I see his face in every flower
The quote above is a line from the poem ‘The Presence Of God’ by Joseph Mary Plunkett, one of the martyrs of the 1916 Rising whose marriage to Grace Gifford took place in prison hours before his execution. I was in that prison chapel, looked into their cells, read his beautiful letter of proposal to her, saw the lovely Madonna and Child which she painted on her cell wall and her wedding ring.
The Presence of God is so palpable in the reality and complexities of the human experience, the human struggle for liberation, even in situations where He seems to be absent, as seemed to Jesus on Calvary.
The presence of God in the Eucharist – this we celebrate today as the summit of all our prayer. The Mass is the prayer of all prayer which brings us directly into contact with God in a way different to all others.
In John 6 Jesus presents himself as the new Passover, bread for the hunger of humanity. The miracle of the loaves and fish, the rejection of earthly power, the escape to the solitude of the hills, the walking on water are all part of the mystery of Eucharist. The teaching that follows these events is provocative, calling an unambiguous response, pushes us to a moment of decision. We cannot be indifferent.
“The bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world…I AM the bread of life…” The response of many was to say that this is intolerable language, who could ever accept it? And most of the disciples left him at that stage. “What about you” he asked the twelve “will you go away too?” Where do I stand, with whom do I stand?
But before the time of decision there is the attentiveness of Jesus to the approaching crowd. He is immediately aware of their hunger, ready to do something about it. He is alert, aware, listening. He who dwells in the deep silence of the Father listens as the Father listens, is attentive as the Father is attentive.
Through the immediate physical hunger, He intends to feed the deeper hunger of the human heart.
A lovely line, an encouraging thought is that Jesus himself knew exactly what He was going to do about this great hunger. But He also wants us, the disciples to participate in His response. He draws Philip out, makes him think about what can be done.
We as Church, as individuals are called to enter with Him into the profound silence of the Father, to hear the hunger of the people as God hears it. To listen to the cry of others, to listen without prejudice and without any agenda of our own. It is a call to universal listening, to be universal as He is universal and that includes listening to what and who I do not want to hear. It is an attentive listening that does not exclude.
On a personal level Jesus is alert to the hunger that is in me, in each of us. The question is – am I alert to the hunger that is in me? What is the hunger that is masked by my addictions – the obvious addictions and the more subtle ones.
I am called to allow myself to taste and feel my deepest desires, to acknowledge them to God and to myself as a first step towards dealing with them in a life-giving way. It means I have to live in the depths of my own being and not simply continue drifting along the surface of my own reality. To live a real life that is offered to God in the Eucharist, to live a life that is capable of being disturbed, unsettled and ultimately transformed.
There’s a small boy with five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus and Andrew have two different responses to this. Andrew says what is humanly obvious – “but what is that among so many”. We ourselves may think that we do not have what is necessary to deal with our life’s hunger, that what we have is clearly not enough. But the response of Jesus is to take these little, inadequate offerings and to find in them reasons for gratitude. He gives thanks and somehow the power of gratitude makes the miracle happen. There is enough, even more than enough.
An aspect of our Eucharist is to allow the inadequacy of our lives to be taken by Jesus, to be held by Him, to be empowered by His gratitude. We need to surrender our lives into His hands. This is not a lifeless, timid surrender, a simple giving up or resignation. It is a surrender born out of struggle, it is the fruit of an honest wrestling with God and myself, wrestling with my deepest desire. And out of all this comes the abundance that is more than enough. Jesus himself is the food for my desire, the abundance for which I yearn.
In the Last Supper He gives us bread become His body, wine become His blood – “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in that person…as I myself draw life from the Father so whoever eats me will draw life from me.”
Like so many divine mysteries this is one that the human mind cannot comprehend – how can He give us His flesh to eat and His blood to drink? – we can only understand it with the spiritual instinct of faith, a faith that trusts Him completely. Job says of God that “what He conceives He can perform” – It is in the nature of God to be able to do all things, the God of the impossible. And because He is God then I trust Jesus to be able to give us His body and blood in the Eucharist. I take His word as He spoke them “this is my body…this is the cup of my blood”
Some years ago the Irish Times has ran a series on the healing and renewal of the Catholic Church. Two pieces caught my attention. One was the testimony of an 11 year old Lorcan who made his Confirmation this year. He says, “On Sundays I go to Mass with my family. I like going up to Communion. The priest says we all have to look out for each other. I don’t find it hard to understand how the wine becomes blood, because Jesus did that at the Last Supper.” The mind of a child has an understanding of spiritual realities that is sometimes lost to adults. Unless you become like little children!
“Supper was special that night. There was both a heaviness and a holiness hanging in the air. We couldn’t explain the mood, It was sacred, yet sorrowful. Gathered around the table eating that solemn, holy meal seemed to us the most important meal we had ever sat down to eat. We were dwelling in the heart of mystery. Though dark the night, hope felt right as though something evil was about to be conquered. And then suddenly the One we loved startled us. He got up from the table and put on an apron. Can you imagine how we felt? God in an apron! Tenderness encircled us as He bowed before us. He knelt and said, ”I choose to wash your feet because I love you.” God in an apron, kneeling. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was embarrassed until his eyes met mine. I sensed my value then. He touched my feet. He held them in his strong, brown hands. He washed them. I can still feel the water. I can still feel the touch of his hands. I can still see the look in his eyes. Then he handed me a towel and said, ”As I have done, so must you do.” Learn how to bow. Learn how to kneel. Let your tenderness encircle everyone you meet. Wash their feet not because you have to, because you want to. It seems I’ve stood two thousands years holding the towel in my hands, ”As I have done so must you do, ” keeps echoing in my heart. ”There are so many feet to wash,” I keep saying ”No,” I hear God’s voice resounding through the years. ”There are only my feet. What you do for them you do for me.” (Macrina Wiederkehr, Seasons of your Heart.)