byMsgr. Thomas J. McDonnell
In one of those mysteries of reversibility, which are so much a part of our faith-life, we realize that as our hungers are filled on one level, another deeper hunger is felt. We are talking about the hunger we feel for justice. In the Magna Carta which the beatitudes are, Christ highlights this hunger. And as we look around us, we understand why.
One of the scandals of the modern world is the existence and dimensions of hunger -- of people, especially children, starving to death. I believe we should pray for the gift of redemptive imagination so that we would be able to relate to parents, for example, who are burying their child due to starvation. It is the only way we will develop a passionate attention to this situation. And it will lead us, moreover, to see and feel the disconnect of a society which is struggling with the problem of obesity while remaining indifferent to the modern-day Lazarus who sits outside the gate of our affluence:
Teach me to feel another’s woe,
To hide the fault I see;
That mercy I to others show,
That mercy show to me.
(Alexander Pope, “Universal Prayer”)
We must make one final point. The ascetic of Lent has always involved fasting and almsgiving. The insights of two of the early Church writers of the Church will, I believe, show the link to the above reflection and our daily activity. Pope Leo the Great wrote in the fifth century: “Through the distribution of alms and the care of the poor, let the Christian fasts become fertile; and what each person withholds from self-indulgence, let that person spend for the weak and needy.”
And because the quality of our prayer life depends upon the quality of our love life, St. John Chrysostom offers this insight: “Almsgiving is the mother of love, of that love which is characteristic of Christianity, which is greater than all miracles, by which the Disciples of Christ are manifested.”
The Book of Revelation reminds us that part of our heavenly joy will be to gather around the endless table of the Banquet of the Lamb. And in many ways, the joy of this banquet is anticipated at each Eucharist on earth: “This is the Lamb of God.....”
Although Jesus often used the example of a wedding banquet, (Mt 22: 9-10), there is one troubling image where those who are invited reject the Lord’s invitation, (Lk 14: 15-24). Excuses are given. And upon a careful re-reading of this parable, we realize that there appeared to be an underlying non-appreciation of the gift which the Lord was offering.
Some might find an analogy in the present-day drop in Mass attendance. And on the level of faith, there is no doubt a lot of non-understanding of what the Mass truly is appears to be present among our people. But I also believe that there is a certain reluctance on the part of so many to accept the challenge which the eucharistic sacrifice demands.
During His earthly life, the disciples James and John had ambitiously asked the Lord for a privileged position in His kingdom. Jesus responded to the request with a question: “Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” (Mk 10: 28). He was speaking of His embracing the cross. And in uttering the above words of our “Mystery of Faith” we are, in reality, expressing our willingness to accept the crosses which the Lord may offer us. As we reflect upon the truth, we could easily develop a type of hesitation or reservation -- if we forget the fact that the Lord has yoked Himself to us to make our burden more tolerable.
St. Gregory the Great wrote: “Christ will really be for us a host of reconciliation with God, if we strive to become hosts ourselves.” But to embrace the cross demands a constant spiritual preparation. And we must never forget that Jesus Himself struggled with the reality of the cross. Perhaps we should turn to His prayer in the Agony in the Garden where He lays bare His soul and His deep feelings to gain insight into this truth. This might be especially helpful for shut-ins, those with disabilities and those who are struggling with their own private crosses due to physical, psychological or even spiritual causes.
Msgr. McDonnell is a senior priest of the archdiocese and is in residence at St. Mary, Dedham.