The Liturgy of Life
By: Deacon Keith A Fournier
© Third Millennium, LLC
I awakened feeling very old and tired this morning.
As I have done for almost three decades, I chose to make what many spiritual writers have called the "heroic minute." Upon opening my eyes I immediately made the sign of the cross and gave my "Fiat" of surrendered love to the Lord who had called me to one more new day. I know, at least on an intellectual level, that every day is a new beginning, an invitation to "begin again." But somehow, my offering this morning did not have the usual liberating impact it often has upon my spirit. I felt like I was enmeshed in cobwebs.
This morning simply did not feel like a new beginning.
All of that changed after I went down the stairs for my morning coffee. Since it was the weekend, the pattern in our home was a little different. There, in his high chair, filled with the energy of a dozen men, was my grandson. He smiled as he saw my face and gave me a precious gift! That is all it takes anymore to turn a grump into a grin! How I love to look into his bright young eyes and see the wonder of life reflected.
To a child, life is new every morning, without any effort. He receives the world, in all of its beauty, for the first time! The whole world is pure gift for children. So can be for all of us. That is one reason Jesus told us to become as children. We can to receive the gift of spiritual childhood daily, if we ask. The great spiritual writers extolled this gift and Jesus' words in the Gospel of St John still echo through the ages "Unless you become as this child..." I was able to open up to this grace this morning because a little child helped me to perceive the meaning of life.
After the encounter with my grandson (and a good cup of coffee) I was able to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. There I encountered the God of love. There is a connection between both encounters that I will now try to articulate.
Life is like a Liturgy. It has its beginnings and its ends, all in between it is filled with instruction, invites us to repentance, calls us to make an offering, orients us toward communion and equips us for mission. It has its seasons and its times; celebration, mourning, repentance, encounter, offering, giving, receiving ...and all are invitations to deepen our communion with the Lord who has called us into existence for love..
Through the liturgy of our lives, we can learn how to truly live and love, if we become like children and learn to receive the gift. Every day we are invited to begin... and begin again. There is a pattern to our daily life. By coming to see and participate in it, we can learn to embrace the grace that the present moment has to offer. This is true on a daily basis and it is true across the spectrum of the years assigned to us before we are called to the fullness of communion with the Lord.
As I age, the richness of the liturgical life of the Catholic Church has unfolded like a flower for me. I love to pray the Morning "Office", the Liturgy of the Hours. They provide a structure not only for my prayer but also for my day. The Sunday Divine Liturgy (the "Mass") has become not only the center of my worship but also a continual source of grace that informs my whole week. I draw nourishment from the food that was given at the Ambo, where the Word of God was proclaimed, and the Altar, where the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation were offered-heavenly food for earthly men and women, throughout the day and the week that follows.
It is precisely in this pattern, its "sameness", that Liturgy provides a sure anchor in a world so often rocked by unpredictability. In regularly being present at the Eucharistic Sacrifice, and entering into its timeless participation in the eternal Act of the Love made manifest on Golgotha, we mere mortals participate in the eternal. Liturgy provides a structure and a continual source of fresh food for the hungry and drink for the thirsty; that is when we cultivate an intimate relationship with the Lord who always gives Himself away in love to those who respond to His invitations of grace.
Liturgy forms a framework into which we are invited to respond and participate in God's love story with His creation. He who is Love, created us for communion. When we exercised our freedom wrongly and made the wrong choice, He did not give up. He came among us in His Son and, through His redemption, created us anew. Now, He enlists all who live in Christ through Baptism, to continue with Him on His mission. The Church carries forward the invitation - and provides the means - for all men and women to enter into that communion of love with the Father, in the Son and through the Holy Spirit. This work of love is the continuing mission, the work, of the Church.
We who are baptized into Christ and His Body are called to actually live our lives in the Church, while we travel on mission into the world. Not just attending, but living the liturgy provides the context for the ongoing adventure that is the Christian life. We are called to total transformation in Him as we respond to the invitation to selfless love we enter more fully into communion.
I have only come to scratch the surface of the fullness of this invitation to communion that lies at the heart of the Christian vocation. However, as I age I have begun to see that the Liturgy is a key. Let me suggest that the pattern of the Divine Liturgy can help provide insights and a structure for learning to live the liturgy of our lives in a more fruitful way.
Every Liturgy begins with the "Invitatory", the Invitation. So too does every day. Yes, at conception we are called into existence by the invitation of Gods grace. However, His invitation continues every morning when life begins anew. It is up to us to choose to embrace each new day as a new beginning. My grandson always does. When we do, we learn to hear God and respond to His grace.
Liturgy then moves to the giving and receiving of the Word. We are to receive it and make it our own by tilling the soil of our lives so that we can become the fertile field into which it can be sown as seed. As we grow older, we need even more to be nourished by the wisdom of God's word. We hear such a cacophony of other "words" competing for our attention and demanding our response. We need to pause and learn to discern Gods Word and listen to truth. He speaks to us in all the various ways in which He chooses to communicate Himself. These words from a loving Father become evident to those who have eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to understand. We need to attune our ears to hear and choose to be changed into the very Word that we receive. Then we become what St Paul called "living epistles" for others.
What follows in the Liturgy, is the Offertory - it is the soul and prototype of the entire Christian life. We are invited to offer ourselves to God as he offers Himself for us. In emptying ourselves of ourselves, we can become filled with Him. This is what the spiritual writers called the "holy exchange." The Apostle Paul writes concerning Jesus, the Son: "Though He was in the form of God did not count equality with God something to be grasped but emptied Himself..." (Philippians, Chapter 2).
The Greek word for emptied in this text is "kenosis"; it literally means to be poured out. Jesus Christ poured Himself out in His great act of love on Calvary so that each of us might be reconciled with the Father, freed from sin and empowered to respond to the invitation into an eternal communion. The God who made the whole universe through His Son now manifests His love for each of through His Sons' "kenosis." We now become his adopted sons and daughters and are invited to do the same for others. What an exchange! We give our weakness, our failings and He gives Himself to us and through us for others.
That leads in the Liturgy to the Consecration. As the bread and wine are presented to the Lord, they are consecrated, set aside. In that moment, heaven reaches down to earth. That bread becomes the very Body of Christ, the Bread of Life. The Cup of wine is offered next and it becomes our spiritual drink, the very blood of Christ. The Sacrament is elevated and we are invited to the Communion. There, we feast on the food of angels. We literally participate in communion with God. There, we are nourished on the very Body of Christ so that we can be sent into the world that is still waiting to be born, again.
In the Western Church, the Divine Liturgy is called "the Mass." It is a popular term derived from the Latin "Ite Missa Est". This phrase forms the final words uttered by the celebrant to the faithful. We are sent from the formal Liturgy on a mission to change the world. The faithful, now consecrated, set-aside, for God, are sent into the world with redemptive purpose. We are called to live our lives in love with the One who desires to live His life - and manifest His love - through each one of us. When we choose to hear that call and live it, He continues the redemptive mission of His Son through us.
All of this is profound, yet wonderfully simple. We westerners tend to equate knowing with mental faculties alone. My grandson, who cannot yet even utter the English language, has already grasped the depth of the Liturgy, or more aptly been grasped by the beauty of this kind of meaningful life of love. How, you may ask? He is a person for others. He receives everything as a gift and freely gives himself away in love. That is the heart of it all. That is why he invited me this morning to rediscover the meaning of the Liturgy of life.
Yes, there is a pattern, a flow, a liturgy to life. Life is an invitation to receive and then to give, to give and to receive...to live the life of the gift. We Westerners tend to place things in opposition. For example, we see spontaneity and structure at odds with each other. They are not to a child. The predictable pattern of their daily life provides the form for their freedom and, always, an invitation to play. They are naturally supernatural and supernaturally natural. In the final Book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, we are introduced to witness heavenly worship. It is liturgical. Pattern and form are a part of the plan for all eternity.
It was the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle who thought that we were born with all the wisdom of the universe, and then, as we aged, we gradually forgot. He also taught that the role of a good teacher was to help us to remember. There is a bit of truth contained in this insight. Of course, the greatest Teacher, Jesus Christ, was the One who instructed us to become as children. In His Sacred Humanity he lived and loved, He followed the path of spiritual childhood, and gave Himself away for the world.
In living the spiritual life, we are invited - daily - to discover and embrace this way of love. This morning, my grandson taught me about the way of love, helped me to shake off the cobwebs and opened up a deeper understanding of the liturgy of life.
Deacon Fournier is a Deacon of the Diocese of Richmond, Virginia serving at St. Benedict's Catholic Church, a dynamically orthodox Roman Catholic Parish, dedicated to fidelity to the Magisterium and faithfulness to the Church's mission of sanctification, evangelization and transformation. He holds degrees from Franciscan University of Steubenville, the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and is currently a PHD student at the Catholic University of America. His latest book is entitled, "The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life".
Third Millennium, LLC
https://www.catholic.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - Deacon, 757 546-9580
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