Tag Archives: Eucharist

Saint Irenaeus

Tagbha carol roth

“We are all called to be holy. ‘Each in his or her own way,’” Pope Francis says in his exhortation “ Gaudete et exultate”.  We’re all different; saints are different too.

Today, the church remembers St. Irenaeus,  yesterday we remembered St. Cyril of Alexandria. Two different people, two different saints.. Cyril was a forceful, confrontative bishop of Alexandria; Irenaeus, as his name suggests, was a fair man and a peacemaker.

I learned about Irenaeus many years ago in a course on Gnosticism in Rome under Fr. Antonio Orbe, SJ, an expert on the subject. Gnosticism threatened Christianity in the 2nd century; afterwards most of its writings were destroyed. A large cache of its writings buried in the sands of Egypt had been recently unearthed and Father Orbe was just back after studying them. Until then, the Gnostic teachings  were known mostly through the writings of St. Irenaeus, whom we honor today.,

Fr. Orbe observed that as he compared the gnostic writings to Irenaeus’ reports of them he was struck how accurately and fairly Irenaeus described them,, not distorting anything they said or omitting their ideas. He was fair and respectful.  Irenaeus was fair minded and respectful to friend and foe alike. He was a peace-maker. Cyril of Alexandria was different. He would have left those writings buried in the sands of Egypt.

Irenaeus is not a bad example for today when hot words and smear attacks, distortions and lies dominate so much communication.  Peace makers like him don’t destroy, they heal and unite. That’s why they’re called blessed. He was named the 37th Doctor of the Church by Pope Francis in 2022, who said he was a “Doctor of Church Unity.”

Irenaeus also had a deep respect for creation. Some scholars today insist that the ancient gnostics were broadminded, creative people–rather like themselves–  more progressive than the plodding, conservative people of the “great church”– a term Irenaeus used..

In fact, the gnostics made the world smaller than it is, because they made much of the world evil, only some of it meant anything at all. Forget about the rest of it.

All creation is God’s, Irenaeus wrote. “With God, there is nothing without purpose, nothing without its meaning or reason.” All creation is charged with the glory of God.

Irenaeus saw the Eucharist as a sign of this. Bread and wine represent all creation. God comes to us through these earthly signs. We go to God through them.

“God keeps calling us to what is primary by what is secondary, that is, through things of time to things of eternity, through things of the flesh to things of the spirit, through earthly things to heavenly things.”

We should not demean creation, Ireneaus taught. That’s also the message of Pope Francis in “Laudato si.”

The Bread of Life

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All four gospels say that Jesus fed a great crowd near the Sea of Galilee by multiplying a few loaves of bread and some fish. It’s an important miracle.

John’s account (John 6), read at Mass on weekdays from the Friday of the 2nd week of Easter until Saturday of the 3rd week of Easter, indicates the miracle takes place during the feast of Passover. Like the Passover feast, the miracle and the teaching that follows occur over a number of days.

The Passover feast commemorated the Manna God sent from heaven to sustain the Jews on their journey to the promised land. Jesus claims to be the “true bread,” the “living bread” that comes down from heaven.

Jesus is a commanding presence during the miracle and the days that follow in John’s account. “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” he asks Philip as crowds come to him. He then directs the crowd to sit down, feeds them with the bread and fish, and says what should be done with the fragments left over. Unlike the other gospel accounts that give the disciples a active role in the miracle John’s account gives them a small role. Philip and the other disciples are tested during the miracle and the teaching that follows it.

As they embark on the Sea of Galilee to return to Capernaum after the miracle, a sudden storm occurs and Jesus’ rebukes the wind and the sea, the forces of nature, so that the disciples reach the other shore. All four gospels have some version of Jesus’s power over the sea and therefore the natural world. He has divine power.

The crowds to whom Jesus speaks at Capernaum after the miracle are also tested as well as his disciples. They want to make him king after a plentiful meal and only look for a steady hand out instead of “the true bread come down from heaven.” Their faith is limited and imperfect after the miracle. They miss the meaning of the sign.

The disciples also are tested; some walk with him no more.

The miracle of the loaves and the fish remind us that Jesus is Lord and we are people of limited faith. We only see so far. The Risen Lord leads us to the other shore. He is the Bread of Life. “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life,” Peter says to Jesus at the end of John’s account. And so do we.

Friday Thoughts: Being qua Being


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Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.

—Matthew 6:28


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Does a flower make pronouncements? Does it define itself? Does it box itself in with titles, names, and distinctions?

And yet, “not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:29)

———

A flower simply exists.

And its existence glorifies God.

There is no need for it to do more.

By its very existence it magnifies what cannot be further magnified: God’s Presence, God’s Glory, God’s Beauty…

———

“I’m a flower.”

“I’m a rose.”

“Look at me!”

Statements such as these we shall never hear.

Flowers are divinely indifferent to the world’s definitions and distinctions, to its approval and applause.

After all, it’s a person who receives the medal at an orchid show, and not the flower herself. No, her finely-placed petals would only be weighed down by such metallic-based ribbons.

What a gift it is to simply exist.

———

Flowers don’t cling to seasonal life.

When it’s time to go, they gracefully drop their heads and lose their pedals.

Never has there existed a man as poor as a flower.

Never has mankind so possessed the richness of fleeting, transitory, and momentary life.

It’s their genius to instinctively believe that death leads to new abundant life.

———

Flowers graciously receive:

Ladybugs, drops of dew. Beams of light, the relief of shade.

Flowers give and receive as if not a single thing has ever been made by man.

They welcome sun as well as rain.

They never cry over fallen fruit or a stolen piece of pollen.

They quietly applaud instead, rejoicing that their little ones have the opportunity to travel abroad—perhaps even the chance to help nurture a neighbor.

———

A flower, perhaps most of all, knows it place.

It never wishes to be bigger or thinner…greener or higher…it never dreams of being more like a tree.

A flower’s blessing is simplicity beyond you and me.

———

Christ is a flower.

He is the one true perfect eternal flower, through whom all other flowers partake, toward whom all other flowers reach.

Christ is a flower. His ways are not our own. He simply exists. Bowing His head. Dropping pedals. Feeding hungry bees. Giving and receiving. His identity is crucified—leaving nothing behind but being “qua” being.


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If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

—Matthew 6:30


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—Howard Hain
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(Dedicated to Brother Jim, a man who knew how to simply exist.)

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The Greatest Gift

Lord Jesus,
once in the wilderness
your people ate heavenly manna
and they were filled.
And once in a desert place
you fed the hungry 
with blessed bread.

A simple thing, we say,
costing our mighty God
little effort.

But what if bread is
a body offered for all,
and a cup of wine
your own life-blood
given to those who hardly care?

A costly thing, we say,
Is there anything more
God could have done?
Anything more
Love could do
than lay down his life 
for his friends?

From Lent-Easter Meditations and Prayers 
by Fr. Victor Hoagland, C.P.

Another Point of View

Close-up view of wheat. Licensed by Bluemoose under CC BY-SA 3.0.

15th Week in Ordinary Time, Friday (Year II)

Matthew 12:1-8

Jesus was going through a field of grain on the sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, your disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the sabbath.”

If the wheat plants in this story could speak, they might shake their heads in wonder and ask, “Who is picking on who?”

As Jesus and his disciples were picking their heads of grain, a bunch of busybody Pharisees with wandering eyes began to pick on the pickers. 

A strange scenario! The wheat, for their part, joyfully welcomed the Lord of the sabbath to pick their heads and eat them. That is what they were made for. Never was a greater “honor” bestowed on wheat than to nourish their own Maker, though honor was not in their vocabulary. 

The whole field pricked up their wheat ears as Jesus explained: “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry, how he went into the house of God and ate the bread of offering, which neither he nor his companions but only the priests could lawfully eat?”

Silent applause. A glorious day in the history of wheat was being recounted, when the youthful David, the great champion over Goliath and future king of Israel, nourished himself and his companions with the holy bread at the hands of the noble priest Ahimelech (I Samuel 21:1-6). 

“Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests serving in the temple violate the sabbath and are innocent?”

Deep silence. How were the Pharisees going to respond to that obvious incongruity in their charge against Jesus? If picking grain on the Sabbath was unlawful, why not the more laborious work of temple sacrifice and ritual?

All of this sounded like nonsense to the wheat, for whom nature was simple and straightforward. When a creature was hungry, it ate. When thirsty, it drank. Every day belonged to the Lord of creation; simply to exist was to give him praise. The rules and regulations of humankind were simply baffling, and not a little unnatural (in the humble opinion of the wheat). 

“I say to you, something greater than the temple is here. If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men. For the Son of Man is Lord of the sabbath.”

Thunderous silent applause from the acres of wheat surrounding the conversation. Mercy! What a novel idea! Didn’t the humans realize that to be was to be merciful? To live was to love? The wheat knew this and gave thanks continually for the sun and soil, water and air, and the diligent hands of the farmer who nurtured them day after day. The simplest things eluded the most intellectual of creatures. 

As Jesus and his disciples departed, the Spirit of the Lord whispered to the wheat, “Today you have nourished your Maker and become his Body and Blood. In days to come you will work with me to divinize his brothers and sisters by feeding them his Body and Blood.”

The wheat entered into a silent alliance with the Spirit but did not consider it an honor. Their obedience was wholly spontaneous and unself-conscious.

-GMC

Related post: The Law Incarnate

Bread from Heaven

The dark green around the Lake of Galilee you see in the upper part of this Google satellite picture of Palestine says there’s good farmland there now; it was good farmland at the time of Jesus.

Herod the Great and his son Herod Antipas,  Galilee’s rulers then, appreciated the prospects  then and they created a network of roads and large cities – Tiberius, Sepphoris and Caesarea Maritima on the sea– to export goods from Galilee to the rest of the world. Could this information help us appreciate the miracle of Jesus, feeding the crowd bread and some fish?

“I am the bread of life”,  Jesus says in today’s gospel from John. I’m the source of your blessings and everything that is. God the creator works through me.  Moses asked for bread for his people journeying from Egypt.  Jesus says: “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus makes a divine claim in this miraculous sign, feeding a multitude. The crowd  wants to make him king, (John 6, 15) but the kingship they see doesn’t approach the kingship that’s his. It’s much too small. Jesus rejects their plan.

In a wonderful commentary on Jesus as the bread of life, the early theologian Origen says that Jesus calls himself bread because he is “nourishment of every kind,” not just nourishment of our bodies. He nourishes our minds and our souls; he brings life to creation itself.  When we ask “Give us this day our daily bread,” we’re asking for everything that nourishes our “true humanity, made in the image of God.”

Jesus is the bread that helps us “grow in the likeness of our creator.” (On Prayer 27,2) Sometimes– in fact most of the time–we don’t know the nourishment we or our world needs, but God does. “The true bread come down from heaven”  knows how to feed us.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

Bread from Heaven

Jordan satellite
The dark green around the Lake of Galilee you see in the upper part of this Google satellite picture of Palestine says there’s good farmland there now; it was good farmland at the time of Jesus.

Herod the Great and his son Herod Antipas,  Galilee’s rulers then, appreciated the prospects  then and they created a network of roads and large cities – Tiberius, Sepphoris and Caesarea Maritima on the sea– to export goods from Galilee to the rest of the world. Could this information help us appreciate the miracle of Jesus, feeding the crowd bread and some fish?

“I am the bread of life”,  Jesus says in today’s gospel from John. I’m the source of your blessings and everything that is. God the creator works through me.  Moses asked for bread for his people journeying from Egypt.  Jesus says: “I am the bread of life.”

Jesus makes a divine claim in this miraculous sign, feeding a multitude. The crowd  wants to make him king, (John 6, 15) but the kingship they see doesn’t approach the kingship that’s his. It’s much too small. Jesus rejects their plan.

In a wonderful commentary on Jesus as the bread of life, the early theologian Origen says that Jesus calls himself bread because he is “nourishment of every kind,” not just nourishment of our bodies. He nourishes our minds and our souls; he brings life to creation itself.  When we ask “Give us this day our daily bread,” we’re asking for everything that nourishes our “true humanity, made in the image of God.”

Jesus is the bread that helps us “grow in the likeness of our creator.” (On Prayer 27,2) Sometimes– in fact most of the time–we don’t know the nourishment we or our world needs, but God does. “The true bread come down from heaven”  knows how to feed us.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”

“Wait for One Another”

In today’s reading at Mass from 1 Corinthians ( 11, 17-26.33) we have the earliest written account of the institution of the Last Supper in the New Testament:
“For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, “This is my Body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
“This cup is the new covenant in my Blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”

The simple account stresses that Jesus, taking bread and wine, gave himself, Body and Blood, “for you.” He gave himself for all. When we do this “in remembrance of me” we are called to be like him, to give ourselves for all.

Paul warns the Corinthians that by what he hears of their divisions and factions they’re failing to do what the Lord commands. Instead of imitating what Jesus d, they’re driving others away in their celebrations and thus bringing judgment on themselves.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters,
when you come together to eat, wait for one another.

A beautiful phrase Paul uses, “wait for one another.” A phrase that comes from the family meal in Paul’s time, when someone might miss the meal if the family did not wait for them. “We have to wait for them.”

So we wait for the grace Jesus offers at the Eucharist, to see all at the table of the Lord, loved by God who loves all.

“Dissolved in Flames?”

In the coming “day of God…the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.” (2 Peter 3, 12-15) That’s a strong picture of the last days in the 2nd Letter of Peter we read today at Mass. Commentators say it’s the only place in the New Testament that predicts the world ending in fire.

Some years ago, after the Newshour in the evening, I would sometimes turn to the next channel on television to watch Harold Camping, a crusty old evangelist who was predicting the world ending in fire. The world was going to be burnt to a crisp and unless you explicitly professed faith in Jesus Christ you were going to go up in flames too.

Harold even figured out when it was going to happen, 6 PM, May 21, 2011. and if you wrote in he would send you his calculations. People called in with questions, some humorous. “Should I pay my income tax this year?” Some were sad. “My little boy can’t speak yet and profess his belief in Jesus. What about him?” Harold skirted that question.

May 21 came and nothing happened. I thought I was the only one listening to Harold until I noticed advertisements in the buses weeks before for “D Day May 21.” The day after May 21 I mentioned it to some people and one of them said she called her daughter who was driving over the Brooklyn Bridge that day to get off the bridge as soon as she could.

Harold said on a later broadcast he was recalculating the date, but some time later he died.

Harold isn’t the only one predicting an end for our planet. One of our greatest scientists, Stephen Hawkins, said before he died that we should start a colony in outer space soon because the earth is headed for destruction.

There’s a lot of pessimism in our world today. There was pessimism when the 2nd Letter of Peter was written. The apostles Peter and Paul had been viciously put to death. The City of Rome was almost completely destroyed by fire in the 60s. Jerusalem and the Jewish temple were destroyed by fire in the 70s. Christians were being persecuted and killed. I’m sure a lot of them were saying “This is the end.”

In times of pessimism we need to reaffirm God’s love for humanity and creation itself. That’s why Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si is so important. Care for the earth and respect it, he says. God made our world out of love and promises to renew it.

Care for creation in practical ways, the pope says, but keep creation in mind in our prayers, especially the prayer of the Eucharist.

“In the Eucharist all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation.” Jesus became human; he was made flesh and his humanity comes from the earth. In the Eucharist, he takes bread and wine, which come from the earth, to give life to the world. Through “a fragment of matter” he communes with us.

“ Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world”.[166]

“Creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself”.[LS 167]

God won’t destroy creation. He loves it and finds it good.