What if I approached faith like I did when I was a child? When I was about six years old – just old enough to begin to grasp the mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection – I asked my dad a question that probably baffled him. It was a depressing, cold and rainy Good Friday in Pennsylvania where we were visiting my grandmothers for the holiday, and I wanted to know, did Jesus die every Good Friday? Was he dying now?
I don’t remember how my dad answered, but the question has remained with me all these years. Metaphysically and liturgically speaking, I believe the answer is yes. I’m no theologian by any stretch, but I don’t have to be one to grasp that the mystery of the Body of Christ, which we celebrate this Sunday, is this – “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
These are the words of Paul to the Corinthians in today’s second reading. When we proclaim the death of the Lord, His sacrifice is made real and present whenever we celebrate the Mass. It didn’t just happen one Good Friday. It happens every Sunday. Sometimes even on weekdays.
I wonder how our faith community would change if we Catholics actually lived as if we understood and truly realized that this is what happens when we gather together around the table. That Jesus offers himself as a perpetual sacrifice today, once and for all, and invites us to participate by offering ourselves. What if we approached that table the way we did when we took our first communion?
I’m so grateful I haven’t lost that childlike approach to my faith, even as I enter ever more deeply into adulthood and all its responsibilities. This is probably why I love the simple yet profound spirituality I find in children’s films. Take, for example, the Chronicles of Narnia. It is sometimes difficult for me to grasp the meaning of the Eucharist at Mass, but it makes perfect sense when explained this way:
All three of this weekend’s readings tip their hat to the concept of sacrifice. Abram (who would become Abraham) institutes the sacrifice of tithing at the onset of his spiritual journey, and Jesus institutes the sacrifice of the Eucharist at the Passover meal with his Apostles. And the Gospel miracle of the feeding of the crowd with five loaves and two fish reminds us of the sacrifice we all are capable of making -giving what we have and who we are, no matter how little or how humble, to be of service to others’ most basic human needs.
The analyst in me loves the details of this story. The fist thing I notice is that the Apostles didn’t connect Jesus’ spiritual message with meeting the physical needs of the people, nor did they realize on their own that it was their job, not His, to feed them. He had to instruct the Apostles to “Give them some food yourselves.” The second thing I notice is that they did not give their meager offerings directly to the hungry crowd. They made their sacrifice to the Lord, who blessed it.
How often have I made sacrifices to meet the needs of my family and church and employer and community without first offering those sacrifices to God? If it seems I’m giving and giving what little I have with no effect, perhaps it’s because I’m giving to the wrong person. Human attempts to satisfy will always fall short without being channelled through the blessingway of God.
On Holy Thursday and Good Friday, Jesus handed Himself over to human beings in the sacrifice of the first Mass and the crucifixion. We, on the other hand, are called to hand ourselves over to God.
To whom do I hand myself over? If I’m making decisions based on how I think other people will react, then I’m not handing myself over to God or giving Him jurisdiction over my life. Christ gave himself over to the capriciousness of humanity precisely so that we wouldn’t have to. So I have to ask myself, why do I submit to the fickleness of flesh when I could surrender to the merciful justice of God?
This week I had a few very demanding days, but I started them with offering myself to God in prayer and meditation. On Wednesday, I felt God’s presence empower me to do everything on my list, and I went to sleep praising Him. On Thursday, I started with prayer and even ate breakfast, but it did not prevent the day from being an emotional rollercoaster freak out session. I went to bed questioning God, who gently asked me to imagine how much worse it would have been without giving myself to Him first.
On Friday, I trusted in my prayer routine yet again, in spite of Thursday being less than perfect, and once again felt God’s companionship and provision in every step of the day. It helped me realize that God’s real presence is what sustains me as I am broken to be bread for the world. Feeling happy or content, or feeling stressed and anxious, are not good barometers for how well I’m allowing God to use me.
My old pastor used to say, “Don’t give till it hurts; give till it feels good.” Well, sometimes giving doesn’t feel good, and trying to pretend it doesn’t hurt is dishonest and harmful. Like Aslan, sometimes my sacrifices are going to lay me out dead. Jesus calls me to “die to self,” and that process is painful, no matter how I try to intellectualize it. But though we proclaim death, we are ever a people of life. Buddha said, “Life is suffering.” I think the Catholic version of this would be, “Life is sacrifice.” But sacrifice is never the end. Sacrifice is the doorway to life. Life always wins in the end, and if it hasn’t won, it’s not the end. This is what we celebrate, and this is what we believe on the Feast of the Body of Christ.