Becoming Living Monstrances
Deacon Keith Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food,and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father,so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever." John 6: 51-58
Today is the Feast of "Corpus Christi", the Feast of the "Body and Blood of the Lord" in the Roman Catholic Church, a richly significant day in Catholic faith and life. It is also an extremely important day in my own personal life, the anniversary of my ordination to the Diaconate in Christ. I thought I would be spending this anniversary with a holy priest friend, serving him at the altar and joining in the Corpus Christi procession of his parish through the Streets of Richmond, Virginia. At least that was my plan.
What a beautiful custom the Corpus Christi Procession truly is! After having received the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion, and after the priest has enthroned the consecrated Sacred Host in a Monstrance, Catholic Christians come from the Sanctuary and process into the Streets of the world, pausing along the way for solemn worship, singing songs of adoration, and holding the Lord, enthroned. The Corpus Christi procession symbolizes the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ to the world as it is lived out through his Church. I have fond memories of this beautiful event which stretch back into my early childhood. Since my ordination, it has also come to signify my call as a Catholic Deacon to go, as I often say "from the altar into the world."
As the years have unfolded in my life, the true beauty and profound symbolism of this Catholic custom has captured me. The practice appears to have taken on real prominence in the second millennium in the Roman Catholic Church. It is such a richly beautiful experience. We march with the Body of Jesus Christ, the Eucharistic Host, enthroned in a "monstrance." The monstrance is a sacred vessel made of precious metal wherein the priest enthrones the consecrated Eucharist for public worship. This worship not only occurs in the Church sanctuary but is intended to spread out into the "city streets" of the entire world. In this act of public procession we are reminded that God still loves the world so much that He still sends His Son.
This solemn procession is also a reminder of the baptismal vocation of every Christian, to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ, through His Church, until He returns. At an interior level, it symbolizes the universal call to holiness. We who are baptized are called into communion with God. He comes to dwell within us and we live our lives now in Him. We are invited to become "living monstrances", enthroning the Lord in our "hearts", which is, in biblical language, the center of the person. Then we are called to carry Him into the world of our daily lives.
However, instead of participating in the procession this year, my dear wife and I were surprised by a painful and difficult event. We spent the entire evening in a hospital emergency room, at the bedside of one of our beloved children. As a result of a wrong choice, our beloved child sustained injuries, both physical and spiritual, and was very, very sick. It was a difficult night for him-and for us. Thank God, we are all now at home. After this very difficult experience, the Feast of Corpus Christi will become- an "existential moment" for this child of ours. I pray that it becomes an occasion for conversion. We have prayed, we have talked, and we have wept together. I marvel at the event, even as I write, and as it still unfolds. I am tired and I am weary, but I know that the Lord is gracious and compassionate. He turned what could have been a tragedy into an occasion of grace.
This has been one more example in my life as a father (my wife and I have "raised" five children) of an important reality in the Christian life. What the devil intends for injury and destruction to us, or to our children, can become moments of deliverance and true conversion. This often depends upon how we respond. I believe that this will be the case with our dear child. However, this truth is a very hard one to grasp. Knowing it doesn't make this kind of experience any easier for parents. However, it can fill these otherwise difficult times, with real meaning. Even the struggles, failures and painful moments of life present the potential for good. I know that the experience of last night - and today - is something that my wife and I will never forget. I also know it is one that our dear child will never forget.
Through it all, my wife and I witnessed "angels", protecting our child. The word literally means "messengers" from God. We experienced the compassion of the Father revealed in the people who intervened. In the midst of a near tragedy, we saw Jesus Christ revealed. We witnessed Him walk into the pain and trauma of the moment, stretch out His arms and reveal His love to our wounded child - and to us, his worried parents. What a wonderful Savior Jesus truly is, so rich in mercy. He always shows His mysterious and marvelous love to those who have the eyes to see Him. He is always processing in our midst.
As this day has unfolded, I have also come to understand that it has been a different kind of "Corpus Christi" moment, revealing a different aspect of the meaning of this great Feast. Our Christian faith is so rich. At its very core is revealed the profound truth that the God who created the entire universe can be known, intimately and personally. He is a loving Father who hungers for a relationship of love, a communion, with all men and women. It proclaims the truth that in the fullness of time, this God of love came to us, in His Son Jesus Christ. Through His Incarnation, life, death and resurrection, He has made it possible for us to experience the fullness and intimacy of that communion of love. In the Holy Eucharist that we receive and carry in procession, the Lord continues to come. He takes up residence and dwells within each one of us and lives His very life through His Body, the Church. In that Church, and in each of her members, He processes into a world waiting to be reborn.
Through our Baptism and through the Holy Eucharist, we dwell in God. We live in Him. We carry Him into the world as we carry the monstrance into its streets today. Jesus told his disciples -in the passage with which I began this reflection: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you." We who have been given the bread of angels, who have been invited to this Eucharistic Feast, now have life within us; His Life - the very life of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit - a communion of Divine Persons in the Perfect unity of Perfect love. This is why this Feast of Corpus Christi follows the great Feast of the Holy Trinity in the Western Catholic Church calendar, to show this profound connection. Through the Holy Eucharist, we are invited into the Trinitarian communion and then sent into the world to carry Jesus to others so that they all may join in the Feast!
Yes, this is a mystery that is both deep and profound. It is also a gift to be received, lived, loved and experienced at a level beyond our human comprehension. We are called into communion with the living and true God. The implications of that invitation unfold into a dynamic life of continual conversion. This conversion happens in and through the very "stuff" of the struggles and travail of our daily lives; through the mistakes, the wrong choices, the failures, and even the pain. Through it all, the love of God purifies and refines us like the refiners' fire purified the gold that was used to make the many Monstrances that are being carried into the Streets of the world on this great and glorious Feast of Corpus Christi.
Last night and today, I was reminded once again that in our real, "nitty gritty", lives, we are invited to respond in faith to Gods real presence in our midst. Often, especially in difficulty, He appears to be hidden. But, with the light of faith, He soon reveals Himself. All who have been baptized into Jesus Christ can now live in Him and He really lives in us. Through the continuing work of grace - and our response to God's loving invitations - we can become "living monstrances", living tabernacles, wherein the Lord dwells. Like Mary, the Mother of the Lord - and the mother of all who follow her Son - we are invited, in the stuff of our daily lives, to give our "Fiat", our surrender of love, our "Yes" to the God of love.
We are sent into a world that has squeezed the true and Living God out of the equation. Yet, though we are strangers and pilgrims in this world, we are called to approach it -in Christ, with redemptive love. Through living our lives in the "Fiat" of surrendered love, we can carry Jesus Christ everywhere, just as we carry the Monstrance today. We can help to bring Him back into the lives of all who, knowingly or unknowingly, still hunger for Him. We can enthrone Him in the center of the "City" of this age as we marched the Monstrance into the cities of the world today.
The early Eastern Church Fathers referred to the Church as the "world transfigured" and the "world reconciled." These insights can help us to unpack the mystery of this great Feast. That reconciliation and transfiguration continues in our day. The baptized, no matter what their state in life or vocation, continue the mission of Jesus Christ until He comes again. We do that through living in His Body, His Church, of which we are members. St. Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Philippi, reminded them--and reminds us--that our true "citizenship" is now established "in heaven." While we live in this current age we participate in bringing heaven to earth and earth to heaven. We now live in the Church, which is that communion of the faithful in Christ, and go into the world to bring it back to God in Christ.
In his letter to the Corinthians he wrote: "So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor. 5:17-21)
Today, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, we commemorate the great gift of God to mere mortals, the banquet of immortality. This God of Love, who chose to give Himself fully and completely to you and me, in and through His Son Jesus Christ, now feeds us in the most Holy Eucharist. Through Jesus Christ, on that Cross on Golgotha's Hill, He reached out to embrace a world that had become lost in the desert of sin. He continues to gather that world back to Himself through the mission of the Church. The same God who fed His chosen people Israel manna in the desert, satisfying their physical hunger, gives the Living Bread, the Eucharist, to satisfy the deepest spiritual hunger of every man, woman and child.
In the Eucharist we receive the Lord Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, heavenly provision and eternal food for our earthly journey. The great Western theologian, Thomas Aquinas wrote: "Material food first of all turns itself into the person who eats it, and as a consequence, restores his losses and increases his vital energies. Spiritual food, on the other hand, turns the person who eats it into Itself, and thus the proper effect of this sacrament is the conversion of man into Christ, so that he may no longer live for himself, but that Christ may live in Him. And as a consequence it has the double effect of restoring the spiritual losses caused by sins and defects and of increasing the power of the virtues".
Our participation in this Eucharist is a communion in the very life of God. It is also a call to our own continuing conversion and transformation. It is a call to participate in the very transfiguration of the world. When we feed on this heavenly food, the Lord comes to dwell within us and makes us like Himself. We then "give thanks" by living our lives differently. That is what the word Eucharist literally means, "thanksgiving."
We have received Bread from heaven. Let us become what we consume. On this Feast of Corpus Christi, as we march through the Streets of the world, with Jesus Christ enthroned, let us resolve to become "living monstrances" by allowing the consuming fire of God's love to purify us so that He can be enthroned in our daily lives - for the sake of the world.
Deacon Fournier is a Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia. He holds degrees from the Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University and the University Of Pittsburgh School Of Law. He serves as the Senior Editor of Catholic Online and a Contributing Editor of Traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports.
Third Millennium, LLC
http://www.catholic.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580
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