The first person who taught me eucharistic theology was my Lutheran grandmother. Although I have no memories of her ever uttering the words “eucharistic” or “theology,” she taught me in the way that the best teachers do: by being a living example.
Grandma’s house usually smelled like freshly baked bread. Her counter was often dusted with a layer of flour and she frequently had dough under her fingernails. My grandma structured much of her time around a pattern of stirring, kneading, baking, cooking or serving meals and snacks. No matter who came through the sunny porch, she offered the person a warm hello and an embrace.
Nearly every day at noon, neighborhood kids (along with me, my siblings and cousins) and farmers and friends would squeeze around a large table, where there was always… [This is the beginning of my latest column for the online newspaper, Global Sisters Report. Continue reading here.]
“With five brothers,” began my dad, telling the familiar story to my niece and nephew, “your Great-aunt Kathy was always getting her food stolen. Her spot was right next to your great-grandfather, who used to tease her. Every night at dinner, your Aunt Kathy would huddle over her plate, with her fork ready to stab anyone’s hand that came near her food. My dad would slowly creep his fork over to Aunt Kathy’s plate when he thought she wasn’t looking. Oh, she would get so mad! ” He imitated my aunt huddling over her food for dramatic effect. My niece and nephew giggled when they heard this story for the first time. “We always ate ’till all the food was gone,” he remembered, smiling. “There were never any leftovers at Thanksgiving!” he finished. My mother chimed in with another familiar part of the story. “The first time I went to your great-grandparents’ house for Thanksgiving I swear, it was like watching a plague of locusts devour the food,” she remembered.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard that story, but my dad’s imitation of my Aunt Kathy always makes me laugh. I love this part of the holiday; the family stories and familiar anecdotes, trying to one up each other to see who can make everyone laugh the hardest. I feel so safe and connected to my family during these storytelling sessions. We create connections and community together. This is the heart of both the Thanksgiving holiday and the Eucharist — community. Loved ones gather at the table to share food, memories, and of course, family stories. Like life in my religious and church community, it can be both joyous and complicated.
I imagine that the Last Supper with Jesus was, in many ways, not unlike many Thanksgiving holidays. I’m certain there was a tremendous hustle and bustle of making plans for travel and preparations for the meal itself. Where would they eat? Who would prepare the food? Who was invited? Also like many Thanksgivings I have experienced, once the festivities began, there must have been both joy in being together, a sharing of memories, prayer and, definitely, disagreements.
One of the best things for me about Thanksgiving is the intergenerational sharing. I delight in watching my nieces and nephews as we gather around our Thanksgiving table each year. Since I am no chef, I often have the responsibility of keeping the children in my family occupied as the others take over the kitchen to prepare the feast. This year will be the first time my six-month-old great-nephew will join us. (How am I even old enough to have a great-nephew?) I am so excited to be able see Thanksgiving through his eyes.
Slowly but surely, little by little, responsibility for Thanksgiving has shifted to my generation. My earliest Thanksgivings were put on by my grandparents. We used to switch off and on from my mother’s parents to my father’s mother’s house. Eventually, my parents’ generation took over hosting duties. Now, my siblings take charge. It wasn’t without tension or disagreements. My parents had to slowly let go of some of the things they used to do; how they prepared the food, what was served, and so on. This was especially hard for my father, who delights in cooking. Over the years, circumstances just made it easier for my brother or my sister to host the meal.
It can be difficult to avoid conflict with family members during holidays. Sometimes the conflict is as simple as expectations for helping in the kitchen, or an unkind word or two. Others are more deep-seeded such as those driven by grief, broken relationships or politics. It can take a great deal of patience, forgiveness and humility to navigate these relationships, especially in a family of stubborn, hot-headed Irish-American Catholics! This is true of disagreements in our church family as well. Patience, forgiveness and humility are key in healing the great divisions.
Loss can also take on more significant meaning during the holidays. We mourn those who are no longer with us. We miss their presence. This is my best friend’s first Thanksgiving since her mother passed six months ago. “It just won’t be the same without Mom. I can’t do everything she used to,” she’s lamented to me. My heart feels for her. All I can do is offer my support, and assure her that her mother would be proud of the effort she and her siblings make this year. I wonder what that next Passover, the year after Jesus died, was like for the remaining apostles. (It would seem that they were scattered over the Middle East and Europe.)
One thing that we do know for sure: they told the story to the first Christians. The significance of that Passover has been handed on to us from them, and has become the centerpiece around which the Christian community gathers.
Isn’t that the heart of Eucharist? A handing down of the story of our salvation, a meal shared in memory of the one who loved us even to his death on the cross? And isn’t that the heart of what we do at Thanksgiving? Share a meal and our life stories together? It’s how we come to know each other as individuals and as family. It’s how we pass on the values that are important to us to the younger generation. It’s how we remember those who have left us. The story connects and bonds us. This Thanksgiving, I hope to focus on listening to the stories of the lives of those I love, and sharing my life story with them.
Sister Shannon Fox
Shannon Fox, Sister of St. Joseph of the Third Order of St. Francis, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, and now lives in Chicago, Illinois, became a novice in 2003. She ministers as a high school special education teacher at a therapeutic day school for students with special needs. Teaching runs in her family, as both her parents and her little sister are teachers. In her spare time (“Ha!”), Sister Shannon enjoys community theater, singing and photography. She is also a member of Giving Voice through which she and Sister Julia met.
Yesterday, some of my elder FSPA sisters and our prayer partners rang in the celebration of 140 years of perpetual adoration at St. Rose Convent in La Crosse, Wisconsin. They collectively chimed the bell 140 times plus, to mark the beginning of the 141st year of non-stop prayer, once more. This is a sacred anniversary that we celebrate with joy and gratitude. (You can watch the ritual of bell ringing here.)
Here’s a nice picture of Sister Sarah and I praying in our Adoration Chapel. (You’ll have to trust me that those are the back of our heads!)
When I lived and ministered in La Crosse, my adoration hours were the most sacred, grounding part of my routine.
Now that I am “out on mission” and ministering hours away from the Adoration Chapel, the rhythms of this prayer happening in the background of my community life remains a grounding force that enlivens my service and motivates me to be bread unto others. Praying in our chapel when I am home in La Crosse is a touchstone for me, a sacred communion that helps me steadily respond to God’s constant invitation to love.
I like this infographic that summarizes our tradition, even though it’s a bit outdated. (Last year, we prayed for over 30,000 intentions from all over the world!)
What do we do during our adoration hours?
Well, we pray! In all sorts of ways. Some of us pray rosaries, some read the Bible or pray the Divine Office.
We start and end every hour with a particular prayer:
There are prayer books at each kneeler in the chapel that many of spend time with, including prayers that are written particularly for adoration. We pray with the list of intentions near the altar, compiled and organized by Sister Sarah, who is our perpetual adoration coordinator. We meditate and listen to God and enjoy his holy presence.
Sister Sarah has created several excellent videos about prayer, and adoration in particular. The series, called “Adoration Talk,” does a great job of explaining our practices and teaching the tradition.
Here’s a sample, a video that outlines and explains what we mean by adoration.
One of the things that Sister Sarah says in the video is that “in adoration, we become both very intimate with the mysterious presence of God and, at the same time, we are longing for more.”
Prayer is an energy of longing. We pray because we long for peace, for healing, for miracles. We pray because we are filled with an energy of hope — with belief that Christ’s resurrection continues to transform all of creation. We long to be closer to God, and we long to be healthier and holier humans who reflect God’s light and love in our actions and being. We long to transform, into better parts, images of the Body of Christ for today’s hurting world.
And so, at the start of the 141st year, the vigil of perpetual adoration continues onward. 24/7, hour after hour, we will cycle through the chapel. We will kneel and bow. We will pray and listen.
As we do, we give God all the longing in our hearts and open up to be transformed.
Recall a moment from your life when God felt very close; when you had a powerful experience of God’s presence. It might have taken place at home, at work, in church, in a classroom, on a retreat or in nature. What do you remember of the experience? How old were you? Where were you? Did it involve others? What gift did God give you in that experience?
The great feast the Church celebrates — the Body and Blood of Christ — places great importance on memory and invites us to remember all the things God has done for us, especially what God has done for us in Christ.
Each time we celebrate Mass, we gather to remember. This helps us to avoid what Pope Francis has called “spiritual amnesia.” When we have spiritual amnesia, we lose our memory of our personal salvation history and our “first love” with the Lord. When we have spiritual amnesia, we forget who we are and to whom we belong, and other things can begin to replace a living relationship with God.
In the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the people, “Remember!” (8:2-3, 14-16). “Remember how for 40 years now the Lord has directed your journey.” Moses says to the people, “Do not forget! Do not forget the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” You faced dangers in the desert, and God directed your journey. You were thirsty, and God provided water. You were hungry, and God fed you with manna.
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus himself invokes this memory (6:51-58). He tells the Jewish crowds, “Your ancestors … ate [manna in the desert] and still died.” But “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
At the Last Supper, itself a meal to remember God’s saving act in the Passover, Jesus said to his disciples, “This is my body. Take and eat. This is my blood. Take and drink.”
And then he said, “Do this in memory of me.”
For many years, when I heard “Do this in memory of me,” I thought of it simply as a commandment to reenact the meal, to have Mass, and to do it often. That is certainly part of it. But Jesus is also saying: I have been blessed, broken and shared. I have given my life for others.
Do this in memory of me.
You, my disciples, must also be blessed, broken and shared. Imitate me. Offer yourself to others. Love others as I have loved you.
Do this in memory of me.
This memory, made present in each Mass, is demanding. It took Jesus to the margins of his society and religious tradition where he loved and showed welcome to outcasts and sinners, and it took him to the cross.
Do this in memory of me.
Who in your life is a witness to a life blessed, broken and shared? Who offers themselves generously to others?
There are so many ways that disciples imitate Christ in this kind of generosity: in the gift of self to family, a partner, children, other loved ones or a friend; in a job or career; in the works of mercy and other acts of kindness done quietly and humbly.
At the same time, how are we called to greater love, generosity and sacrifice in memory of him?Here’s one thought: What bothers your conscience at work, at home, in your neighborhood or in our church? What do you want to do but don’t, because it seems too big to tackle or too big of a personal risk to take on? When we take that first step, the God who has always been faithful to us will be with us.
Remember what God has done for you, for us. The God who has been powerfully present in our lives. The God who frees us, loves us. The One who comes to us in bread and wine to nourish us, to give us life, at each Mass, and always.
Note from the editor:This blog post is a version of a homily that Fr. Luke Hansen, SJ, preached at the Church of the Gesu on June 18, 2017 (Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Originally from Kaukauna, Wisconsin, Luke Hansen, SJ, has been a friend of Sister Julia’s since 2004 when they met at an airport on their way to serve in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in California. Passionate about justice and peacemaking, much of his experience in ministry has been centered on serving adults and adolescents who are incarcerated. He now is studying in Rome at the Pontifical Gregorian University. (Photo credit:www.jesuits.org)
“NO! I HATE this part of the bread! I won’t eat it!”
My daughter had just realized that her peanut butter and honey toast was made with an “all-crust” heel piece. To a five-year-old who has never known true crisis, this realization is nothing short of devastating—on par with candy-less valentines and cake batter-scented (but NOT flavored) ChapStick.
I took a deep breath and steeled myself for the parenting struggle that, moments ago, I had decided was indeed worth my time and energy.
As soon as I’d opened our bread bag and discovered only end pieces, I’d known that making toast with it might awaken the melodramatic beast dwelling within my kindergartener. All parents are familiar with the rapid cost-benefit analysis of “choosing our battles” in daily life. The fact that there were four, as opposed to two, end pieces in this bread bag indicated that I had forfeited this particular battle with our last loaf of bread.
But this time I felt prepared to hold my ground: my daughter would eat this food or no food.
Having just read a parenting article about instilling empathy and pro-social behavior in children, I decided to make an effort to turn this little clash of wills into “a teachable moment” (mom-talk for trying to channel one’s maternal frustration into wisdom rather than a large glass of wine).
As my daughter geared up for another outraged protest, I looked her in the eye and said, “Honey, I love you so much. And one of the ways I try to show you I love you is by making your favorite snacks for you, like peanut butter and honey toast. How do you think it makes me feel when you start crying and yelling just because it isn’t exactly what you want?”
She furrowed her brow and pouted, mumbling something unintelligible. Then she got up and walked away from the table.
I sighed, disappointed.
“You can walk away, but you need to know that I’m not going to make you anything else until you’ve eaten what’s on your plate.”
She grabbed something from her art corner and disappeared behind the couch.
“Did you hear me? I said I’m not making you anything else until you’ve eaten your peanut butter and honey toast.”
“Hold ON,” she said impatiently. I rolled my eyes at her (because apparently, trying to create a teachable moment had maxed out my maturity quotient for the day).
And then she brought me the “art” she had abandoned the table to create: an addition to the paper plate valentine she’d made in church earlier in the week. Around the edge, she had penciled in the words I love you because you feed me.
And, for the millionth time since becoming a mom, I realized how much I have to learn from my daughter.
How often do I spurn the blessings God has set in front of me, simply because they look a little crustier than I was expecting? How often do I pick apart that which nourishes me, only to find myself feeling empty? How often do I take for granted (or refuse to take at all) the bread of life that God pours out for me?
Perhaps, most convicting: How often do I recognize the error of my ways and humble myself, turning to God with such a simple yet profound prayer?
Nicole Steele Wooldridge is a friend of Sister Julia’s who writes from the Seattle, Washington, area. Her articles for Messy Jesus Business tend to focus on the intersection of faith and parenting. Ironically, the daughter mentioned in this article is not her picky eater.
Last month, I attended Mass at the border; I was part of a community of believers uniting around bread and wine miraculously made into flesh and blood.
I was on the Mexican side, sitting on a concrete street curb next to another Catholic sister. Together we were a color pop in the assembly: we stuck out in our bright turquoise T-shirts declaring “Catholic Sisters for Compassionate Immigration Reform.” Nearby sat our friend, Br. David, a Franciscan Capuchin, bearing witness in his dusty brown habit. Guests to this area, this Mass we were attending coincided with the events of the School of Americas Watch Border Convergence throughout the entire weekend.
We were among a crowd of a couple hundred other folks. Some sat upon haphazard rows of folding chairs, others leaned against fences and buildings, many stood. We were gathered on a crumbling, uneven street formed from a mishmash of concrete, asphalt and sandy earth. In front of us was…
[This is the beginning of an essay I wrote for Sick Pilgrimat Patheos. Continue reading here.]
In today’s readings, John the Baptist is prodded past the point of despair through miraculous nourishment in the desert, St. Paul exhorts the church in Ephesus to be “imitators of Christ,” who, as Jesus iterates in the Gospel of John, is “the bread of life.” Meditating on these readings on August 9th 2015, I am moved by how poignantly they contrast to the events that happened on this same date, 70 years ago.
On August 9, 1945, the U.S. detonated their second nuclear bomb, “Fat Man,” on the heavily populated city of Nagasaki. An estimated 73,884 people were killed, another 74,909 continuing to labor under the misery of loss of health, land, resources and beloved friends, family and community. Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, brought home this seemingly distant tragedy, writing, “vaporized, our Japanese brothers [and sisters] – scattered, men, women and babies to the four winds, over the seven seas. Perhaps we will breathe their dust into our nostrils, feel them in the fog of New York, on our faces, feel them in the rain.”
In a new book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, Susan Southard further personalizes the story of those who suffered through and survived the massacre at Nagasaki by focusing on the lives of five Hibakusha (the name given to survivors of the bombings). She tells of Taniguchi Sumiteru who, at the time of detonation, was a 16-year old boy, riding his bicycle to deliver mail throughout the city. The bomb destroyed over three square miles of the city in which Taniguchi lived and worked. It was 17 months before he could sit up, having had the skin melted off his back and arms. Because of lying face-forward in bed so long, his chest too began to rot away. After four years Taniguchi was finally discharged from the hospital. As doctors and nurses did the excruciating work of repairing his body, he is reported to have cried out, “Kill me, kill me!” preferring to die than to endure the pain any longer.
As I read the lament of Elijah in the wilderness, “This is enough … take my life!” I hear the wails of young Taniguchi and those who thought it better to have died than survive the pain of their injuries or the turmoil of radiation sickness and cancer. Yet, just as Elijah was ordered to eat and endure for the sake of those who remain, so the Hibakusha, like Taniguchi, endured their bodily and emotional trauma and engaged with life that they might be representatives for those from whom life was irrevocably stolen.
Nuclear weapons, and the radiation they emit, wreak havoc on bodies, poison waterways, and seep into the soil, sowing seeds of destruction for generations. It is a death that strikes heavily and spreads deeply, infecting the sources of life for the present and the future. The U.S. is the only nation that has used nuclear weapons as an act of war and continues to be a leader in nuclear munitions and in further development of nuclear armament and technologies.
What then are we are called to as we approach the Presence who is revealed in the Word, in prayer, in the Eucharist? What are we called to if not to be bearers and sharers of that presence; to be bread for the hungry, to proffer nourishing life in resistance to a culture that cultivates death? St. Paul, notorious for his tendency toward convoluted prose, manages to write quite plainly and eloquently in his letter to the Ephesians:
“All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.
“And so be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love.”
This Christ, very much a man with all the fears and pains that accompany life within the flesh, willingly proclaimed himself as “the living bread that came down from heaven.” “The bread that I will give,” he said, “is my flesh for the life of the world.” In this, Jesus fully acknowledges that to give bread for the nourishment of life in the world would come at a personal cost and he was willing to give it, sacrificing even his own life.
What does it mean to be followers of one who rejects self-preservation, one who would choose that his own body be broken, his own flesh be consumed for the sake of giving life to others, rather than ever being an instrument of harm?
On August 6, 1985, in a radio message to the people of Japan, Pope John Paul II said of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,
“Such a tragic destiny is not inevitable. It can and must be avoided. Our world needs to regain confidence in its capacity to choose moral good over evil … One must affirm and reaffirm, again and again, that the waging of war is not inevitable or unchangeable.”
Elijah, after being roused from despair, continued to be a prophetic voice in the name of God. The Hibakusha bore the trauma of horrific wounds and unhealable memories and went on to be a voice for those who lost their lives as well as a healing presence for those who survived. Jesus overcame death by willingly accepting it so that we all might discover the way to peace and to life abundant.
How do we walk on amidst these truths? For today, I sit in prayer with the presence of the Spirit; I hold the generations who suffer from reckless, destructive war-making—as well as those who suffer from my own careless interactions and complicity in social evils—in my heart. I ask that I might be transformed and become a true image-bearer of the compassionate, forgiving, nourishing, healing Christ.
And, I am getting more real with myself about my needs for real repentance. I am weak, I am a sinner. I am so far from perfect that sometimes it’s hard to believe I am a child of God.
The Truth is, Jesus was broken too. Right — he was not sinful, of course, but he certainly experienced pain, suffering and dependence on his Father for wholeness and completeness. We depend on Jesus to be whole, healthy, and holy.
Living a Eucharistic life means we embrace our brokenness and acknowledge that our pain and brokenness is, amazingly, a blessing. Somehow, suffering is redemptive. And we get to know this through Christ. Our brokenness unites us with Christ, for Jesus is with us and knows suffering. Just like the Eucharistic prayers say, Christ is blessed, broken and shared. This is the Bread of Life that nourishes us, strengthens us.
We are also blessed, broken and shared through Christ, in community. Let us lean on each other and unite and heal. Let us open up to the graces only found in Jesus for the True freedom and peace that comes with trusting the mystery that our brokenness is truly a blessing. Soon we’ll be rejoicing with hope and joy, for we trust that Jesus is our redeemer. Yes, this coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and we’re getting very closer to the celebrations of salvation on Easter Sunday.
As we lift up our voices and wave our palms, let us really cry out to Jesus in gratitude for the freedom that is offered:
One of my Facebook friends recently posted a rant about mothers who show up late to and leave early from Mass. He stated that he has more respect for people who don’t bother coming at all: “Either be all in or all out.” Others chimed in with “Amens” and further complaints about the entertainment and food that parents bring to church for their children nowadays. Having arrived 10 minutes late to Mass that morning, library tote full of Dora books slung over one shoulder and a diaper bag with emergency snacks hanging on the other, I felt at once embarrassed and defensive.
Part of me wanted to dismiss his vent outright: clearly, this was the naïve and uncompassionate perspective of someone who’s not yet a parent. He just doesn’t understand the monolithic venture that is Getting Out the Door with Little Ones, I thought to myself. After all, I had spent my entire morning trying to get to Mass on time… but two blowout diapers and a child who is absolutely determined to put her shoes on all by herself had conspired to neutralize my good intentions. Let’s see him do it any better, was my rather un-Christian reaction.
Still, his words gnawed at me, probably because I have wrestled with the conundrum of kids at church since my daughter was born two and a half years ago.
The fact is, children at Mass are distracting – to those around them and, most especially, to their parents. Prayerful reverence is not easily practiced with a fussy baby in your lap and a squirmy preschooler at your side. There have been multiple occasions in which, nerves frayed and feeling far less peaceful than I did before the start of Mass, I wonder if it was even worth it to attend.
Yet something inside me always answers “Yes!” I believe there is value in attending Mass with kids… Even when it means enduring the walk of shame up to the only open pew (at the very front of the church, naturally) during the Gospel Alleluia, or spending the entire hour shushing and chasing my two-year-old, or willing myself not to engage in a glaring war with a man who disapproves of nursing in church.
We as a family are rarely (if ever) “all in” when it comes to Mass: we are late or agitated or exhausted or impatient or poopy or hungry or a catastrophic mix of all these – but I have to believe that God appreciates our presence there despite -indeed because of – our very conspicuous deficiencies in piety. We are the Body of Christ: messy, flawed, unfocused… and beloved.
My daughters may not be able to understand or participate fully in the Eucharistic celebration, and their lack of volume/impulse control may detract from others’ ability to pray as they would prefer. Still, they are vessels of a special kind of grace, and I believe that the Mass as a whole is better, not worse, because my girls are present. Their faith cannot be anything but childlike, and so it ministers in a way no polished homily can. Once, as we shuffled in line to receive Eucharist, my daughter proclaimed loudly “Mama, there’s Jesus on the cross, and Jesus in Comoonin [Communion], and Jesus in my heart!” I know I’m not the only adult whose mind, in that moment, was called away from wandering thoughts and into reflection upon the sacred Mystery of Christ.
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” I’m pretty sure He knew exactly what that implied for parents, and so on Sundays like this last one, I presume an addendum to Christ’s directive: “. . .even if they are ten minutes late and their shoes don’t match.”
Nicole Steele Wooldridge attends Mass with her daughters in the Seattle, Wash. area; she apologizes if, while doing so, her baby has recently spit up on your rosary or her two-year-old has scribbled in your prayer book. If it makes you feel any better, she probably hasn’t had a shower in a few days.