The Real Presence and the Present Moment

therese relic

If you have time for one article today, read this instead.

In front of the tabernacle (what a blessing!) today:

I’ve been told time and time again that a way to improve in sanctity hidden in plain sight is to do the small things of life with great love. St Thérèse, whose feast it is today, was the first to communicate this to me as such; I recall reading the first half of Story of a Soul those first few months of becoming Catholic that I spent largely in bookstores. Though I don’t think I understood it at all. “It seems a bit remote. Where’s my broom to quietly sweep the convent with? What’s my convent?” I asked, and not stopping to ponder the obvious answers to my questions, I moved on – though thankfully St Therese didn’t move on from me. Since then, other saints added their little nudges of grace. St Benedict’s Holy Rule did seem to complement St Therese’s Little Way quite well. I had an attraction to both, but in my present circumstances where was my monastery? I read some time last year Father Willie Doyle’s saying, “Do everything for His sweet love alone.” It was posted again on the website dedicated to him, in context:

Don’t dwell on what you have not done, for I think that want of confidence in His willingness to forgive our shortcomings pains Him very much, but rather lift up your heart and think what you are going to do for Him now. You know the secret of making a short life very long in His eyes, and a life of few opportunities crammed full of precious things. Do everything for His sweet love alone.

And of course there is always Our Lady, who says “Ecce, fiat, magnificat.” Perhaps it was the graces of the preparation for consecration (almost there!) but all of these things started to make sense, practically, in my thick skull. It took me long enough – years – to realise at least partially what this little way might entail. If what I want is the perfection of my actions, doing them well will become part of it, but since I am seeking the perfection of love, it is enough, as a beginning, to simply make an act of love and offering before every action. Prayer precedes action and makes it fruitful. There are so many things I do each day: sleeping, waking, getting ready for the day, walking up and down stairs, eating, my daily work, my daily prayer, my conversations, my breaks. They are all there available to be offered. Would it not be helpful for me to offer them all, each discrete action, to keep up a continuous chorus of offerings, small as they might be, in imitation of the angels who live for the continuous praise of God? Those moments are all I have; they are my life, strung together. Why not make them into all love? Wouldn’t that be delightful?

Another term came to my attention, “the sacrament of the present moment”, in a chapter talk on the Rule of St Benedict (I now find that it is the title of a book I have not yet read). The impression I got was that the Will of God is, for us, accessible in our now, in our present. There is no point worrying about the future or dwelling on failures of the past. We are called to love God in our present, whatever that present might be.

Hands full with all these fresh gatherings from the garden of Catholic spirituality, I was in front of the tabernacle. If God’s Will is present in our now, and if the face is an equivalent term for presence, then we can say that in our daily offerings of moments our object of love and the aspect (aha! aspice.) of God which we are closest to is the Face of God, which is in fact the Human Face of Christ. This little way of St Thérèse, which had been making quiet little nudges at me, now seems to be a profound meditation on the Incarnation.

But it goes further (so I gaze at the tabernacle door). The present moment may reveal, in its multifarious ways, the Face of Christ. But isn’t the Eucharist the sacrament of the Face of Christ par excellence – since it is Christ Himself? Don’t we talk about the Blessed Sacrament in terms of the Real Presence? Isn’t there some intrinsic connection, then, between all three: a devotion to loving God in every little act of the present moment, the Holy Face of Christ, and the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament? Why, of course! The Real Presence in the tabernacle may be confined locally, spatially, to the appearances of bread. (I…hopefully expressed that correctly.) But this sacrament is also, in some mysterious way, present to anyone, anywhere, who desires it and calls upon the Name of Christ, just as within it are present, folding up space and time, all of the mysteries of Christ’s life and Passion. So in the end, the Little Way is Eucharistic. My broom, my convent, my monastery, they are found in my waking, my working, my walking, my thinking; and what ought to be at the centre of this little monastery? Why, the Blessed Sacrament, of course. And in living life according to the Rule of the Host, always under the gaze of the Eucharistic Face of Christ, perhaps I can become, in time, a little Host, a little sacrifice. St Thérèse, pray for us!

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Rosary thoughts

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The Annunciation. Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word. Every moment is an opportunity to say it – and relive this mystery in my present circumstances – again and again, and so to be taken deep into the heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The Presentation. How can it be that the Mother of my Lord should come to me? I take my heart and imagine leaving it shut in the tabernacle of the local church, right next to those consecrated hosts. That’s Jesus’ home, where He dwells with Mary. By leaving my heart all the way over there, inches from the Sacred Heart (how are we not annihilated in the intensity of its flame?), perhaps my heart can become a home for Jesus and Mary to dwell in.

The Nativity. And they came with haste: and they found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. Well, I’ll leave my heart where it was before. Since I’m so close it’s no great leap of the imagination to gaze at those consecrated Hosts in the ciborium. The Virgin Mary was the first adorer of the Face of Christ. By adoring the Eucharistic Face I can join in! What else is there to do? Heaven is here; I only have to look.

The Presentation. And after the days of her purification, according to the law of Moses, were accomplished, they carried him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord. With a start I realise that dwelling there next to Jesus in the tabernacle I am on an altar, that is, an altar of sacrifice. Well, then, sacrifice must be made; and what do I have to offer? Myself, certainly – though I am not much. But close at hand are the Hosts. I can offer those. I offer them. It’s more than I can fathom, an unspeakable mystery.

The Finding of Jesus in the Temple. And seeing him, they wondered. And his mother said to him: Son, why hast thou done so to us? Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. Again, now that my heart is, in my mind, placed there next to the Eucharistic Jesus, locked inside the nearby church tabernacle, I realise it is an ideal place to think on the mysteries of the Rosary. And seeing him, they wondered. The seeking is met instantaneously with finding. Here He is.

So much of the sorrow in my life came from not seeking Jesus. With Him now there is only peace. God willing, I’ve still plenty of life left to live, and suffering and desolation will come in due course. But there’s no point worrying about that ahead of time. Right now I can only give thanks, and keep my heart where I left it. It’s a little scary – I mean, it is on an altar. If you linger around those you’re liable to get sacrificed the next time a priest walks up. Then again, doesn’t that happen at Mass?

What else is there to do but become a saint?

And how else to become a saint but through the Blessed Sacrament?

Our salvation is our union with Christ in the bosom of the Father. Christ become Sacrament is not the less Christ for His being Sacrament. So our unity with the Blessed Sacrament is, in every way, our salvation.

This Sacrament is the path, the means, the end. Down this path is a most sweet beckoning towards the victimhood of the Host.

Little Nennolina of Rome, Venerable Antonietta Meo, wrote this at six years of age not long before her death:

“Dear Jesus, I want to be always always on Calvary beneath Your cross and also want to be Your lamp that burns day and night before the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.”

She was a lamp indeed – and more than a lamp, for she became a little host, a little sacrament, united with Christ and His victimhood in the bosom of the Father.

Venerable Nennolina, pray for us!

The Lord

I say, “stay with me.” The Lord says, “then stay with Me.”

Ite, missa est. Deo gratias. Linger a little longer as a living tabernacle while the lights are going out and everyone is leaving. This is a gift for you. Look how quickly you enter a desert of silence. Stay silent while Jesus, dissolving within you, brings you into the mysterious communion of the Holy Trinity. Stay here and keep watch.

What about another moment? A few have gone by, now, already a few minutes of moments strung together like rosary beads. Another minute with Jesus. You want to stoke a flame of adoration? Remain longer by the fire. This is what you were born to do: adore. All this sadness for your sins, for others’ sins, for offenses against Jesus – here is where to repair the broken bonds, all of them. The flame will weld you to Jesus. Stay, and console the Lord. Stay, and give thanks. Adore.

Praying well

Fra Angelico, Saint Dominic adoring the Crucifixion. Convento di San Marco, Florence

Before I was Catholic I always wondered how to really pray well. I’d see the spiritual seem to enter into the presence of God and I’d wish I could get that close. I’d close my eyes and raise my hands in a praise song and try to lift my heart up to God. Perhaps I did to an extent. I will mention, also, that I found praying the Scriptures to be the best way back then. It was hard to go wrong with that. It still is! But there was a place deep inside that still thirsted. For me, it was very hard to be still with God. Errant thoughts would come and I thought I’d messed up in some obscure fashion. I had some good models but no saints beyond the first century to follow. Perseverance didn’t come easily when the object of my prayer was not definite.

Then I found Catholicism, and I was returned to sanctifying grace. Initially a highly intellectual journey, my heart gradually found anchors, and one night – all night, really – I found myself in front of the exposed Host in a golden sunburst monstrance, looking at the Sun to Whom my life belonged.

I couldn’t stop looking. “My Lord and my God!” ran through my mind repeatedly. At other points I meditated on all my life until now leading to this moment, or on mysteries of the Rosary. However, what gave me great peace was that I didn’t have to specifically think thoughts so much as fix my eyes on Jesus. I’d found the secret, to me at least, of praying well. I forced my eyes to stay open as the night wore on, because I could not possibly be doing anything better with my life right then than to adore, adore, adore. And thanks be to God, it was far simpler than I had ever feared.

As I continue down the pilgrimage of Catholic life, I’ve come to understand a little bit more about other kinds of prayer. But for me, what I love best is that simple gazing with Christ Himself as the object. And I know that Christ Himself is gazing back.

The Beatific Vision consists of beholding the Face of God unveiled. Adoration is a foretaste. With St. Ambrose, I pray and give thanks:

Face to face,
Thou hast made thyself known to me, O Christ;
I have found thee in thy mysteries.

Night adoration

Here’s a little corner of my room. At night, the construction next door quiets. So does my mind. It’s easy to spend that time before sleep on the introspection and worry that accompany the silence – or on distracting myself from that prospect – but I’d had enough of that. Why not turn my mind outwards towards the King of Love? So I knelt before this little shrine, leaving no light on but the electric candles lighting the Holy Face of Manoppello along with faces from my current roster of heavenly friends and the Pope. And keeping that mysterious gaze from the Holy Face in mind, I transported myself to the chapel where I first encountered Jesus at great length: a humble “chapel of reservation” with glass for walls, a twenty-four hour access code, a back facing the murmuring midnight traffic of a sprawling town, a smattering of chairs, one kneeler, and the only thing that mattered, the One Thing Necessary, Christ hidden in the tabernacle. I prostrated myself before Him as if I were there in person. It was like coming home.

Or, in a sense, it was like getting to work. Leaving myself open for Christ to work in me. Joining Christ as He commenced His great work, the Passion, in the dark garden, and perhaps offering Him some little consolation. Joining others, like Fr. Macrae, when they offer Mass or awaken in the night to flee to Christ’s arms. Working, somehow, for those who left Christ in their despair or who never found Him in the first place, who now lie awake without peace. For these Christ held vigil and died. But for Christ’s mercy I would be there myself, again.

And when my life didn’t turn out how I thought it would, I felt here the impulse to dredge up my list of failures lessen. For in the invisible radiance of His Face I found Him upon Whom my life turns.

Mary, the ideal of the communicant

This tabernacle sits in a side chapel of St. Sulpice in Paris. Here, St. John gives Holy Communion to the Blessed Mother. Think of all that’s going on here. The young priest whom Jesus loved is given God’s mother to be his own at the foot of the Cross, and now he gives Jesus back to her. The sorrowing mother who had received Jesus on behalf of the entire world at the Annunciation in a little embryo and seen Him taken up to Heaven receives Him again in the guise of bread – and still for the salvation of the world. The hands that give her Jesus are Jesus’ own through the priesthood of St. John. The connection between Annunciation and Holy Communion is not lost on us, much less on her. She repeatedly gives her Fiat over and over again. She becomes again and again the perfect tabernacle of God.

And though she has passed through her great trial of suffering at Calvary, it is in union with the Eucharist that she suffers afresh for love of her Son. Whenever her Son in the Blessed Sacrament is desecrated or abandoned, she feels the pain of seeing her Son crucified, and her communion becomes a reparation of love.

So we can ask Mary to help us, and to acquire her spirit of total submission and reparation when we take Holy Communion. For my part, when I go up to receive, it’s still difficult to get my mind around it all, and being in a state of grace does not remove the sense of unworthiness. All I can really do is entrust the communion to the Blessed Mother, give my thanks, and then stop worrying, because she knows best how to receive Him.

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Christ the Holy Innocent

Our Lady of Walsingham in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs, Westminster Cathedral, London.

In different Eucharistic miracles Christ has shown different aspects of his Paschal Mystery to us. Some that I first found strange were of the Child Jesus. I read of them in the book “The Eucharistic Miracles of the World”, published in 2009. At Skete in the Egyptian desert a priest bent to break the Host, and in place of the Host a Child appeared there, who was then pierced by the sword of an angel. His blood ran into the chalice and pieces were cut from Him by the sword when the priest broke the Bread. At Douai in France a Host dropped at the distribution of Communion. A priest bent to pick up the Eucharist but it flew up, landed on the purificator, and changed into a Child. When the Bishop came to see, he then saw on the same Host the Face of Christ crowned with thorns and bleeding. At Veroli, Italy, during a Forty Hours’ devotion the Child Jesus appeared in the Host and granted blessings. At Eten in Peru, during solemn exposition, the face of a Child appeared, radiant, in the Host. In Moncada, Spain, a little girl – St. Ines de Moncada – saw a priest lifting the Host after the consecration and saw him cradling a Child in his hands. In Saragossa, Spain, a woman hid the Eucharist in a box to use for a potion, and when she opened it she saw an Infant. She burned the box with the Child inside, but the Child was unscathed.

What does it all mean?

We are taught in Hebrews that the first act of Christ when he was incarnated into the world was to consecrate His will to the Father in total obedience: “Behold, I come to do Thy will, O God.” In fact we are taught that the very act of obedience in humbling himself to become man was sufficient for the salvation of the world. The Word became flesh (we kneel) and the victory is won.

So too with the blood of Christ shed at his Circumcision, which was enough to merit our Heavenly reward. Also with the offering of Christ in the Presentation, where Christ became in the Temple a greater offering than all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant put together and sufficient to save Israel and all nations in every time.

Now we know that these were sufficient and infinitely meritorious and superabundantly worthy. Each individual act of Christ in His earthly life – every obedience to His parents, for example – done as it was in perfect accord with the will of the Father, could also be said to have the same infinite value. Every prayer He offered up to God would have secured us salvation. Every time the Holy Ghost descends upon an altar and incarnates Christ at Mass, this, too, is enough to save us all. One Mass can save the entire world.

Christ once suffered a narrow escape from death as a child. The Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, murdered in Herod’s diabolical plan to assassinate the Christ, were the infant-martyrs of Christ, foreshadowed by the killing of the firstborn in Egypt, themselves foreshadowing the violent death of their little King, and today prefiguring the horror of abortion. Had St. Joseph not been obedient to God’s warning to flee to Egypt, Jesus could have been murdered with them. He would have been one killed among many, victim of the base and power-hungry, dying by the side of His Blessed Mother, His Sacred Heart speared, His Body anointed with the myrrh brought just recently by the Magi, His swaddling cloths used for burial cloths, His cross a cradle.

It would have been our iniquities that pierced His tiny Heart. It would have been His infant sacrifice that won us Heaven. It would have been enough to save us all.

God planned it differently, of course. But Christ’s whole life forms one perfect act of obedience and oblation and one Passion. So the infant Jesus is truly sacrificed. His Heart is unchanging with the selfsame innocence and tenderness in childhood as in manhood. He rules all the world from the lap of Mary his mother. The priest truly cradles the newborn King in His hands at Mass. It is a reality that shines through in these Eucharistic miracles.

The sacrifice of the Holy Innocents themselves is united with Christ and becomes His martyrdom, too, for the salvation of the world. Every one of those tiny faces passing into death is Christ’s face cradled by the Sorrowful Mother below the Cross.

Christ is the Holy Innocent. Only by fixing our eyes on Him, in His Eucharist, will we be raised to holiness, restored to innocence, and prepared for martyrdom.

It is Thy Eucharistic Face, O Lord, that I seek

It is Thy Face, O Lord, that I seek;
hide not Thy Face from me.

Thus says the Psalmist. Now the Face of Christ has appeared among us: the icon of the invisible God, the figure of His substance, and the brightness of His glory. His human Face, hypostatically united to His Godhead, remains with us after His Ascension in a sacramental and hidden way – namely in the Blessed Sacrament. Thus in the chaplet of the Eucharistic Face of Christ we say:

It is Thy Eucharistic Face, O Lord, that I seek;
hide not Thy Face from me.

But what are we asking for as we repeat this prayer on our rosary beads? Not for an apparition, though the truth of the Eucharistic Face has appeared in a special way for adorers at times, such as in St. Andre de la Reunion in 1904 –

– but rather, one might say, we are asking for the theological virtues. First of all we are asking for faith. The Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is the Sacrament of faith. God hides Himself within the veil. The reality is that we do see Him whenever we look on the Host, but without this virtue we would be blind to what is in front of us. Faith pierces through to Heaven – the Heaven of the Blessed Sacrament. In faith we have a foretaste of it.

Hide not Thy Face from me. Help my unbelief for without Your gift of faith I cannot see You.

Next we are asking for hope. We hope for the Beatific Vision, in which we will find all our joy in the Vision of the Face of God unveiled. On that day the promise of faith will be fulfilled.

Hide not Thy Face from me. Save my soul from the clutches of hell that I may live to see Your Face when I die.

Finally we are asking for charity. The human face shows forth the human heart. In the Sacred Humanity of Christ, His Holy Face shows forth His Sacred Heart. Beholding Jesus we desire that our faces be transfigured into His likeness – and thus that our hearts become His, full of the radiant fire of love. In the Beatific Vision, there will be no need of faith and hope. All that will be left is pure charity, the pure Love of the Holy Trinity.

Hide not Thy Face from me. Help me to love Your countenance wherever I find it: in the Eucharist, in my neighbour, in Your starry sky. Make me Yours.

The little red light

I enter a church and look for the Lord.  It’s what one does.  In the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, it is easy: He is radiant in His Eucharistic glory, as a large Host, above the high altar, visible from far back outside the open front door.  Not that I recognized him even then when I visited that church before I was Catholic.  I lacked the eyes of faith to see – and I didn’t even know what the Catholics believed about the Eucharist.

Nowadays, I need to know where the Lord is.  Where do I tell my heart to go and silently dwell?  Where do I turn my gaze?  The little red light points Him out.  How privileged it is, to constantly act as a lighthouse for the safe harbour of the Blessed Sacrament!  It invites us to make the act of Eucharistic faith which should itself be constantly burning inside our souls.  It bids us be silent.  It casts light, as it were, on the Eucharistic Face.  Oh Lord, let me be like that red lamp quietly burning in the night before Your tabernacle!  Let me be like You, Whose Heart constantly burns with love for us and bids us adore!