Tuesday, May 24, 2016

That may not unto dogs be given.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

My first, and I hope my last, experience of witnessing the desecration of the Blessed Sacrament in a Tabernacle under my care took place in the little chapel of St Theresa, Nilai. The tabernacle had been pried open, the Blessed Sacrament strewn on the floor, and the ciborium located therein missing, presumably stolen. It was a heart breaking moment to see how the Body of Christ had been thrown onto floor and trampled upon. My first reaction when I received the news was disbelief and then revulsion. I immediately alerted the Archbishop who instructed me to call for public act reparation for this desecration. I am embarrassed to admit that prior to this incident, I had never heard of this prayer. It was simply not taught in the seminary! 

The incident got me reflecting. It was no surprise that the thieves would target the tabernacle. It did resemble a security safe where one would place and hide one’s most prized possessions. I doubt if the thieves realised what they were taking. Perhaps they thought it contained money, but it contained something far more valuable. The irony was that they took the gold-plated ciborium but left behind the seemingly valueless wafers. They certainly were not aware that this was the Church’s greatest treasure, her most prized possession, more precious than all the gold, jewels and diamonds of the world put together – the Blessed Sacrament. I realised that my familiarity with the sanctuary, the tabernacle and its content had led to a contempt which could match or even surpass the level of desecration committed by these thieves. The truth is that they had an excuse, they were ignorant. I had no excuse, I should have known better but my familiarity had descended to callous contempt. Reparation, indeed, was necessary.

The communion we receive is no mere bread, it is nothing less than the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, both His Humanity and His Divinity, truly, really and substantially. Everything and anything Catholic flows from the Real Presence of Jesus Christ here in the Blessed Sacrament. Christ’s Presence among us in the Blessed Sacrament is the summit and source of our lives together in the Church. It is the heart of the matter. In a world where many constantly complain that God is visibly absent in midst of our troubles or where many have grown indifferent to His presence, it is easy to forget that our Lord abides in two homes – in heaven, where He shows Himself undisguised, as He is in reality; and on earth in the Blessed Sacrament, in which He conceals Himself under the cover of bread. The thought of this is mind-blowing! God literally, and not just figuratively or symbolically, resides in this house, in this Temple. There, in the tabernacle, He lives among us. God pitches his tent among his people.

If we only believe this, we would immediately cast aside our casual attitude, our loose dressing, our incorrigible lack of reverence, and fall prostrate before the very flesh of the Lord who created the universe and all therein, including us miserable creatures. But the contrary, unfortunately, is true of us. Often we pay more attention to our own creaturely comfort, we bemoan the tedium of the rituals, and we are so distracted by the tiniest of concerns. We half-heartedly kneel and if given a chance would happily abolish kneeling and genuflecting all together. And the irony is that kneeling is our last remaining experience of reverence and awe in God’s closeness to us. The Body of Christ is casually spoken of as “bread” and the Most Precious Blood of Christ ignobly referred to as “wine.” It’s a rarity now what used to be wide-spread practice, of making the sign of the cross and bowing to the Blessed Sacrament in the Church whenever we drove or walk pass it. If action speaks louder than words, than our attitude, our behaviour, our dressing would surely indict and condemn us. Our protestations of innocence would be in vain. 

We had just heard the beautiful Sequence written by the Angelic Doctor of the Church, St Thomas Aquinas, at the bequest of Pope Urban IV, in honour of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. I don’t know how many parishes or churches will opt to read or sing the sequence in its entirety today. Perhaps its meaning is too much above the average Catholic. I choose to have it sung here today, hoping that some at least will appreciate not just the rhythmic flow and lyrical beauty of the text but also its dogmatic precision, a precision not lost in the process of condensation. And yet, St Thomas, the greatest theologian of the Church since St Paul, would only have scratched the surface of what the Church or anyone of us could say about this sublime mystery and treasure. If St Alphonsus could say with all Truth of the Passion of the Lord, “that eternity would not suffice to meditate adequately upon it,” we may affirm the same of Jesus Christ hidden in the Blessed Sacrament.

Worldly lovers are accustomed frequently to mention and praise those whom they love, that others may also praise and laud them; how poor and weak should we then consider the love of those who call themselves lovers of the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, and yet who seldom speak of it.  A true lover does not act like this; they should speak of it, praise it everywhere, in public and in private, whenever it is in their power they try to enkindle in their hearts of all those ardent flames of love with which themselves burn for their beloved Jesus. How much of our words and actions truly affirm this statement taken from the Second Vatican Council, “The Eucharistic sacrifice is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life”.   

In his Encyclical On the Eucharist, Pope St John Paul II stated that “The Eucharist….is the most precious possession which the Church can have in her journey through history…the Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation.” Only a pope who spent untold hours adoring the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament could write such words. When he first arrived at the Vatican, St John Paul II gave the Swiss Guard quite a scare. One day they couldn’t find him anywhere. Not in his library. Not in his office. Not in his bedroom. Not in his private chapel. They turned the place upside down. No pope. Finally, they reported the crisis to the pope’s secretary. He took them back to the pope’s private chapel. The lights were out. They tip-toed to the front. There was the pope face down on the floor in front of the tabernacle!  This saintly pope teaches us what it means to be so consumed by the Eucharist, what it means to “become what we eat.” It is this - that our whole life should be in imitation of our Blessed Lord, that our work, our homes, our prayer, our talk, even our fun and chill time should be a preparation for the Holy Mass. That with the right disposition and attitude, every single mass celebrated, even with the most minimal accoutrements, can be an extraordinary experience.

When we have lost a sense of the sacred, when we no longer show reverence to the Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we have little reverence for anything else. As a matter of fact all justice flow from this central reality. As Catholic Christians we judge our political, economic and political systems on the truth that each and every human person is sacred unto the Lord; each and every person is a temple of God’s Holy Spirit. Likewise, if wish to recover the lost sense of stewardship over creation, we need to also recover our sense of the sacred. The truth is that we continue to rape and plunder our natural resources because we’ve lost reverence for the presence of God in our world, in the trees and natural resources, in nature’s pure waters, in animals, in all of God’s creatures. We regard them today merely as useful, as things to exploit for profit.

Let us therefore ponder once again the gravity of these words penned by the Angelic Doctor, St Thomas Aquinas, as we prepare ourselves, unworthy as we may be, to receive Holy Communion, our most prized possession, our greatest treasure, the antidote to death and the elixir of immortality. Let us approach our Eucharistic Lord with humility and a clean heart. Lord we believe, help our unbelief!

“Behold the Bread of Angels,
Sent for pilgrims in their banishment,
The bread of God’s true children meant,
That may not unto dogs be given.”

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