Faith & Thought

The Eucharist Has Always Been a Storytelling Event

by Father Robert Lauder 

Who can guess why some ideas that we previously did not pay much attention to begin to take a predominant place in our consciousness? 

Is it because we read something that really made a strong impression on us? Is it because of something someone said to us? Is it a memory that for some reason has returned to our conscious mind? 

I must have known for years that all of us, along with God, have been writing our stories, but in recent years that idea has become more important to me and has shed light on a great deal of my experience. 

I think that many people who describe themselves as atheists or agnostics are in effect saying that they have not found a religious story that enlightens their experience. 

If I am correct, then those of us who claim we are believers should try to live the Christian story as well as we can so that those who know us may see something of the beauty and truth of the Christian story. 

Reflecting on my own life, I think my reading has moved me to appreciate the responsibility I have to write my story as well as possible, which I think is another way of saying cooperating with God’s providential presence in my life. 

Of course all of us are involved in many stories. I am part of the American story, the New York story, the masculine story, a political party’s story, the St. John’s University story, and probably many other stories. 

That we are part of many stories is true of each of us. 

In his book “Sacraments & Sacramentality” (Mystic. Conn., Twenty-Third Publications, Revised Edition, 1997, 241 pp., $14.95), Bernard Cooke, having pointed out that becoming a Christian most fundamentally involves a growth in understanding, stresses that learning to be a Christian through being a Christian is especially important. 

He writes the following: 

“The reason why this knowledge through experience is so central to the understanding of Christianity is that one’s self-identity is involved. 

“If people are to think of themselves as Christian, the experience of existing and acting as Christian must be an integral part of the experience of who they are. Otherwise, Christianity is merely something they know about, just as a non-Christian knows about Christianity but does not identify with it. 

“One only gradually comes to know what it means to be Christian, for the very reason that being Christian is not something apart from and added to our lives. Rather, it is a particular way of being everything else we are; it is being who and what we are in relationship to the risen Christ. 

“So, it is only in the day-after-day sequence of happenings through which we live out this relationship that we discover what it means to be a human who is Christian — to grow and mature as Christian, to suffer and rejoice as a Christian, to live and be concerned and hope as a Christian, to succeed and fail and risk and decide as a Christian” (pp. 152- 153). 

Several years ago I decided that I was going to try to have a eucharistic spirituality. What I meant was I was going to make a special attempt to allow the Eucharist to form my consciousness and my conscience. I think I announced my plan in one of these weekly columns. How successful I have been I will allow God to decide. 

Re-reading Cooke’s book has moved me to renew my efforts. I plan to examine the way I attend Mass and the way I celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday mornings. 

I am writing this particular column on a Saturday afternoon. Most of this morning the homily I hope to give tomorrow has been on my mind. In recent years I have found it helpful to spend a significant amount of time reflecting on what I want to say before putting any part of the homily on paper. Though right now I feel good about the homily, I plan to review some of Cooke’s insights before I finalize what I am going to say in the homily. 

Somewhere in his book Cooke says that from the beginning the Eucharist has been a storytelling event. I am going to approach tomorrow’s homily with the idea that in presenting the homily I will be privileged to tell those gathered for prayer part of the greatest story ever told. 

I believe that, and I hope everyone gathered tomorrow morning for prayer believes that, but somehow I want to believe it more deeply and I want to help those listening to my homily to believe it more deeply. 

It is probably a good idea to terminate this column and to focus my attention on tomorrow’s homily.

Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.