Saturday, April 21, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter - April 22, 2018

Flannery O’Connor was a noted writer from Savannah, Georgia. She published two novels and over thirty short stories despite her battle with lupus, which claimed her life in 1964 at the age of 39. Her writing is very strongly influenced by her deep Catholic faith. In fact, there is a widely reported story of a time when she attended a dinner party with well-known novelist Mary McCarthy, who saw this meeting as a chance to support a young writer and give her some advice. At one point McCarthy, who had abandoned her Catholic faith at an early age, commented that the Eucharist is a nice symbol. Up until that point, O’Connor had felt too shy to say much of anything, but at that point she said, “Well, if it is a symbol, to hell with it.” It was not enough for her, or for any Catholic, to see the Eucharist in a simply symbolic way. As she later explained the attitude that was behind her response, O’Connor said that the Eucharist “is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”

One of the best reminders of the importance of the Eucharist comes to me each year when we see the second graders of our parish receive the Body and Blood of Christ for the first time. That will happen in our parish this weekend and next. The excitement of these boys and girls reminds me that the Eucharist truly is “the center of existence.” In fact, I remember a conversation with one child that reminded me of the Flannery O’Connor story, albeit without Mary McCarthy’s antagonism. The young girl and her mother were telling me that they were getting excited about the big day. They already had her dress and her shoes, and they were going out to buy the veil that very afternoon. I said that was wonderful, but I asked if there was something even more important than the dress and the veil. With full confidence and with a great big smile, she replied, “It’s receiving Jesus.”

Comments like that young girl’s or like Flannery O’Connor’s can sometimes be the most powerful. As far as I know, none of our second graders can spell the word “Transubstantiation.” Certainly none of them could compare and contrast the theology of the Eucharist as found in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas as opposed to more modern writers such as Karl Rahner or Edward Schillebeeckx. (And no, I did not make up that name to be funny. That it actually the name of a twentieth-century theologian.) What they do know is what is most important, and that is that they are receiving Jesus. He is truly present to us in that Sacrament. It is really His Body and Blood that we receive.

When something really matters to us, we do want to know more and more about it. We study and we learn about it. So the theological explanations are very helpful to us. Yet we hope we never forget what is at the root of the matter, that we are intimately joined to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. As we pray for the children who are making their First Communion, remember their excitement, and let us ask God to help us rekindle that excitement for ourselves. May we truly be able to say what Flannery O’Connor said, that the Eucharist “is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.”   
                                                                                        Father H