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Online Retreat: "Living the Eucharist" - Week One
This is the first week of a four-week online retreat focused on the spirituality of the Eucharist. The mystery of the Eucharist is not only something we celebrate, it is also a reality that we seek to live as followers of Jesus. You are invited to read the following reflection and make use of the recommended Scripture readings and reflection questions for your prayer during the week. We suggest that you take 20-30 minutes per day to pray with the Scripture passages and the questions. The other installments of this retreat can also be found on our website.
Week One: Telling Our Story
Stories shape and color the fabric of our lives. Narratives associated with our family traditions, experiences with good friends, and pivotal events in our personal development help provide frameworks of meaning for us. When older people regale us with stories of the “old days” they are making memory of events that have given meaning to their lives. I used to visit one of our older Passionist priests, Father Bede, in his final days at a nursing home. Bede was a delightful person and something of a real character. During every visit, without fail, he would relate some story about his life to me that I would remember after I left. They were often humorous stories that made me laugh heartily, but I also realized that through such stories significant events in Bede’s life became present once again for him. They were memorialized and re-presented. Important stories shape our vision of life – our perspective on where we come from and where we are headed, our sense of identity as individuals and a community, and our convictions about what is truly valuable. We are story-laden people.
My mother used to like to tell us stories about the time when she was dating my father. My father died when I was very young, so I never got to hear his version of these events!! Some of these stories were humorous. For example, she often narrated how they met on a “double date” at a football game. My (eventual) father had a date with my mother’s best friend; she had a date with a friend of my father. She would talk about how she did not like my father very much when they first met. But that soon changed; he asked her out and the rest is history. My mother would also talk about my father’s struggle with diabetes and their joint efforts to keep him healthy in the face of that debilitating disease. Though many of these stories my mother told were entertaining, they were also very important to her and to the whole family. Through those stories my mother kept the memory of my deceased father alive. Through them she also communicated to her children what her relationship with my father meant to her and what marriage meant to her.
David Power, a well-known sacramental theologian, talks about the power of story within the context of the liturgy (The Eucharistic Mystery, 304-316). Power says, “It is by the power of language that events are represented and transform reality.” He discusses what he calls “foundational narratives.” Power observes, “It is from these [foundational narratives] that communities draw their vigor, in reference to them that they express the horizon within which they live. As the life of a community develops over time, new events are illumined by their relation to the foundational narrative.”
As Christians, our foundational narrative is the story of Jesus. We are people who tell the story of Jesus and who treasure that story, striving to allow it more and more to become the guiding vision in our lives. As Power suggests, events in our lives are illumined by relating them to the foundational narrative of God’s loving self-gift in Jesus. We draw our vigor for life by dwelling within that story and allowing it to slowly transform us, to shape the ways in which we see and act. We want the gospel to form the horizon within which we live.
Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we get in touch with our foundational narrative, the story of God’s tenaciously faithful love revealed in Jesus Christ. This happens, of course, through the proclamation of the Scriptures at the liturgy. It also takes place through the rest of the celebration -- through the prayers, gestures and actions in which the entire assembly participates. As a presider, when it comes time in the liturgy to pray the Eucharistic prayer, I often think to myself, “We are telling the story of God’s love – the love story of God for the world.” When we make memory of the great events of salvation history God embraces his people. The Eucharistic prayers for children make this especially evident. In one of those prayers we say, “God our loving Father, we are glad to give you thanks and praise because you love us. Because you love us, you gave us this great and beautiful world. . . . Because you love us, you sent Jesus your Son to bring us to you and to gather us around him as children of one family. . . . Blessed be Jesus, whom you sent to be the friend of children and of the poor. He came to show us how we can love you, Father, by loving one another. He came to take away sin, which keeps us from being friends, and hate, which makes everyone unhappy.” Proclaiming this children’s Eucharistic prayer puts us closely in touch with the story of God’s gracious love for the world poured out in Jesus Christ.
The challenge for us is to allow the story of Jesus to become our guiding light amidst the many other competing narratives that are communicated to us. We are, in fact, bombarded with other stories of meaning and value in our culture and world. These narratives influence us before we know it. Just think, for example, about the stories that are told and lived out on some of the reality television shows that we watch. These shows are diverse in tone and message, but it would be illuminating to sit back and ask ourselves, What is the main message about life that is being conveyed to me through this show? We recently remembered the tragic events of 9/11 in our country. The events of that day, with all that they signify, have become a kind of narrative for our nation and for much of the world. But stories can be told in different ways, with various interpretations. What does the “9/11 Story” say to us? Is it remembered in such a way that we are moved to adopt of spirit of bigotry toward people who are different from us? Or is that story told in a manner that inspires us to promote efforts toward peace and deeper understanding between diverse peoples? We need to pay attention to the stories that impact upon us and to the ways in which these stories are told.
By entering into the celebration of the Eucharist faithfully, we immerse ourselves in the story of Jesus, the foundational narrative that forms the horizon, the overarching vision, of Christians. This is one reason why the Eucharist is called the source and the summit of the Christian life. Unless we dwell within this story again and again, we easily lose our way. Other stories (like those of reality television) begin to drown out the story of Jesus in our minds and spirits, and our vision becomes impaired. We need the wisdom and light that are given to us as we recall the story of God’s love for us in Christ and reflect on what it means to live that story today.
The next time you participate in the Eucharist, think about the vision of life that the liturgy offers you. Pray for the grace to allow that vision to inspire and guide your choices and actions.
Fr. Robin Ryan, cp
For Prayer and Reflection
Day One -- Read Luke 24: 13-35. This is the famous Emmaus story. It has Eucharistic significance, since the two disciples come to recognize the risen Jesus as he opens the Scriptures for them and breaks the bread with them. How have you experienced Jesus walking alongside you on “the road” of your life? What has his companionship meant to you? In which area in your life do you need to have your eyes opened by the Lord?
Day Two – Read Exodus 19: 1-8. This “eagle’s wings” passage encapsulates the self-understanding of Israel. It recalls the story of their liberation from slavery and their call to enter into a covenant with the Lord. The people of Israel are called a “holy nation” because they belong to the holy God – they are God’s “special possession.” How have you experienced the Lord freeing you from forces in your life that were burdensome? In what way do you need him to give you greater freedom now? Do you see yourself as belonging to God, as being a “special possession” of God? How is the Lord inviting you into a deeper covenant relationship with him – the covenant that we remember and renew every time we celebrate the Eucharist?
Day Three – Read Psalm 136. This beautiful prayer of ancient Israel is a hymn of praise that recalls the creative and saving deeds of God. After each such recollection, the psalmist chants, “God’s love endures forever.” Pray this psalm several times and savor the words of the refrain. At what important moments in your life have you experienced the enduring love of God? Who are some of the people who have revealed God’s love to you in significant ways? Offer your own words of thanksgiving to God for his enduring love, and ask the Lord to help you come to a deeper awareness of his love for you.
Day Four – Read Deuteronomy 6: 4-9. This is the “Shema” (the Hebrew word for “hear”) – a passage that is of great importance to the Jewish people and which is prayed daily by faithful Jews. Jesus quotes part of this passage in the gospel (see Mark 12:29-30). It bespeaks wholehearted commitment to God, based on God’s wholehearted commitment to us. Pray the words of this passage slowly and reflectively. Ask God for the grace to love and to serve him with your whole heart.
Day Five – Read Luke 4: 16-30. This passage sets the scene for the entire public ministry of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus reads the words of the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth, and these words provide a vision for his own ministry. God is present and active in him to bring good news to the poor, freedom to captives, and sight to the blind. What does the vision of Isaiah say to you about Christ’s presence and action in your life? What does it say about the vision Jesus offers you for your own life?