Monday, May 4, 2015

REFLECTIONS ON MY FIRST COMMUNION

Today is the first Sunday in May.  Sixty two years ago, May 3, 1953, I received my First Communion.  I was seven years old and in second grade.


I remember well, the day before, going for a haircut.  It seemed uneventful to me, just another haircut, but my Mom and Dad were quite upset with the haircut.  Dad joked that he had no sooner sat down to read a magazine and the barber was finished.

What I remember about the haircut is it was very very short on the sides and back.  It didn’t look particularly bad to me as I looked in the mirror, but Mom and Dad were so upset about it that I was left with the impression that anyone who wasn’t blind would either be shocked or would burst out laughing.  In my best recollection of what the “hairdo” looked like and my current ability or inability to make sense of what happened back then, perhaps once the barber had consciously or unconsciously taken off everything on the sides, he didn’t know what to do with the top!  Or maybe Dad gave him some instructions that he heard differently from Dad’s intent.  Who knows?  But again, it was one of those childhood experiences that I didn’t know how to make sense of only that I looked shockingly weird.  It was not exactly a good framework for such a blessed occasion.  Of course, that's your cue.  Play the violin!

I also remember being very very nervous.  Scared I might swallow some toothpaste and break my fast.  Yes, remember that insanity? It was a warm morning, and the church was crowded and stuffy.  I had butterflies in my stomach, and by Communion time, I was feeling a tad faint.  I remember having a hard time swallowing the host which stuck to the roof of my mouth, and that made me even more nervous.  I was glad when Mass was over, and we went home to celebrate with danishes from Nurmie’s bakery.  But I did relish that now I could approach the communion rail with everyone else and receive Communion.

Since that Sunday, sixty two years ago, I have grown in my understanding of and love and appreciation for the Eucharistic CELEBRATION and for the miracle of the Eucharist.  And that understanding, love, and appreciation has not waned.



For many years, I took Jesus to the sick, and that was always a highlight of my day even with Joe who was so lonely that he practically tied me to the chair and did everything he could to keep me from leaving.  I started falling asleep on Joe, I guess as a way to escape, but it didn’t bother him in the least.  Taking Jesus to Joe was always an hour to an hour and a half “ordeal.”  But that ordeal did not detract from the overall joy I experienced bringing Jesus, in the form of healing bread, to folks who were bed-ridden or house-bound for one reason or another.

On one occasion, I stood on Bob’s oxygen hose during the entire time I was saying the prayers and giving Bob the Eucharist.  I sometimes exaggerate the story and say that I couldn’t figure out why Bob was turning blue.  “I was bringing Bob the Bread of Life and killing him at the same time!”     

I actually met very interesting people with very interesting and touching stories during my ministry, and some of them even famous which was so cool because I realized that we are all in the same boat here together, no matter who we are, no matter our so-called status in this world.  We are all pilgrims, and we will all become dependent some day the same way we arrived, and we will all leave some day and move on to a heaven we know little about.  

My understanding, love, and appreciation of the Eucharist has not waned, but I have almost no desire to attend “Mass.”  And with the building of bigger and bigger churches as a way to avoid changing the canonical law on celibacy, Mass is just that, a mass of people looking straight ahead and having no idea what this ritual is all about, and neither does the organizational church, unfortunately.  I say that because Benedict, God Bless him, took us back in the Eucharistic prayers to a pre Vatican II English version of the original Latin Mass instead of the vernacular version prescribed by Vatican II.  Many important prayers and responses have lost the significant meaning embedded in the vernacular translation of Vatican II.




Here is the most profound example for me.  After Vatican II, when the priest holds up the host and the cup of consecrated wine to the congregation just prior to everyone receiving communion, the priest says, “Behold the Lamb of God.....Happy are those who are called to His supper.”   The congregation responds with “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

For some reason, these meaningful changes must have been threatening to Pope Benedict, and when he finally got his chance, he took the Church backwards to the pre Vatican II Latin response which reads, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.” Note, pre-Vatican II, this response was never spoken in English. And the Vatican tries to persuade us that this version of the prayer is more closely aligned with Scripture. 

Well, that is really weird, because the Scriptures were not originally written in Latin, but in Greek.  And in the Scripture, this verse is based upon the story of the Centurion who requests Jesus to heal his servant.  When Jesus said that he would come to the Centurion’s house, the Centurion replied, “Lord I am not worthy for you to come under my roof, but only say the word and my servant will be healed.”  The Centurion said nothing about his own soul nor his servant’s soul. He wanted his servant to be healed, his servant’s whole being to be healed.


Image taken from Laleocafe


The Vatican II vernacular response gives testimony to our belief that in the Eucharist, we receive the body of Jesus, and in our reception, Jesus heals our whole person, all of us, not just our soul.

So these new revisions have successfully taken us back to a dualism between body and soul which ultimately allows the organizational church to disregard our physical humanity, to delegate our body to a split off lesser “place” in the scheme of creation.  This conceptualization of being split into different parts, one being more important than the other, goes totally contrary to our current understanding of who we are as God’s creatures and the belief that our BODIES are temples.  

Not to mention that Jesus did not speak in Latin and the Gospels were most likely written originally in Aramaic or Greek and only later translated into Latin.  And in translating the Scriptures into Latin, there is a richness of the Greek text that is often lost.  Take the phrase in John’s Gospel, “The word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.” The Greek actually says “....He pitched his tent amongst us.”  For me, that is a profound juiciness that gets lost in the Latin translation.

This reverting back to translating Latin into a literal English version rather than a vernacular translation reinforces the word ROMAN.   The fact that the organizational church continues to hang on to the identification of Roman is a clear message that the organizational church, in other words, Rome or the Vatican, is not here to inspire us, but only to CONTROL us.  The Vatican DOES NOT look like Jesus in any way whatsoever, and if anyone can show me one way that the Vatican looks and acts like Jesus, I will welcome your comments. 

Yes, we have a new Pope who is much like John the twenty third, but like John, he is often held captive by an organizational structure that has its own existence as the priority and not the message of the Gospel.  Francis is obviously humble and connected to us common every day people, and let’s pray that he will someday dissolve the organizational structure and create a new “structure” that is representative of the way Jesus lived his life and representative of the many invitations Jesus offers us in the living word to live our lives.

I do not think that most Catholics who attend Mass and who receive Communion have even the slightest understanding that the point of the Eucharist is for us to offer, as sacrifice, our body and blood and our lives as a pleasing offering to God.  The word sacrifice, by the way, means to make sacred or holy.  It does not mean to destroy or give up.  The meaning of “do this in remembrance of me,” has been totally lost in a notion of worship. God does not want worship. God invites us to love and to transform our lives.

Part of what we hope to gain from our attendance at the Eucharistic Celebration is some inspiration in the homily as the priest or deacon gives us some insight into the Scripture readings.  In “my” Church in Yucaipa, the priest reads his homily and it appears he reads it from a book.  What?  Why is he afraid to take the risk to be himself and trust that we will love him no matter how good a speaker he is and to share with us what is in his heart?  I know that is a huge judgment, but the reason I say this is because there is NOTHING personal in the homily.  There is no shepherd speaking to us.  There is NO ONE for us to follow.  The words are theological diatribe that are meaningless when it comes to facing our own day-to-day struggles and the day-to-day struggles of our family, our neighborhood, our city, our State, our country.  Those words teach us nothing about getting out of the parking lot after the celebration is over or even before the celebration is over.

Yes, I am going visit him and gently and humbly offer my support in working with him to give a homily from his heart and his own experience of living the Gospel, both his success and his failure, as a model for us to continue to grow and continue to hope in a world that is often hopeless.

I don’t know how common it is that priests do not address the Scripture readings with an application to both their own personal lives and to our lives, but when that is lacking, the Liturgy of the word and the Eucharistic celebration simply becomes an exercise to fulfill our obligation which is also meaningless in the big scheme of things.

If we were really taking in the meaning of the Eucharist, we would be willing to make eye contact with each person standing at the end of each off ramp and actually show them with our eyes and facial expression that we love them and are willing to do SOMETHING to support them in making their lives better.  SOMETHING! Perhaps ANYTHING short of judging them and avoiding them and pretending that they are not standing there.  Maybe we could take the risk of giving them whatever we can afford to give them at that moment in time, whether that be food, water, our time, money, ANYTHING.  Maybe, we could even give them a job!


From Kwaree Blog


There is a wonderful line in the movie, Lars And The Real Girl, where the pastor says, “We have to ask ourselves here, what would Jesus do?”  If we really take in the meaning of the Eucharist, we open ourselves up to looking at everything that is going on in our world today, especially the events we cannot understand or make sense out of and ask the simple question, “What would Jesus think, what would Jesus say, what would Jesus do?”  This is what we could be helped with in a homily.

I could go on and on, as many of you know.  But I do not want to profess my beliefs.  I do want to live my values which means my behavior, on a day-to-day basis, reflects what I say I believe in. “What you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me” is a haunting belief of mine, and one that I cannot rationalize away no matter what my brother is doing or saying.  I wish this verse were equally haunting to the organizational church.

So my daily endeavor is to find ways to bring Love to the world in every situation that I encounter.  For me, killing people, war, punishing people because they deserve to be punished, excommunicating people from my circle, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, are not options.  Yes, it becomes challenging then to come up with options, but the foundation for any option for me is Love, bread, and healing.




So, today, I celebrate, my First Communion, realizing that my First Communion was really the “day” God said, “Let there be Vern.” And God said that for each one of us, and so it is not for me to decide whether or not you deserve my love, my care, my respect, my attention, all the goodness that God has given me to offer to you.  And ironically, this kind of transformation I am writing about begins with Vern deciding to love Vern the way God loved me into existence.

Thank You for reading.

   

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Vern. When my folks were homebound I would take them the Eucharist. They lived some distance away, so I would carry the host around for some time of a Sunday. I actually felt like a better person during those hours: calmer, kinder, more patient, more loving. I don't know why it worked out that way. The theology would seem to indicate that actually receiving Communion would have more of an effect than carrying the host around.

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