These days there is a lot of talk of the need for change in the Church and how we need to make things more relevant. Of course this is good and true, but I often think that one thing that we also need to do, is to rediscover what we already have. I have always found that when someone has an experience of renewal in their faith, they are astonished at all the treasures they discover already waiting for them. They never noticed them before, but then suddenly they find themselves saying ‘look at all that God has given to us.’ God has already given us everything we need. Above all he has given us the gift of himself in the Eucharist, so that we are never alone. We can receive him every day if we wish in the most intimate way possible. We can receive his body into our body. What could be more intimate than this? It is given to us as a gift, purely to help us; for no other reason. No obligation, just pure gift for our benefit. The only thing that the Lord asks us to do every so often, is to confess our sins, because we are receiving something so sacred. It is not right to receive often if we don’t confess every so often. Saint Paul speaks specifically about this in one letter and he says,
Everyone is to examine himself and only then eat of the bread or drink from the cup; because a person who eats and drinks without recognising the body is eating and drinking his own condemnation. That is why many of you are weak and ill and a good number have died (1 Cor 11:28-30).
I have no doubt that one thing many people will regret when they die, is that they didn’t come to receive the Eucharist more often, because then we will see clearly what it is the Lord has given us in the mass. It is something completely beyond our understanding. I’m sure that when we come before God we will be astonished at what God has given us, what was there to help us.
What would we see on the altar during the mass if God pulled back the veil and allowed us to see the spiritual world? When the priest says the words ‘This is My Body...This is the cup of My Blood’ we would see the crucifixion: God the Son being offered to God the Father. It is not being repeated again, but we become present to it. Time stands still and we are there. This is the single most important event in the history of the world, because it is the moment when the doorway to God was re-opened for us. After the death and resurrection of Jesus we now have the possibility of life with God if we choose it. This is what happens before us in each mass. Our sin is atoned for and the way to heaven is reopened for us. Of course this is all hidden from us. All we can see is a priest wearing strange clothes and reciting various prayers, then holding up a piece of bread and a chalice.
So why doesn’t God allow us to see what is really going on? If He even allowed us once to see this, or if there was a blinding light when we open the tabernacle and take out the Holy Communion, wouldn’t it be so much easier? However, it is all hidden from us and the reason for this is because the Lord wants us to freely choose to believe. If it was clearly put before us, we wouldn’t have to believe any more; we would simply know. But God deliberately keeps it hidden to push us forward in our faith and so that we have the choice to believe this or not.
I heard a lovely story about a wealthy lawyer in New York who had no time at all for religion. And every day when he’d be heading off for work in the morning at about 6.30 he’d pass this old woman who was on her way to mass. And he used to laugh at her in his mind and think how stupid she was wasting her time with all this religious nonsense. Now there was a very steep hill on the way to the church where he would usually pass her. One day in winter there was a lot of ice and he was on his way to work not expecting to see her because of the ice, but then he saw her on her hands and knees going up the hill so that she could get to mass. He was so astonished that this brought about his conversion and he said ‘there must be something in this’. We will never know how we are speaking to the people around us, by the way we live our faith.
At the moment especially, it is easy to become discouraged and to think that we’re wasting our time. Where’s the point anyway in trying to live our faith, what difference does it make, after all, look at the world around us! This is Satan talking, trying to discourage us and make us think that we are wasting our time. Jesus himself has told us that we are not wasting our time and not to be discouraged with the evil of the world around us. He used many stories and parables to remind people of this.
The readings today are telling us not to give up. Look at all the people down through the centuries who had to struggle too. They had faith in the promises God made to them, and they stuck at it. This is what Jesus is saying to us. Don’t give up on me. Don’t be afraid to struggle, even though it is hard. Believe that what I have told you is true. It is worth it and we are on the right track.
‘Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for,
or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen.’