Last night I gave a talk to a great group of Catholics at St. Francis Borgia parish here in Chicago. St. Francis Borgia was the third superior general of the Jesuit religious order. Here's an image of St. Francis Borgia:
The topic was "Living the Sacramental Life." I am thinking about writing a little book on this subject. My focus last evening was on baptism and eucharist. In my talks, I try to get people to realize what an impact their baptism has had on their lives. I tell them that, for me at least, I have come to the realization that at the moment of my own baptism, nothing would ever be the same, and that, at that moment, my life changed forever. One older woman in the room reflected on this and said something like, "tonight I discovered that I have taken for granted perhaps the greatest gift I've been given."
We have such a richness in our sacramental life. There is so much potential that awaits us when we realize what abundant and amazing grace God pours out through the sacraments. For me, I try very intentionally to see what God has in store for me each week when I am at Mass. Several months ago, in early January in fact, I received some sad and distressing news that one of my sisters had been diagnosed with cancer. This was a difficult blow, particularly because I had lost my younger sister in 2001 to complications brought on by Multiple Sclerosis. On the following Sunday, January 18th, I went to Mass at St. James with a heavy and breaking heart. I prayed that the Lord would speak to me, and offer something to lift my and my family's spirits. The readings were all about listening, yet nothing seemed to touch me. There was a line in the Prayer Over the Gifts that day that caught my attention, but I quickly lost the thought as Father Edward moved into the Eucharistic Prayer. A few days later, here at the office, I was speaking about my sister with one of my colleagues, whose wife is living with cancer, and I remembered that there was something about the prayer that caught my attention. So I grabbed a Sacramentary and found the prayer. Here is the Prayer Over the Gifts for that Sunday—the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time:
May we celebrate this eucharist
with reverence and love,
for when we proclaim the death of the Lord
you continue the work of his redemption,
who is Lord for ever and ever.
I know my eucharistic theology and I know that this prayer beautifully embodies our belief that when we celebrate the eucharist—"when we proclaim the death of the Lord"—God's work of redemption does indeed continue. But what is that work of redemption? For me, on that Sunday, the Lord's saving and redeeming work was continuing. I can easily fall into the trap of anger and resentment when something goes wrong. I can forget about God's abiding love. This prayer was a reminder that God continues to work redemption in my own life through the remembrance of the death of his Son, an act that we do as the Church every time we celebrate Mass. Even in the midst of the worst that life has to offer, I know deep in my heart that the cross is not the end of the story. The Lord triumphed over death and we will share in that triumph. This is the hope that holds me.
Gotta sing. Gotta pray.