharist in the midst of the world
AFRICA
What with going to bed late and morning traffic, we only arrived early for morning prayer on Saturday, but each morning the Liturgy of the Hours lead in English, French, and Spanish, with a variety of choirs and music directors made for a most prayerful start to each day....
His Eminence Cardinal Christian Wiyghan Tumi, Archbishop of Douala, Cameroun, was a very powerful speaker, generally soft spoken for emphasis, in short an experienced orator and preacher. He is a man of great accomplishment in the area of fundamental human rights and the defense of the defenseless and their human dignity. I want to listen to him again, as I was tired and couldn't help but nod off....
One of the most powerful witnesses this week, though there have been many, was Marguerite Barankitse of Burundi, who wanted to engage the full assembly, wanted her word to be used by the Lord to touch us; so she asked that we all put down our papers and pens and listen to her. She has been laboring for some years with courage to promote peace and reconciliation in Burundi. She has consecrated her life and all her efforts to children victims of the war, running La Maison Shalom since 1994. Listen to her powerful testimony on the Quebec Church website.
Treated like "the fool of Burundi" by European journalists, as a traitor by her Tutsi tribal people for having taken in Hutu children in her Maison Shalom, she is considered to have lost her head by people for whom social categories are all important. She was threatened but clung to the faith she learned from her mother and faced many dangers focused on Jesus as her Lord. She has been stripped of everything and has learned to put her trust only in the Lord. Her testimony questions us who claim and want to follow the Lord; yet insure ourselves "for the next 100 years or more". Our belonging cannot be to this world, but to Jesus Christ....
This beautiful woman in love with God and with people is at the same time seductively attractive for her beautiful soul and transparent heart, and in the same moment very unsettling as Jesus was in his time and St. Francis of Assisi 800 years ago.
There is much more happening at the Congress today, but I have run out of steam and went home in late afternoon, packed all I could for tomorrow morning's trek to the Plains of Abraham for the closing "Statio Orbis" Mass over the whole world. At this writing I'm listening to the live Internet cast of the Youth Vigil at the Congress. Have fun listening to these and other recordings on the Quebec Church website.... God bless you.

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

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

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....

Friday, June 20, 2008

Day 5 - Jesus comes to find us in our deepest fears, lifts us out, and satisfies our hunger with the love of his Father.

It has been a long 16+ hour day.... we just got in and I had a snack and took care of emails.... After walking 3 hours in our amazing Eucharistic Procession, in addition to all the other walking all day, it's now after midnight and I'm going to bed.... I'll blog this amazing Eucharistic day of Reconciliation as soon as I can..... God bless you and yours.....

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."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Day 3 - What difference is Jesus in the Holy Eucharist making in my life?

TUESDAY THEME: The Eucharist, memorial of the Paschal Mysery
EUROPE

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyons and Primate of the Gauls gave us the catechesis this morning, on the Eucharist, memorial of the paschal mystery. He focused on the presence, sacrifice, and communion Jesus offered then and offers now. Jesus makes Himself present to us, He freely offers Himself out of love for us, and He brings us into communion with Him in the Father's love by the fire of the Holy Spirit. Such an offering of one's life is both a gift and a fight. Just as Jesus wrestled with the giving of his life for us, so we too wrestle with the giving of our life out of love. The love of God in Jesus requires everything of us, that we offer our whole lives to God in Jesus and with Jesus. This love is so great that it requires our whole life to live it out, either in Marriage, or Holy Orders, or in some other form of vocation.

In his testimony yesterday, Jean Vanier explored how it is that people with handicaps more openly seek real presence from people, though it is something we all crave and desire. Jesus made Himself truly present to people in his life on Earth and continues to do that for us in the Holy Eucharist, both within Mass and in the reserve of the Blessed Sacrament.

It's only possible to perceive Jesus' presence by lingering there, in front of the Blessed Sacrament, for a while. We know and believe that in offering his life for us and for all humanity, sinners all, Jesus made a sacrificial offering to God his Father. We tend to think of sacrifice as something awful, painful, difficult to do, but Bishop Barbarin led us into another view of it.

He gave the example of a mother who threw herself headlong into the preparations for a birthday party for her son and did it with joy and delight, not thinking of the time and effort and expense it cost her. Not too long later, her son fell seriously ill, and again she threw herself headlong into all she could do to understand the disease and seek out treatments for him.

People looking on thought and even said to her she was behaving like a mad woman, neglecting herself and not counting the cost of her efforts for her son, but no one dared to try to stop her because there was something unstoppable in her devoted love. She could do nothing less than she did out of her great maternal love, nor would she for a moment consider doing less. It was spontaneous and natural for her to do as she did.

Such was the sacrifice of Jesus, not a chore, duty, or burden, but a spontaneous outpouring of his love for us in the conditions in which He found Himself in face of the authorities and attitudes of his contemporaries. Not only did Jesus offer Himself for all people of all time, He found a way to allow us to enter into his offering of Himself, and that is the Eucharist. Our participation in the Holy Eucharist is not full and complete until we enter willingly, spontaneously, and gladly into Jesus offering of Himself and offer up our own lives to the Father in order to follow Jesus.

In the everning conference given in Spanish by Mr. José H. Prado Flores, Director and founder of the St. Andrew School of Evangelization, he said that we are not fully disciples until we allow ourselves to be molded and shaped by Jesus in his hands like a loaf of bread or a lump of clay. He led us in a reflection on the 7 steps in the process of discipleship summarized in what Jesus did at the Last Supper. Jesus (1) took bread in his sacred hands, (2) blessed it, (3) broke it, (4) gave it to his disciples, (5) saying, "This is my body...." (6) "eat it...", (7) "Do this in memory of Me."

It is only in Jesus' hands that we can be shaped into disciples. There, as we listen to Jesus and the Word He speaks to us, we are shaped in accord with his mind and heart. We cannot be his disciples unless we listen, read, and ponder his Word all the time.

Without returning to the Word of God we are like a woodsman who works harder and harder but cuts less and less trees because his axe is losing more and more edge. His companion steadily produces the same number of trees and even seems to go away to rest, because those are the times he sits down to sharpen his axe.

Jesus breaks us like bread in order to purify the intentions of our hearts until we desire only one thing, the Father's will, just like Jesus. We are either purified of our sins, like Mary Magdalene, or else in view of the mission the Lord knows He wants to entrust to us. The greater the mission, the greater the purification we must endure. The Lord breaks and purifies us through opposition or persecution we must endure when we try to live the Gospel and others don't like it, when we proclaim Jesus and people ridicule us because they are caught up in the way the world thinks.

The Lord also purifies us through failures we undergo in trying to serve Him. We are purified of any need for recognition and applause, or for the affection of others. The Lord also breaks us and purifies us through the humiliation of our sin and of our condition as sinners. While we must weep for our sins, we can rejoice that the Lord uses even our sins to purify us and give us a capacity of compassion for sinners.

Jesus distributes his disciples just as He distributed the bread He had broken. Once He has broken and purified the intentions of our hearts, Jesus distributes us and gives us to others, that we might make other disciples to be formed by Jesus and become like Him too. Jesus says of us too that we are his Body, just as the priest says it of himself as He says it of Jesus, who calls him to live out the same gift Jesus is offering today through the priest.

For a disciple to become identified with Jesus' Body means that the disciple becomes one with his Master, proclaiming the Good News as Jesus did, serving, healing, loving, suffering, and dying as Jesus did, becoming another Jesus for people today. Then Jesus says to people "Take and eat..." The disciple becomes bread to be eaten by people today famished for the life only Jesus can give. The disciple is to be eaten and disappear, leaving only Jesus to be seen; so that people will eat us and find Jesus and believe in Him, follow Him, and love Him.

Finally, just as Jesus forms us into his disciples, He tells us to go and do the same in his memory, so that it's not just the Mass He wants us to go on doing in his memory but also the giving of ourselves as He did and the making of more disciples as He did. Jesus wants for us the joy of Andrew, who brought Simon to Jesus, and Simon became a greater disciple and apostle than Andrew was. This is the joy of the disciple, to make Jesus known and loved and to bring more disciples to Him, who will in turn bring more people to Jesus, that they may know and love Him.

Feel free to check out further impression in my French blog....

Monday, June 16, 2008

Day 2 - The grace of a Eucharistic Congress is an awesome encounter with the Holy Eucharist as a Person, Jesus Himself!

MONDAY THEME: The Eucharist, gift of God par excellence.
NORTH AMERICA

When I was a young man and member of a youth group in town, we went to the Oka Trappist monastery where a monk, Fr. Benedict Vanier, gave us an inspiringly simple talk about prayer as visiting with God. I later returned for a retreat with Fr. Benedict as my director. The first thing he told me that I should do on retreat was "Don't resist the urge to sleep for the first two days. Most people come here tired, and you simply have to allow your body to catch up on rest."

Well, since a Eucharistic Congress is in many ways a retreat - since there is a lot of activity all around, the only silence to be had is the silence we must make within ourselves, with the help of the adoration chapels - my need for sleep and rest has come home to me today.

I was really revved up last night, and after blogging I went up, listened for a while to the replay of part of the opening ceremonies on the little radio they gave us for simultaneous translation, wound down and prepared for sleep. The night was too short, but I went out for a walk and did my best to quickly get ready and have breakfast and then gave a lift to two priest from Burkina Faso, two ladies from Guatemala now living in Montreal, and another lady.

The main congress events at this point are a musical interlude from 7:30 which we missed, Morning Prayer at 8:30 for which we missed a few minutes, a major address called a catechesis at 9:00 which was given this morning by his Excellency Msgr. Donald William Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., U.S.A. He gave us a marvelous reflection on the significance of Jesus' gift of Himself at the Last Supper establishing with humanity the New Covenant prepared by God from all time for our salvation out of love for us. He focused on the perspective of what Jesus did in Holy Week, which we continue to experience year after year, and showed why it is so important for us to do so, as Jesus draws us to enter into the mystery of the love He came to reveal.

After a short break, Jean Vanier came to give a testimony from his experience of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and Holy Communion. He shared his and our anguish over what is happening in the world, which is so bruised, wounded, and divided. Every human wants to be of value, needs to be loved, though some ignore this in them. Jesus intends that as we receive Him into our lives we be touched by his love and changed by it to become more like Him and commit ourselves to be a real presence in the lives of others, especially those whom we find difficult to love....

After another break and some chatting and singing, we prepared to celebrate the Holy Eucharist. This Liturgy was not as "high" or solemn as yesterday. By the way, I made a mistake about the number of singers in the choir. Today we could see their chairs, as there were only 30 or so, and there seem to be some 250 or so chairs in the choir section. There were only a dozen or so musicians today as well, but what music, what singing! These people are not only talented, but they sing and play with such faith, joy, and expression....

If you haven't yet taken the time, check your TV channels and find either a live or rebroadcast glimpse of the main Congress events and Liturgy.... You will be touched by these events....

Some members of the Archdiocesan Council of the CWL found me and I joined them for lunch after Mass. We got to use the little transparent raincoats they had put in our pilgrim delegate bags as we experienced a Quebec version of Irish mist.... Part of the grace of the Congress is meeting and sharing with people we know and also with strangers, people we never met before. Another part of the grace is being immersed in a little sea of humanity, seeing and hearing people from all over the world - some 70 countries in all - and lots of clergy: 40 cardinals, some 250 bishops, and hundreds of priests.

I wasn't fast enough to get into one or other of the workshops or animated adoration sessions offered after lunch, so along with a few thousand other people I visited over a hundred kiosks presented by religious orders, new religious communities, various New Evangelization initiatives, various purveyors of religious goods, devotional articles, books and other tools of evangelization and catechesis, adoration communities and intitiatives and projects, and lots more....

All the colors, visuals, materials, and the dense press of people was a little overwhelming at one point and I went out to seek one of the adoration chapels. I soon found one, went in, knelt and adored Jesus, and sat down. I took out a devotional prayer book from my pilgrim bag, and soon found myself dozing. My body claimed some of my back ordered rest....

I was there for an hour and a half or more, and after a while, life began to come back into me. I became aware of my overdue need to seek the Lord's forgiveness and experience the joy of going to confession; so I lined up along with a dozen other penitents.... The Confessor was a happy and delightfully radiant middle aged priest from the new community of L'Émmanuel here in Quebec. He said only a few words which were what I needed, inviting me to reflect on John 15 where Jesus spoke to us as branches on Him the Vine...

He had brought out a group of youth once into the woods in early Spring for adoration, and he asked them whether they could hear or see the sap running in the trees. Of course they couldn't. Well, he said, it is like that with Jesus. We cannot hear, see, or smell the sap running from Him into us, but just as we see evidence of it in the trees as they sprout fresh new leaves, so it is in us as Jesus gives us to bud forth new shoots of vitality within us and all around us as we overflow of his love to others around us....

On leaving the adoration chapel, I wandered around the main welcome center where a number of afternoon events are also staged and where the booths are on display, and I bumped into former parishioners and friends from St. Thomas à Becket Parish in Pierrefonds. I also saw a number of other people I know, religious and laity from the Montreal area....

Two of my morning passengers and I reconnected, decided to shop for groceries, and I brought them back to the rectory where I am staying and we made and ate supper together.... That too was a blessing... So the central grace of a Eucharistic Congress is to finally slow and quiet down enough to notice one's hunger and thirst within for Jesus, and in the course of a prayerful visit with Him in adoration, to suddenly realize that He is pouring out his sap into us, into me, and in that moment I remember that He loves me personally. I remember my true name, who I am before God and in Jesus, and I find myself completely back in the present moment, having gotten off the merrygoround of business and busyness....

If and when I have any vitality at all, it all comes from Jesus, whether I am aware of it or not, and it is a great joy to remember the truth... Peace be with you.... May you allow yourself, even from a distance - distance doesn't matter for the Holy Spirit - to enter into this grace of the Eucharistic Congress!

Jesus is a living Banquet of divine Love

Sunday, June 15, 2008

THE INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS IS ON!!!!

CONGRESS THEME: The Eucharist, gift of God for the life of the world.

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Our St. Luke Parish contingent made it safely and in time for the start of the 49th International Eucharistic Congress in Quebec City today. It was cloudy and cool here when we arrived and our hardy leader Paul Aitken kept his shorts but I quickly changed into my clergyman suit and long sleeved shirt in the van and off we went to get ourselves accredited as delegates.

The process was fairly quickly. We received our name badges and delegate bag of goodies including participant booklets for the daily prayers and public liturgies, a little fm radio with head set for simultaneous translation on different channels posted around the Colisée in neon lights, a water bottle, and other goodies I haven't had time to check out.... Priests and deacons were given a stole as part of their registration package as well.

We had a quick bite to eat forum style - fast food that is - and met people we knew going by or joining us... and off we went for the opening ceremonies. I met a priest from Saskatoon who's also a Madonna House Associate and we wandered around the bowels of the stadium led by helpful ladies trying to track down the changing room for priests. Because of the nature of the International Eucharistic Congresses, there are a large number of cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, and there are special changing rooms for them, but it would have been too much to provide for the priests; nevertheless some kind souls among the volunteer team added at the last minute priests to the sign designating the changing room for altar servers. I was able to hang my jacket and leave my bag.

Things began formally but with lightness of heart and joy as the dignitaries offered their well scripted remarks. The role of Quebec in the colonization and evangelization of North America was highlighted, and after the speeches we were treated to visuals and dramatic animation as people wearing 20-foot high puppets of the founders of Quebec and the New France Church came in and strode around the round center piece stage, in the middle of which was the Altar and where the podium was also situated. Lighting and sound effects brought the puppets to life and drew spontaneous response and applause from the thousands in attendance.

The music played by the philharmonic symphony orchestra was heavenly as was the singing of the 400 voice choir! The big screens in the four cardinal directions up in the rafters of the stadium above center ice added well composed images to the festivities. The significance of the hymns and prayers, the pageantry, the quality of the musicians and singers and directors, the dignity in movement of the liturgical dancers at the introduction ceremonies and bearing incense during the Mass, the clarity of the lectors and speakers, all brought to mind the high quality of the best shows we've seen at occasions like the Olympics and the Year 2000.

Cardinal Tomko representing Pope Benedict XVI spoke and preached incredibly well, and told everyone that Pope Benedict will deliver the homily of the closing Mass by satellite. He read the Pope's letter decreeing the opening of the Congress as well. I has volunteered to distribute Holy Communion and was chosen to go up to the nosebleed section, up innumerable stairs (good training for WYD!) and I gave Communion to so many devout participants in the Congress. A lovely young girl had led me to my station and brought me back down afterwards. On our side, we ran out of Holy Communion and the folks were told that another priest would be sent to them....

It was a kind of spiritual experience for me to see myself running out of the Blessed Sacrament and the faithful coming around like so many hungry children coming to their mother.... I myself had not communed first as priests normally do because our ushers led us forward just before the invitation to exchange a sign of peace, and deacons handed us the Blessed Sacrament and our ushers led us to our stations. I was more conscious than ever of the Lord giving Himself to his faithful and so experienced a fresh and different communion with our Beloved as I held Him and distributed Him to those He loves....

The highlight was the time of adoration after the Mass was over and I was back at my seat... even without kneelers many knelt on the concrete floor where they stood.... The Blessed Sacrament was displayed in a huge monstrance made of wood at least 5 feet wide and as high... The Host must have been at least 18 inches in diameter.... We worshipped Jesus a good 10 to 15 minutes in silence and in song.... and at the end the cardinals responsible for the various adoration chapels throughout the city were sent off... and as the huge monstrance was installed atop the Ark of the Covenant and it was wheeled slowly away from the Sanctuary, the whole throng cheered wildly for the Lord... it was glorious and triumphant to see such a warm and genuinely affectionate outpouring of love and devotion for Jesus the Christ, our Lord, the One Saviour of the World, the Gift of God for the life of the world!

During these holy days, may we be united in prayer, worship, adoration, and love of our God and of his Body the Church of his faithful disciples.... Fr. Gilles from Québec at the Congress, and writing from Paroisse St. Jean Chrysostome in the suburbs.