by Father Robert Lauder
Several years ago, I found that I was focusing on one word to sum up everything important that I believed about God and myself. In fact, the word captured for me whatever vision I had of all of reality. The word was a kind of shorthand way of expressing my faith. How this came about I am not certain, but I know that I used the word when I was doing centering prayer and also when I was trying to write something about people’s relationship with God. It even influenced how I structured my homilies and how I emphasized what I thought both the congregation and I should focus on in our efforts at imitating Jesus. The word was “Eucharist.” The doctrine of the Eucharist seems to sum up for me everything that we believe as Catholics.
Many years ago when I was working in a parish, I discovered that about 25 percent of the Catholics who lived in the parish did not regularly attend Sunday Mass. Often I would say of them, “They have the faith; they just don’t practice it.” Today, I would not describe people who do not attend Sunday Mass regularly as “having the faith.” I don’t know who has the faith. I hope I have the faith. But my understanding of the Eucharist is that it is so central to the meaning of being a Catholic that if someone does not attend the Eucharist regularly, I don’t know what it would mean to describe that person as Catholic. Does it mean that the person is Spanish or Irish or Italian? Is being Catholic the same as having a particular nationality? Is being Catholic only something cultural?
A priest friend of mine told me about a conversation he had with a man who insisted that he was Catholic though he did not believe in the Incarnation. The man defended his claim to being Catholic by citing how he enjoyed Church architecture, music and religious art. With little if any success, my friend tried to explain that there are some doctrines that are central to the Catholic faith. Of course, one of those doctrines is the Incarnation, the truth that the Son of God took on a human nature while remaining divine. The Eucharist is another central doctrine of Catholicism. I don’t know what it would mean to state that a person who did not believe in the Real Presence of the Risen Christ in the eucharist was a Catholic or had the faith.
In recent years, and I am not certain how this has happened, the word Eucharist as my “summary word” to express what I believe about God and the human race and indeed to express the meaning of all of reality, has given way to the word “gift.” In relation to us, God is giver; in relation to God, we are gifted, that is receivers of gifts. All of created reality is God’s gift to us. Of course, God’s greatest gift is God’s Son.
I think that the vision of reality that I have come to believe is the most profound way of looking at reality is expressed in a poem by the Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is my favorite poem. It is sometimes referred to as No. 34. It is also referred to by the first words of the poem, “As kingfishers catch fire.” Though there are a handful of poems that I love so much that I have memorized them, I confess that I no longer read a great deal of poetry. I am not proud of that. In the past, I have resolved that I will make the reading of poetry a regular habit, but so far I have not kept that resolution. The following is Hopkins’ poem:
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is –
Christ – for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Hopkins’ poem expresses with great beauty and marvelous language what I mean to express when I use the word gift to express what is most important about all of created reality. The Father sees us as the Body of Christ.[hr] Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.