What Is Holy Communion? How I’d like to Break It down to My Little Ones

Here is what I wish I was bold enough to say aloud about Holy Communion.

My nephews, ages 12 and nearly 10, seem to be uncomfortable around talk of religion – like their mother is and like I used to be. They go to Sunday Mass regularly because of their dad, but I don’t think they get it and I don’t think they like it. Did any of us as kids? Nobody broke it down for me when I was younger. So, here’s my attempt for them – at least on paper…

Holy Communion is spiritual food. Your soul needs to be healthy. Communion, or the Eucharist, gives you spiritual strength to help you to be brave, to be kind, to be merciful, to be generous, and to have wisdom to help you to make good decisions. In the consecrated bread and wine, Jesus gives you himself so that you can be powerful like him.

Now, of course, we’re only human. We make mistakes. We have flaws. And life isn’t always easy in this world. God knows. When Jesus lived among us, a human being like us, even though he is also God, he had it pretty rough sometimes. He and his family were poor. People made fun of him, thought he was crazy, spit at him, and beat him up. I mean – they even nailed him to a cross to die! But, even though Jesus got scared, tired, sad, even angry at times, and even though he terribly dreaded what he would have to suffer on the cross, so much so that he sweated blood – he got through it. He even got through death. Death had no power over him. He rose up from the dead, alive again, body and soul. And he now lives, in a mysterious way, in Heaven and gives himself to us, also in a mysterious way, in the Eucharist, so that we can be strong like him and get through anything, even death, and live forever.

Spiritual food doesn’t just help us get through the rough times. Holy Communion helps us to better enjoy the happy things of life, too, like love, laughter, fun, accomplishments, even forgiveness – which is a kind of joy because it’s so freeing. Spiritually strong, we can become more grateful, peaceful, and happier, because we carry a little bit of Heaven within us.

Remember that we can’t be truly healthy and truly happy unless we take care of both our bodies and our souls. We call Jesus the Bread of Life. And that’s why Jesus invites us to the altar to receive him in the Eucharist – to feed our souls, to help us to be strong, healthy, and happy, with his never-ending love always in our hearts.

Yup. I’d like to say all these things to my nephews… but I probably won’t be brave enough. Other people’s discomfort makes me uncomfortable, too.  Yes… I seem to be afraid of what children who love me will think of me.  Heavy sigh.

Maybe I need to listen to my own words and receive the courage that Jesus is giving to me when he feeds and strengthens my soul in the Eucharist….

© 2015 Christina Chase

The Heavy-Laden One

Who amongst us isn’t wounded?  Who amongst us isn’t crippled in some way?  Who amongst us doesn’t bear the scars of past hurt or the pain of present heartache?  To be a living human is to breathe in and out, to think with the coursing of blood, to weep and to laugh, to taste a little bit of decay with every pleasure’s sigh.

No one can be alive and stagnant.  There must be ebb and flow, the breaking and remolding of every day.  For we do not contain within ourselves a still liquid, but, rather, a flowing stream of infinite love that must be given and received, which wears down every hardness and washes away the places of softness – so that ever and more we may be full of living love.

Do not be afraid.  Thousands have gone before you and thousands more are following; you are not alone.  The One who made the way leads you and protects you on all sides – thus that Beautiful One is the Way. JESUS-carrying-crossWounded, crippled, scarred, and pained, the Sublime One is your heartbeat, is your sorrow, is your joy, is the very marrow of your mind and very soul of your soul.  See how beautiful?  The Heavy-Laden One cries and sings with you – this Healing One waits for you beyond the edge of the last day.

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

Descended to the Dead

underwater

Have you ever submerged yourself under water, like a lake or a pool, and gone down, down, down? The light, if visible, is far-off and distorted, while all around you, enshrouding you, is a seductive, numbing kind of darkness. There’s an oblivious kind of quiet down there and you would stay below. But, within you is the instinct to rise.

You are made to rise – from the pool, the grudge, the self-pity, the addiction…. You are made to rise up, to see clearly, to breathe freely – you are made for the Light.

But, what if your ability to rise is deadened by self-abuse – by sin? Then, all that is good within you will drown. And your soul will die. It is for this reason that Jesus sacrificed himself on the Cross – he descended to the dead so that he may always be with you, so that he may always be with you even in the deepest, darkest abyss. Christ Jesus is there and stretches out his hand, and parts the drowning waters. You need only to reach out for his mercy and he will take hold of you – and raise you up to the land of the living, to the Light.

© 2015 Christina Chase

This concludes a trio of short reflections for the Paschal Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Blessed and Joyous Easter, everyone!

My Particular Body and My Peculiar Soul – My Immortality

The soul is what animates the body, bringing it to life – and my soul, as a human being, is the breath of God.[1] If my soul is of God, is of spirit, then it has no beginning and no end. Eternal. Immortal. For spirit cannot be reduced to parts.[2] Spirit is not finite. However, I can neither say that I, as the human person that I am, had no beginning nor that I am infinite. This is because I am of flesh and spirit, body and soul united as one human person. My spiritual soul animates my material body – and my material body affects my spiritual soul.

What makes my soul my soul?

In contemplating the human body this month, thoughts have come to me that, although the gifts of intellect, memory/imagination, and freewill are “products”, if you will, of my spiritual soul, they only take on unique qualities peculiar to me through my bodily living.

I’m thinking that, maybe, it’s kind of like this: imagine Spirit (that which is nonmaterial, infinite, eternal, divine) as an endless substance that is absolutely everywhere. When I, as an individual member of the Homo sapiens species, first came into being (at the moment of my conception, when the genetic material from my mother and my father combined and began to live, cells multiplying, a singular organism developing and growing) I was immediately a combination of matter and spirit, a unique human person. My body was in zygotic, and later embryonic, then fetal, infantile, juvenile, adolescent, and adult, form and, no matter where my body was or is in geographical location, spirit animates my body.

God, who is Spirit Itself, does not change with the changes of my body – for God is immutable. But, somehow, someway, through the mysterious workings of God, the spirit that animates my body is affected by the life that I live through my body. My intellect is informed through my body and my freewill acts through my body and, mysteriously, my bodily experiences and choices give a unique kind of energy to the spirit that brings me to life: my soul.

The Afterlife

This affected kind of energy is not infinite like spirit, but rather finite, like flesh – that is, it is not always and everywhere. But, because this unique impression, coloring, flavor, or imprinted energy, if you will, is upon spirit, grounded in spirit, it will not die. When the body dies (and the body, being of matter, must die) this particular “shade” of spirit, my soul, will continue to live eternally. (What choices I make will determine how that eternal life is lived… but, more on that later.) As a Christian, I believe that, by the power, grace, and mercy of God, my soul will be allowed to reanimate my body in the Resurrection at the End of Days, through Christ my Savior – though it will no longer be my body as it is now, living materially on earth, but, rather, my body glorified… given immortality in the New Heavens and the New Earth, in the life of the world to come. A profound Mystery.

Well, these are my thoughts, anyway, rather roughly laid out. But, I wanted to share them, hoping that others may have further and/or better insight that they will share with me as I continue to explore. What do you think?

© 2014 Christina Chase

[1] Genesis 2:7

[2] as taught by St. Thomas Aquinas

The Assumption and Every Body

Imagine that we’re sitting together in a cemetery …

2008-07-21_Old_Chapel_Hill_Cemetery_2

I’ve had difficulty with the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary – just as I’ve had difficulty with the entire idea of the “resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come”. After taking the leap of faith in becoming a Christian, I decided it was best not to tackle every difficult dogma as soon as possible, but to… well, have faith and consider each in good time. One day, as an assignment for an online theology course on Mary, I was asked to imagine teaching the dogma to a class. In doing so, I found myself seriously thinking about the glorified body of Jesus Resurrected and about the eternal destinies of every human person, starting with Mary, our mother in Christ. The vital importance of the Assumption then struck me and I saw it – and myself – in a whole new light. As we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Assumption, allow me take you with me on this journey of discovery…

Imagine that we’re sitting together in a cemetery, on the grass amid the gravestones. Perhaps this is where your grandparents are buried, or your parents, or sibling, a friend, a spouse, or your own child. As in most cemeteries, all of the bodies buried here are facing toward the east, which is the direction of the rising sun and the new day, in anticipation of the General Resurrection at the end of days. Their mortal remains have been buried here by their loved ones, with reverent prayers, in hopes that they will see them again, resurrected, soul and glorified body reunited, in the eternity of Heaven.

Where is Jesus buried?

Of course, the body of Jesus Christ is not buried anywhere, because he rose from the dead, his body glorified, and ascended into Heaven. But, the deceased bodies of holy Christian men and women, the simple and unremembered on earth as well as the great Saints, are buried in tombs and cemeteries all over the world. We can even go visit their graves or revere their relics.

 

Tomb of St. Peter

Tomb of St. Peter

Tomb of St. Paul

Tomb of St. Paul

 

Even the mortal remains of the Saints are lying in wait for the Resurrection, like the remains of the people buried here beneath this green lawn.

But…

Where is the Blessed Virgin Mary buried?

If you can’t think of the answer to that question is because there is no “where”. This is the very definition of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary: “… the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.” This belief was held by early Christians, both East and West. In the Eastern traditions of the Catholic Church, the “Dormition” of Mary has been officially celebrated with a Holy Day on August 15 for nearly 1400 years. Because of this deeply rooted tenet of faith, as is written in the document Defining the Dogma of the Assumption, “… the Church has never looked for the bodily relics of the Blessed Virgin nor proposed them for the veneration of the people…”. There is no grave, known or unknown, no tomb, no reliquary, where the mortal remains of the Blessed Virgin lie because nothing mortal of the Blessed Virgin remains.

What makes Mary so different?

If Jesus Christ is God-made-Man, then it is absolutely appropriate that he rose bodily from the dead, his body glorified, and then ascended into heavenly glory. Christ is fully human, sharing our human nature – but he is also fully divine, beng God Incarnate, after all. But, by believing that Christ’s mother was assumed bodily into Heaven, what are we saying about her? Mary isn’t God. She’s a human person like us, born of both a human mother and a human father, with no divine nature at all. Why aren’t her earthly remains lying somewhere, like those beneath us in the cemetery, like those of the other saints, awaiting the end of days and the General Resurrection?

By virtue of her being Christ’s own mother – the Mother of God – God gave the Blessed Virgin Mary special graces and privileges from the instant of her creation (Immaculate Conception) through the natural end of her earthly life. She who gave herself completely to divine will, saying to the angel of God, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” conceived, carried, birthed, and nursed the body of Our Lord. From her human flesh, God’s Word was made flesh and, therefore, she was granted the privilege of not suffering any decomposition of the flesh or corruption of the tomb. In other words, she didn’t have to wait until the end of days for “the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come”. This is her unique and holy privilege, by the grace of God.

The Assumption for Us

Imagine what it was like when Mary’s earthly life came to a close, the time of her “Dormition”, as the Eastern Churches call it. When the Assumption actually took place, I imagine that it was a very intimate event, private, loving, between a mother and a son. This aged woman, the beloved mother of our Savior, closed her earthly eyes for the last time and, by the tender grace of God, opened her glorified sight to eternity, her much loved body and soul intact in precious union.

Over the centuries, the reality of the Assumption has become for us, more and more, a tremendous hope and crucial reminder. She who is a human person, now shares bodily in the divine life for all eternity. This is the salvation and glory that is offered to each and every one of us through Christ our Lord. Mary, the Mother of all the living in Christ, went before us – and we hope to follow at the end of time. That is the hope that this cemetery, and every grave, encloses.

trebon-virgin-mary

God Loves What He Has Created

The Assumption was declared Dogma in 1950, putting an official stamp and explanation on what Christians have believed for centuries. We may wonder why it took so long for the declaration to be made – but, we know that all things happen in God’s time. The proclamation came forth just after World War II, a terrible period of history when millions of human beings were systematically murdered, having been stripped and gassed, their dead bodies heaped in piles like cordwood. The graphic images of this massacre and desecration horrified the world – and the Catholic Church took action. With the proclamation of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Universal Church, founded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, gave us a powerful reminder of the dignity and destiny of the human person – body and soul.

Our bodies are sacred, not like some kind of prison from which the soul has to escape, and not like some meaningless shell that we can do with as we wish. We are creatures of both flesh and spirit – body and soul as one person – and we believe that our souls will be reunited with our glorified bodies at the end of time. Therefore, it is right and just to respect human bodies. God loves what He has created. The human body is created by God and is not to be profaned, mutilated, abused, murdered, or desecrated in any way – for every human being is loved by God and destined for perfection, body and soul, in heavenly glory.

The Power of the Assumption Lived

As we continue our journey, imagine with me that we are now at an adult daycare facility. In such places as these we see, indeed, that human beings come in all shapes and sizes and all levels of physical and mental abilities. Whether impaired in cognition, slowed and drooling, or aged and decrepit, everybody is a human being. And if we are truly going to celebrate the Solemnity of the Assumption, then we must remember that everybody, every body, is beautiful in the eyes of God, Who sees our heavenly glory….

What would happen if we saw each other that way? What if we truly remember that each human creature we encounter, whether mentally disabled or physically deformed, is exquisitely beautiful in the eyes of God? If we could see the heavenly glory that God intends for each one of them – for each one of us – we would be blown away by the intense radiance of that beauty, the eternal destiny of every human being redeemed and resurrected by the power of God’s love. And then maybe, just maybe, we would love one another as God loves us, with respect, forgiveness, affection, and generosity, seeing ourselves and our fellow human beings as God sees us and hopes for us.

© 2014 Christina Chase

The Human Body and First Friday Observation

“I sing the body electric…”     

One Particular Body

Have you ever looked at your fingers? I mean, have you seriously looked at your fingers to really see them? Intricate workings of flesh – fiber, sinew, nerve, muscle, blood, and bone – delicate and strong, with the sensitivity of touch and the power to press and to grasp…

fingers praying

I don’t remember the last time that my fingers grasped anything. So small and light are they… with only enough strength of movement still to press an easily triggered mouse button – though, as always, the sense of touch alive and electric, DSCN6403but what I touch now must come to me… for the muscle of my arm can no longer reach my fingers out to the surface of skin or petal that I desire, of wood, fur, liquid, stone, or glass. The weakness of my hands cause my fingers to tremble in motion, like the new and uncertain legs of a fawn. And, so, it is with a kind of sad affection that I gaze upon my fingers… and, thus gazing, marvel at what lies beneath and what lies beyond…

The Marvel of the Human

The human body is amazing – wondrous are all lifeforms of flora and fauna, soul animated and alive, quivering with quickness like the hummingbird and dragonfly, ponderous in muscularity like the whale and rhinoceros, bare slowness of movement like the sunflower and grass. But, the human body quivers and ponders as well in the bare workings of mind – brain and body alive with a conscious presence that is Mystery and Spirit. And the far-flung galaxies and twinklings of other worlds, within and without, are as much home to our hearts as hearth and bed bower.

I am a human being. And my body is weakened and deformed by tiny lapses of cells – and yet I am wonderful. In just such human form as mine, God was pleased to dwell… though in prime of life rendered physically debilitated and immobile…

For humans are the special love of God, our forms sanctified….

The Soul and the Body As One Person

Gravity and electromagnetism, forces weak and strong, have gathered and coalesced stardust and chemistry into my particular form under the direction of the Divine Composer and Maestro, who breathes my life into me. My life is a gift of Creation: material body and spiritual soul united as one person in the unfolding of Divine Will. My body would not be my body without the divine gift of my soul – and my soul would not be my soul without the divine gift of my body. My soul is of spirit and spirit is eternal, but my one, unique and particular soul only came to be this one, unique and particular soul in the animation of my body. The human body needs the soul and the human soul needs the body. There is only paradise, pure and perfect bliss, when one is transformed in immortality and the other fulfilled in eternity, one never ailing the other, transcending stardust and chemistry and the limitations of the mind.

My body is not a prison for my soul to escape. Neither is my body a meaningless shell with which I can do whatever I please. My body is part of the universe, belonging to the Creator and Master of the universe, alive, real, essential, and hereme. Every breath I take is the Will of God. Every movement I make is within the cosmic dance, sometimes misaligned, sometimes in accord. And within accord, within harmony, is the reason for suns burning and waters churning and the spinning of every planet, meteor, seed pod, and bee. And every apple, egg, and nut that I have eaten, every grain of wheat and slice of meat ground up and consumed, is the making of me. I am formed and sustained, body and soul, with every story heard, song sung, and gentle kiss felt; with every moon-rising seen, flower smelled, and syrup tasted. No cheek that I’ve caressed, though long ago, is wasted; the water drunk, the laughter shared, the tears shed, the wound received, and the prayer expressed shape me and become me, and the air, and ground, and people around me likewise impress and are impressed.

Humans, more than any other of the divinely created animals, are responsive to the cosmic song in the Unmoved Mover – even when we choose less than responsibly. Because we have the capacity for freely chosen and unconditionally willed love, if we don’t muck it up and fill that capacity in with the dense lead of finite and selfish concerns, then the breath of God will fill us eternally with the divine gift of life – body and soul, now and forever.

 Catholic Dogma

For this reason, a human person, a woman named Mary, who was the mother of Jesus – the mother of God – was received, body and soul, into the immortal realm beyond finite space and time, so that she would never cease to be what she was most wonderfully: human. Catholic and Orthodox Churches proclaim this in doctrine and dogma and feast days of joy, hope, and gratitude, so that every human being may acknowledge and remember that the human body is sacred and that we are most fully ourselves, who God created us to be, when we are truly human – fully united in body and soul. And, so, I contemplate the sanctity of the human body on this First Friday of the month of August, the month in which we commemorate and celebrate, in the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, this profound truth: matter matters to God, Who loves humankind and sees, in its loved and fulfilled entirety, divine good without ceasing…

Prayer:

Lord of All,

help me to remember and to celebrate

the sanctity of my body

and the fullness of who you created me to be,

body and soul.

I am yours…

 fully,

the dense and the electric, the strong and the weak.

Help me also to better believe

in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.

 

(This is part of the First Friday Facilitators Series. For more about this series, please read the introductory post. You may also like the other posts in this series: April   May   June  July )

© 2014 Christina Chase

Come On Baby, Light My Fire

Pentecost, for Christians, is when we celebrate the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Apostles – it is also referred to as the birthday of the Church. Like Fr. Finnigan said at the vigil Mass, the Holy Spirit animates (gives life to) the Church as the soul animates the body. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ and so the Holy Spirit animates us as members of that Body. But… how animated are we? We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism, as well as Confirmation for Catholics – but then what do we do with this gift? “Holy Spirit? Oh, yeah, it’s in the back closet under my old yearbooks, behind the Thighmaster . I never really found a use for it, it’s just kind of in the way.”

As an atheist, I certainly didn’t have a use for the Spirit – but the Spirit always knew what to do with me. In those days, when I thought that I was opening my mind, I was actually closing it off to the fullness of reality. When I thought that I was more free to be truly myself, I was actually becoming an even more crippled version of myself, no longer firing on all cylinders: body, mind, heart, and soul. Then, one day, I was silent and still enough to listen… to hear… and then brave enough to accept that which we call God – infinite, eternal, Present Presence, undeniable and unshakable. Two gifts of the Holy Spirit were at work in me, unsolicited: Courage and Fear of (awe in the presence of) the Lord.

Sure, I don’t have the Holy Spirit in the back closet anymore – but can I really say that I am letting the Spirit light me up, burning like a fire in me? “Piety”, another gift of the Holy Spirit, isn’t somber gravity or some placid holier-than-thou isolation – it’s fully animated life. Active and restless in striving for and doing the will of God, a real pious person is, most importantly, JOYFUL. In fact, the Scripture reference to the gift of piety (Isaiah 11:3) speaks of delight. Not because the person is Pollyanna or too ignorant or unfeeling or selfishly pleasured to see sorrow, but because the pious person loves (really, not sappily) his or her fellow humans, loves life, loves the Source of Life, and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, loves living life as it is meant to be lived – and that delight is the deepest, truest joy.

“The time to hesitate is through
No time to wallow in the mire…
Come on baby light my fire…”

© 2014 Christina Chase

All Rights Reserved


song excerpt from The Doors  “Come on Baby Light My Fire “