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“Meditations on the Holy Eucharist”

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by Paul Lawton

an article that was written by Paul and published this year in the book Meditations on the Holy Eucharist”

Beyond the physical journey of life, there is a spiritual one, which, to varying degrees and in different ways, we are inevitably compelled to address. In my mind’s eye, this conjures up an image of a path that consciously or unconsciously we wish to follow. But it is situated on perilously high ground with nothing save the gentle moonlight of courage and trust as a guide. It is traversed with little or no personal security. Yet there is peace on this path and the spiritual journey progresses here uninhibited and sure.

For infinite expanses of land on both sides of this path, there is the brush with its branches, brambles, thorns, poison ivy and quicksand. It is here that many of us traverse on our spiritual journey. Why? Well, for starters, there are plenty of things for us to hold on to. It is a lower place from which to fall. We are familiar with the environment having travelled there more often. We also know more people there. The cuts and bruising, though we do not like them, have hardened our skin. Here, progress is slow; we are constantly tugged, caught up and held back to the point where some of us simply give up.

What does all of this have to do with the Holy Eucharist? Well, for Catholic people with the kind of faith that finds them on or close to the path, the Holy Eucharist is paramount to their faith and has a profound effect on their lives. They have put their intuition in God’s hands and trust faithfully and firmly that He is guiding their lives with it. People on the path do not grope for things to hold on to. They reject their own securities as they re-assess their lives daily. For these people of faith God is uppermost in their minds constantly. He is present to them as they rise, eat, work and converse. He is present to them in the song and the painting, in the trees and the creek. It is prayer that drives this intuition and their experience of peace that nurtures this formidable faith. Consequently, the prayers of the Mass and the words of Scripture find fertile soil in their hearts, so when they go to meet Christ present with them in physical form, it is for them the pinnacle of their spiritual experience. This is a physical hand reaching down to them on their perilous path and blessing them. Here the physical and the spiritual planes collide.

These are pretty lofty thoughts for those of us in the brush where prayer is often dry and laboured and spirituality insular and contained. We find it hard to leave our complacency behind. Consequently, the Eucharist for us, if we’re honest, has little impact on our lives. Sometimes, the closest we can get to a prayer is a fleeting thought about God. But that’s not so bad. Maybe to think about God is to pray. More so than formulated and formal utterances created from someone else’s mind. Maybe, the more we think about God, the closer we move to the path, which isn’t that much of a stretch nomatter how deep in the brush we are. Inch by inch, we can change our behaviour. “I just spoke ill of someone needlessly. Sorry, Lord, I am going to try to make up for that by speaking lovingly about someone.” “I don’t have a great deal of time, but I can’t deny that if I have time to hang out with my friends, surely I can find time in the week to volunteer to be with someone or some organization that breathes some goodness into the world.” These kinds of prayers are a realistic route to the path, more so than any grand notions of sainthood. Inch by inch, our thoughts can become actions and our lives more meaningful.

Similarly during Mass, we can bring more meaning and dignity to our attendance by concentrating. Otherwise, it can be an hour of pretty laborious brush to tackle. In order to stay focused, what if we challenged ourselves to put an image in our heads to as many sentences spoken and heard as possible? Maybe then the prayers will become more alive even if the priest sounds like he would rather be somewhere else. He is only human, too, and has said these words thousands of times. When the Eucharistic prayers are spoken and we kneel, we could be more aware of the gesture. It is one of great humility and reverence. We can dignify this act by not leaning on the pew lazily but by remaining aware of our posture and its significance.

This bit of extra attention, rather than posturing, can be a prayer in itself. It is addressing God. We are effectively saying, as I heard a priest once say, “You are God and we are not. We kneel before you with gratitude, reverence and perspective.” Of course, we don’t have to say this, we just intimate it by being honest with our humility throughour posture. This, combined with things like closing our eyes and putting images to words, can turn blah blah blah into genuine prayer. Everything we could ever wish to pray is mentioned in the Eucharistic prayers.

Following this is our Communion procession. When we walk up to receive Communion, we can concentrate once again. Hopefully, by now, we are in a healthy spiritual mindset. Think about the spiritual plane bursting into the physical. Imagine Jesus standing at the foot of the altar as he stood before the crowds in the bible stories. Imagine being one of them and, as you approach, ask Him to help you to allow this phenomenal occurrence to change you in some way. We know we are in the brush. We may not see lights and visions or break down in tears at the sheer awesomeness of this miracle. But we can bring dignity to the act by asking God to change us through it in some way.

After receiving this physical ‘touch’ we can then return to our pew and do absolutely nothing except concentrate on the notion (the reality) of God physically touching us through the Eucharist. We can try and stay in this clearing by closing our eyes to distraction and allowing the silence or the music to be God’s opportunity to speak to us. Maybe, we will find Him saying to us what He said to Zacchaeus stuck up in his tree. “I must stay in your house today.”

Paul Lawton is a parishioner of St. Augustine’s Church in Vancouver, B.C.