Thursday, May 4, 2017

An Email

Dear Ann;
After our conversation about the Eucharist, I wrote you how this week the Gospels are all from John Chapter 6, and how our little Bible Study group was discussing those words.  Those discussions gave me great consolations and new understandings, and thoughts of them, I pray, are some encouragement to you.  But it seems I have been blessed with more thoughts on the topic, which I now dare to share.
Late yesterday afternoon I was asked and agreed to substitute at the adoration chapel for someone who was ill.  I had already gone and spent time there, completing my usual evening prayers and readings, so when I went for the 11PM hour I took along a book that had lain on my shelf for a while --- from its title I did not expect it to be too interesting.  It was titled:  Littlest Suffering Souls – Children Whose Short Lives Point Us to Christ. 
Was I ever wrong in my expectations!
The first chapter of the book was only 5 short pages --- which took me an hour to read and pray over.  Little Nellie of Holy God, as she is called, died in 1908, at the age of four and one-half.  She was amazingly aware of Christ during her illness-riddled life.  The words which particularly struck me, however, were how near the end she began asking to receive the Eucharist.  Told she was too young, she begged every day, and then asked her nurses to come straight to her after they had received the Eucharist and to kiss her lips, so she could at least receive the Eucharist indirectly.  Eventually her faith led a bishop to be consulted, and he agreed she could be an exception to the rule, and receive.  Little Nellie was overjoyed: “I will have Holy God in my heart.  I will have Holy God in my heart.”  She received the Eucharist only 33 times before her death.  During that time, miracles occurred around her.  Years later her body was found to be incorrupt, and it was because of her example that the age allowed for first communion was lowered from 12 to 7 years old.
I think the people in the chapel, strangers to me last night, thought ME a little strange, as I prayed and sobbed over the love of God shown by such a little angel.  The short story of her short life had huge depths, and sitting before the large host on the altar I could not but feel some of those depths.
This morning I arrived early for mass, but the door of the church was strangely unlocked.  I went inside the dark church and lit a candle by the statue of Mary, and in the dim light read the Office of Readings meditations, including the following simple explanation of the Eucharist, by St. Irenaeus:
If our flesh is not saved, then the Lord has not redeemed us with his blood, the Eucharistic chalice does not make us sharers in his blood, and the bread we break does not make us sharers in his body.  There can be no blood without veins, flesh and the rest of the human substance, and this the Word of God actually became:  it was with his own blood that he redeemed us.  As the Apostle says:  In him through his blood, we have been redeemed, our sins have been forgiven.
We are his members and we are nourished by creation, which is his gift to us, for it is he who causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall.  He declared that the chalice, which comes from his creation, was his blood, and he makes it the nourishment of our blood.  He affirmed that the bread, which comes from his creation, was his body, and he makes it the nourishment of our body.  When the chalice we mix and the bread we bake receive the word of God, the Eucharistic elements become the body and blood of Christ, by which our bodies live and grow.  How then can it be said that flesh belonging to the Lord’s own body and nourished by his body and blood is incapable of receiving God’s gift of eternal life?  Saint Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that we are members of his body, of his flesh and bones.  He is speaking of a real human body composed of flesh, sinews and bones, nourished by the chalice of Christ’s blood and receiving growth from the bread which is his body.
The slip of a vine planted in the ground bears fruit at the proper time.  The grain of wheat falls into the ground and decays only to be raised up again and multiplied by the Spirit of God who sustains all things.  The Wisdom of God places these things at the service of man and when they received God’s word they become the eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ.  In the same way our bodies, which have been nourished by the eucharist, will be buried in the earth and will decay, but they will rise again at the appointed time, for the Word of God will raise them up to the glory of God the Father.  Then the Father will clothe our mortal nature with incorruptibility, for God’s power is shown most perfectly in weakness.
I found the words, which I re-read to be a most compelling explanation of the Eucharist, by this saint, who died in 202AD.  From the earliest point, the Church always believed Christ’s words, that the eucharist became his body and blood.
And later, before the Gospel this morning, the priest recited these words, which were also from my morning prayer readings: “Alleluia, alleluia!  Amen, amen, I say to you:  Whoever believes in me will live forever.  Alleluia, alleluia!”  And the Gospel went on to say Jesus’s subsequent words: “I am the bread of life.”
All these words and their timing, gave me great peace as I received Him, His Body and His Blood, this morning.  I share them with you, Ann, because for some reason I think I should.  And perhaps you also will find some measure of peace in them.
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The last few months I have read some really remarkable books (amidst the many so-so ones).  I am derelict in writing reviews of these good reads, which shall occupy my next few postings --- including the book I referenced in this one.

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