Arts and Culture

Eucharist and Gratitude

Eighth in a series

THE MORE I reflect on the insights that Ronald Rolheiser offers in “Our One Great Act of Fidelity: Waiting for Christ in the Eucharist” (New York: Doubleday, 2011), the more I see how the Eucharist relates to everything I believe as a Catholic.

In his book, Rolheiser lists several of the demands on us as followers of Christ that we tend to neglect. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the list that Rolheiser offers speaks strongly to me of my own failures as one who claims to follow Christ. Suggesting that we have either been too weak to follow Jesus’ key commands and invitations, or we have rationalized them away, Rolheiser writes the following:

“And so, to a large extent, we have exempted ourselves from the demands to love our enemies; to turn the other cheek when attacked; to forgive seventy times seven; to leave our gift at the altar and first go and seek reconciliation with our brother before we worship; to place justice on the same level as worship; to see mercy as more important than dogma; to not commit adultery, not steal, not to call someone fool, not tell lies, not to give in to jealousy. We have, in virtually every one of these areas, individually and collectively, a history of infidelity and rationalization.” (p. 119)

I plan to re-read that paragraph the next time I celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation. There are many examinations of conscience that have been printed to help penitents prepare to confess their sins. Rolheiser’s observations speak to me about myself. Not only should they help me when I go to confession, but also they should help me celebrate the greatest feast of the liturgical year this Sunday. Everything Catholics believe is summed up in every Eucharist, and summed up in a special way in the feast of Jesus’ Resurrection. To be most receptive to God’s presence in our liturgies and lives, it is beneficial to face our sins and failures. As Easter approaches, the more deeply I understand Robert Lauder, the greater the opportunity I have to more deeply grasp and celebrate God’s mind-boggling love for me and for all.

While Rolheiser’s list can remind us how often we fail to follow Jesus’ teaching, the basic attitude toward God is that even our failures should encourage gratitude. What have we that we have not received from God? In the same chapter in which Rolheiser lists our failures, he writes the following summary of insights:

“The Eucharist contains and carries many deep realities; it helps continue the incarnation of God in history; it is God’s physical embrace; it is an intensification of our community together as Christians; it is the new manna that God gives to nurture his people; it is our family meal together as believers; it is Christ’s sacrifice which we commemorate ritually; it is God’s gift of reconciliation and forgiveness; it is an invitation to a deeper discipleship; it is a banquet table opened up for the poor; it is a vigil service within which we wait for Christ to return; it is Christ’s priestly prayer for the world.” (p. 120)

Rolheiser’s list of the deep realities the Eucharist contains and carries should convince anyone why gratitude is the basic attitude that we should have toward God. Even trying to mention all the blessings that God has showered on us is futile. We are not even aware of all that God has done and is doing for us. As one saint has stated, God’s gifts put our best dreams to shame. God is present and blessing us with infinite love when everything in our life seems to be going very well; God is present and blessing us with infinite love when nothing in our life seems to be going well.

I believe that the Eucharist does contain and carry all the deep realities that Rolheiser mentions, and I find that I need to be reminded of those realities periodically. Perhaps there is so much meaning in the mystery of the Eucharist that we will never be sufficiently grateful. What can help us is making our celebration of the Eucharist as beautiful as we can.

We can also be helped by people who live in such a way that their gratitude to God is evident in their lives. God’s love has liberated them; their freedom and deep joy can inspire and encourage the rest of us. Such people become a sign of God’s love and also, I believe, a channel of God’s love.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and author of “Pope Francis’ Profound Personalism and Poverty” (Resurrection Press).

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