Sunday, August 16, 2009

Bread of Life Discourse IV: It's Personal

Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio
from the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

(20th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B; See John 6:51-58)

Our first reading for this weekend is a beautiful and poetic excerpt from the Book of Proverbs which speaks rather eloquently to us about wisdom. The intriguing figure of Lady Wisdom is the very personification of the way of life God calls us to. Quite literally, Lady Wisdom beckons us:

Let whoever is simple turn in here…Come, eat of my food and drink of the wine I have mixed!
—Proverbs 9:5

This invitation to share a meal with Lady Wisdom reveals to us that the ways of God and the path He wishes us to follow are not merely informational. The wisdom of God is, instead, relational. It is personal. God does not give us an instruction manual or a series of checkpoints to guide us through life. He invites us into a personal relationship in which we grow in virtue, knowledge and holiness because the God who calls us is Himself filled with all of these things, and more.

You may have seen the movie The Matrix. The characters in that science fiction film are connected to a massive computer program—the matrix—that allows them to exist not only in this world but also in a parallel, virtual world in which almost anything is possible. When they want to learn a new skill in the matrix, a computer file is uploaded to their memory and they suddenly possess that skill. One of the main characters, Trinity, finds herself in danger and the only means of escape is a helicopter which she has no idea how to fly! In an instant she is able to upload the software and takes off into the air like a woman who has been flying helicopters all of her life.

That is not the way God instructs us in wisdom! We do not grow in understanding or in knowledge of the ways of God like Trinity, in a single moment; wisdom is not like computer software. We grow in wisdom through a personal relationship with The Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We spend time with Him, grow in intimacy with Him, learn from Him and share in the very life He offers. That is what Christ is calling us to do in the Gospel this weekend.

Much like that invitation we heard earlier, where Lady Wisdom instructs us to eat of the food and wine prepared for us, Christ invites us to eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:51-58), a clear and unmistakable reference to that gift of Himself to us in the Holy Eucharist.

But like wisdom, the Eucharist is not simply a moment which we experience at Mass each week. It is a personal encounter with the Savior who offers His body and blood on the cross to redeem us; the Eucharist is the second person of the Blessed Trinity who calls us into a personal relationship with God.

When we come to Mass do we recognize and acknowledge that?

In her book The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa of Avila is instructing her sisters in prayer and she teaches them how to avoid obstacles which keep them from recognizing the personal relationship which is at the center of the Christian life. She says that, in prayer, they should not merely try to picture Jesus and imagine what He would look like in a given situation or scene. No, instead she says they should also look at Him (see The Way of Perfection, Chapter 26, #3). She reminds them how Christ never takes His eyes off them! When they pray, they should look right back! They should look at the One who is already looking at them and allow that intimate and personal connection to grow even deeper.

In the Eucharist we do well to do the same. When we look at the tabernacle we are looking at Him. When the priest raises the Host at Mass and proclaims, “This is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” we are looking at Him. When the body of Christ is offered to us at communion each week we are looking at Him.

What is the best way to prepare for such a personal encounter? What is the best way to savor such an experience even long after the Mass is over? I would suggest we take the counsel of St. Teresa of Avila and spend as much time as possible—before, during and after the Eucharistic sacrifice—watching in prayer and looking at Christ who never takes His eyes off us.