Eucharist

This Saying is Hard

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’

                                                            -John 6:60

At moments in my life, I’ve struggled to reconcile myself with the teachings of my beloved Catholic faith. These moments usually come right before periods of new growth in my life and sometimes that growth is painful. Sometimes it’s almost excruciating to subjugate my will to the demands of my faith, particularly in regard to suffering and family planning.  Sometimes, like my battle with the Catholic teaching on family planning, I have to grapple with skepticism and ongoing fear and place my life in the hands of the Lord. For example, although I understand the beautiful teachings behind the Theology of the Body and I want to incorporate them into my life, Natural Family Planning pushes the boundaries of my comfort zone because I love to be in control of my own life and I often lay out meticulous plans on how my life should be, or ought to be. Instead of entrusting my future to the God who knows and loves me best, it’s very easy for me to be overwhelmed with fear that God is going to ruin my life If He doesn’t exactly follow the plans I’ve made for myself. It’s far too easy for me to try to edge God out of my life and close myself to any of his possibilities. In addition, I am easily cowed by secular world’s judgmental stance on not using contraception, the view that children are burdensome, and am often blinded by the world’s empty promises of fulfillment through self-reliance and pleasure seeking. Sometimes I feel a little jealous because maintaining the Lord’s laws puts a damper on being “carefree” and “fun.” During my weak moments, I feel like retreating from what God demands of me because the Church’s teachings are so radically different than the world’s and I don’t want to accept those teachings.

It’s not always easy to be a Christian and Catholicism is often called out for the boundaries that it places on human selfishness. But Christians struggling with Christ’s word dates back to the time of Christ Himself. In John 6:60, after Christ reveals the radical and very physical truth of the Eucharist, many disciples say, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” When the teachings are hard to accept, the results are the same: people either walk away, back to the world, or people hunker down and experience the creative burn of new growth and truth. Christ invites us to intimately join Him and trust Him, to devote our futures and trust in Him even when it seems risky. He invites us to make room in our futures, to make space in our hearts, to exercise the muscles of our faith. Christ’s teachings are rooted in wisdom and self-sacrifice with a foundation that has lasted thousands of years. Christianity’s teachings are considered conservative, they’re truly radical in how different they are from the wisdom of the world, both in the modern world and 2,000 years ago.

However, as Christians, we know we are not alone and walk hand in hand with the apostles and saints that came before us, who also struggled to reconcile their lives and their minds with teachings that are hard to accept. No matter what you struggle with, be it the real presence in the Eucharist, the Church’s stance on homosexuality or contraceptives, we need to take the time to research what challenges us, take the time to digest it, and accept that it may take time to fully accept the teachings and that it may be difficult to live radically by their wisdom. God is not afraid of us and invites us to struggle with Him, to argue with Him, so we truly know what we believe in. Through difficult teachings, God calls us to a deeper understanding and deeper relationship to Him. Don’t be one of the ones who walks away when the going gets rough and join the community that has struggled and yet grown closer to God.

 

 

THE ART OF RECEIVING

Christmastime brings about a lot of gift-giving to family and friends along with charitable gifts toward those who are in need. This past week, we all have received our fair share of gifts, whether they have come through material possessions or intangible realities. In all, I have always found it easier to give a gift to anther than to receive one for myself. I think I’m not alone in this. I think most people readily accept the joy that comes with the experience of giving a gift than in being the one who receives a gift unwittingly.

There are many ways to be a “bad” receiver of a gift. Receiving gifts politely doesn’t always come natural to us, and most often is a habit that must be taught to little children (i.e. saying thank you, even if they really aren’t thankful at the time). When I receive a gift that was particularly unexpected and thoughtful, I sometimes find it difficult to know the appropriate way to react. There’s one extreme that wants to get overly excited and thankful in a way that can overwhelm the giver (or others around for that matter). The other extreme tries to counter the over-excitement and can come across as ungrateful or unappreciative. Somewhere, the “virtuous” receiver can be found in the middle of these extremes. Even as one gets older, it can be difficult to receive a much needed gift in a suitable manner. It’s easy to become excited with anticipation for a present you’ve been waiting for only to be let down by it not being exactly for which you had hoped. Or one can surely feel inconsiderate when one receives a gift but has nothing to offer in return. I think a lot of people subconsciously like to pay-it-back when giving gifts just so no one, including themselves, feel bad about receiving a charitable present. In reality though, I think we diminish the charity of another when we try to counter one thoughtful gift with a thoughtful gift of our own. In fact, charity requires someone freely accepting the a gift and not just the exchange of one gift for another.

To explain this point even further, let’s up the ante shall we. Imagine now that you’ve received a gift that is in No way merited and cannot simply be sufficed by a mere thank you. Not only is this gift a substantial one, but it is constantly being given to you. Such a gift is so great that there is nothing you can do or say or buy that will even come close to showing your gratitude for such a gift. Like I said before, this gift is absolutely unmerited and, if viewed by outsiders, could very well be considered a wasted gift. C.S. Lewis offers such an example in the form of a newlywed couple in which one of the spouses is struck down with an incurable disease that leaves him/her hideous, useless, dependent on the other’s salary, and on the continual, selfless care from the other. While the loving spouse who commits to taking care of their decrepit spouse offers a tremendous, self-sacrificing gift to be treasured, Lewis argues that it is much harder and more efficacious to be on the receiving end. To have to submit oneself to being completely helpless and undeserving of such tremendous love is hugely altruistic in and of itself.  

It took me a while but I finally realized that this is one of the greatest lessons we can learn during the Christmas season. This lesson comes not in giving gifts to others, but in receiving gifts that are absolutely undeserving and have no adequate means of reciprocation. This doesn’t hold any more true than in the Incarnation of Christ and celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist. The reception of our Lord and Creator is a Very intimidating thing and rightly so. I once heard someone remark that if we had perfect understanding of the glory of Christ we are receiving at Communion, we would be too afraid to approach. But here we are, in the Christmas season, celebrating the humble beginnings of a child born of a virgin, surrounded by the lowliest of society. There is no way we can ever deserve to receive Christ in such a manner, but knowing that full well, He offers Himself to us freely, everyday of our lives. Again, it took me a while, but I finally understand what people mean when they counsel you to pray to better welcome Christ into your life. It’s a very humbling experience and takes a commitment toward forgoing one’s own desires to be deserving of such a tremendous gift. As C.S. Lewis points to, Charity is a two way street that requires both a giver and receiver. May we be the humble and virtuous receivers of such an extraordinary gift.

U.I.O.G.D.