Thursday, September 22, 2011

Hidden Manna

When I visited with Julia earlier this year, we talked about everything, but especially about faith, and she and her husband took me to Mass with them. I was awed by the beauty of the Catholic Easter, but still a country mile off in understanding. Just before I left for New Zealand, I said, sadly, "I can't be a Catholic: I can't understand the Real Presence." (I meant, of course, I can't believe the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist - because who could ever understand it?)

Then, in June, I stumbled across the "Called to Communion" website, and read the three big articles, "Ecclesial Deism", "The Canon Question" and "The Visible Church." They blew my Reformed Protestantism out of the water. Simple obedience and love of Jesus required I draw near Him in His way, not mine. I had well and truly removed any possible plea of invincible ignorance, as a defence against joining His Church. I emailed Julia, saying, "I think I have to become a Catholic. I can't believe I just typed that."

So I started limping off to daily Mass, feeling shell-shocked and mortified, wondering if I'd ever feel whole again, or if I'd just be walking wounded for the rest of my life. I believed, as hard as ever I believed anything, that I had to be there each morning, that the Mass is the prayer of Christ's people, but secretly I doubted that I'd ever be given the gift of faith in the mystery. I feared I'd always be kneeling at the back, hiding from direct view of the altar behind someone else, in case God saw me there, a bacillus on the Petri dish, desperately afraid of the penicillin.

For this I had paid with the loss of a close and fervent church community, one friendship completely lost, another permanently bent, a son alienated and slightly disgusted, a daughter saddened and confused, and, oh, yes, after the Reformed Church discipline process is complete, I will be officially excommunicated and the church members will be obliged to treat me as a "publican and a sinner." I can't deny that it has seemed hard.

Well, in case you didn't know this, the Lord is merciful. Stumbling in the dark, I came across my next hand-hold.

On his surpassingly excellent apologetics blog, "Shameless Popery", Joe Heschmeyer recommended a book, "The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist," by Rev. James T. O'Connor. I ordered it, and accidentally had it sent by fast post. (Cost of book, $12; postage, $30: this is the price we pay for living in Narnia/Middle Earth.)

This book has been a well of wonder, as it shows the Fathers from the earliest times paying homage to the daily miracle in terms of Eucharistic realism.

I had come from a Memorial Supper tradition, where the elements, ineffective and earthbound in themselves, serve to remind us of our God-given faith. I had advanced so far as to regard the Eucharist as a miracle on a level with the Incarnation.

"Why," I thought to myself, with the lofty insights of Epistemology 101 and Metaphysics 102, "just as God's naming of Christ as the Logos is His pre-emptive refutation of Wittgenstein and the Logical Positivists, establishing ultimate meaning at the heart of the universe, so the Incarnation is God's pre-emptive refutation of the English Empiricists, with their doubt that the supernatural can ever impinge on the natural. And the Eucharist is God's (almost humorous) repetition of the feat, as He enters His world, over and over again, in rooms great and small. Why didn't I ever think of that before?"

But this book teaches me that the Eucharist is even more: it is the prime miracle; it is the reason the Incarnation happened - to enable this even greater thing, a running tap of grace, which is made available to ordinary men and women, every day. Even I, non-partaker that I remain for now, am blessed by it. Even those who don't know that they are blessed by it, like my brothers and sisters at Reformed, cannot remain untouched.

About a Protestant Lord's Supper, Fr. O'Connor has this to say: "Such celebrations are certainly opportunities and occasions for receiving divine grace, even though they are not the efficient and effective causes of such grace as is the case when a valid sacrament is celebrated. Although the Catholic Church believes that the Lord is not corporally present in such celebrations, he is surely spiritually present and prepared to bestow on those who participate worthily and with faith a share in the immeasurable abundance of blessings that his Passion and Resurrection won for the human race. In their own way - comparable to a para-liturgical action within the Catholic Church - such celebrations may even be said to participate in the efficacy of the Eucharistic Mystery and are surely a means that mysteriously and gently orients the participant toward full union with the Catholic Church and the Sacrament that creates the Church and that she daily celebrates." pp164-165.

So here, as in so much else, those of us who are still afar off look up to see that the grace available through the Protestant churches is a gift of the true Eucharist.

Well. My world is well-lost for this.

[I just got a phone call from my RCIA leader. I will be received into the Church on Oct 15. Padre Pio, pray for me.]


JMB said...

Have you heard any of Scott Hahn's lectures on the "Fourth Cup"? These talks increased my weak intellectual understanding of the Eucharist.

Emily J. said...

This is beautiful, Otepoti. In a way, I envy your position of doing something radical for faith. I have been thinking lately about being less comfortable for Christ, giving more, wanting less...and then today the readings were about how the prostitutes have a better chance of getting to Heaven than the disciples, the people who feel comfortable that they are doing the right thing. After Mass I dropped my two oldest off at a youth Eucharistic Congress. When I picked them up and asked what they remembered from the talks, my 13 year old mentioned that in the talk on "Why be Catholic," the moderator had mentioned that "Do this is memory of me" is a command, not a request. Not quite as subtle as what you're reading, it sounds like, but I"m glad he's getting that message.

Otepoti said...

JMB, thanks. I will look these up. Scott Hahn's "Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant" lecture has already been very helpful to me, too.

Hi, Emily! did you take a post down recently? There was one here, and then there wasn't. And thank you. However, it's less a radical change I'm making, than a very last chance I've been given. "If today, you hear His voice, do not harden your heart".

If I look back honestly, I see that I've ignored that call, more than once (but that's another story.) So if it's a little harder to answer it now, it's nobody's fault but my own.

The chapel I go to for daily Mass frequently hosts school Masses, and I am gladdened and amused by how the Mass is as patent to children as it is deep to theologians. Only the Lord God could have thought of it.

Best to the family -


Emily J. said...

O - I did take a post down because I didn't see yours until I had posted. Mine was just rambling about recent reads, so yours was much more interesting. I'll edit it and put it back up in a day or two because I finished the book I was half-way through at the time - The Book Thief, five stars!

We had a priest at our old parish that gave better homilies to the kids at the school masses because he got right to the point instead of trying to be funny. Maybe he thought kids could take the truth without sugar coating better than grown ups.

While unpacking books, I came across Hans Urs von Balthasar's Does Jesus Know Us? Do We Know Him? It's a little book. I was flipping through it to remember why I liked it, and was again confronted with "it may be that a persecuted, suffering Church has deeper insights into the concealed brilliance of the Resurrection than one which lives in ease and comfort, sharing less in the cross. in any case the Christian's joy in the Resurrection will be restrained, always aware of the sufferings of the other members of Christ and of humanity as a whole."

And on the Eucharist: "The Eucharist which is 'flesh given' and 'blood poured' points directly to teh Cross. Hence it has a dimension of judgment, because 'judgment begins' (Jn 12:31) at the Cross. This is why anyone who 'eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself' and is guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.'(1 Cor 11:27ff)." Lots of good things to read.

Melanie B said...

This is just lovely, Otepoti. I especially love the insight that the Eucharist is the prime miracle, the reason that the Incarnation happened. Once I remember my husband reflecting that he wonders if the reason God made us to eat and drink wasn't so that we would be able to receive the Eucharist. That puts it all into a slightly different perspective, doesn't it.

Thank you so very much for sharing your journey with us. Oct 15... that is wonderfully soon. I'll be remembering you in my prayers on the day and well every day till then too. Oh and it is the feast of Teresa of Avila, one of my favorites! I knew the date sounded familiar.

mrsdarwin said...

Wow, October 15! You're very close now.

This is such an amazing reflection. I worry (no, I know) that I take the Eucharist for granted, as I'm often distracted during Mass by the minutiae of making sure my kids behave. ("Eleanor, get your bottom off the pew! Shh! It's the consecration! Finger out of the nose!")

However, it's less a radical change I'm making, than a very last chance I've been given. "If today, you hear His voice, do not harden your heart".

I pray these words every morning in Morning Prayer, but I never thought of them as a "last chance" warning. Powerful, and sobering, stuff.

Otepoti said...

Thanks for your prayers, everyone.

I'm so grateful that I don't have to wait all the way till Easter. It has been a long winter, here in the far south.

The first Mass I attended after June 3, the priest announced that it was the Octave of Christian Unity, and my jaw dropped a bit. The day after the discipline process started at my former church, the Gospel was "I come not to bring peace, but a sword." Now, the arrangement of bare willow branches I left sitting in water in Augst has begun to put out soft ribbons of leaf.

There are signs and wonders everywhere, and if it would be arrogant to think they were all for me, they must be no less for me than for anyone else, surely?