St. Peter's Catholic Church, Crook,Colorado by Nate Lauer
Sometimes it seems that the ever flowing tyrant, time, stops. Sometimes I am almost certain the past become present.
Have you ever felt during the Mass, with a deep sense of knowing, the intimate presence of your loved ones that have passed on? This always proceeds from our communion with Christ. There are times for many Catholics when they tangibly seem to feel the loving embrace of our Lord Jesus Christ after receiving Him Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist at Holy Communion. I would describe it as our God squeezing sorrows and troubles out of us. Many people weep at such graced moments. Likewise, we are told that the whole Heavenly Host is present with us at the Mass. It is also true that we are connected by bonds of charity with the Holy Souls in Purgatory.
My Granddad passed away in 2002, and I often think of him at Mass. Sometimes I sense him, completely out of the blue, at the moment of Consecration, as Christ comes to us so definitively when bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Our Lord. Nothing can separate us from the Love of God, not even death, St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans, and certainly not the mere appearances of bread and wine under which our Eucharistic Lord is thinly veiled. And because our near and dear are part of the mystical body of Christ, they remain alive in Christ, even more alive than they were on Earth. True, outside of the canonized saints, we do not know with certainty that our loved ones are in the temporary purification of Purgatory or the everlasting Glory of Heaven, but we dwell in hope, and seem to be graced with certain consolations and assurances at times that are encouraging and comforting.
I remember a Christmas Eve Midnight Mass some 25 years back. Let us go back in time those two and a half decades. My little Northeastern Colorado Catholic Church, St. Peter’s in the tiny village of Crook was cold even inside during a major cold snap. As I sat shivering, my Granddad, Joseph, put his arm around me as the priest gave his Homily. The sacred and the sentimental converged in one precious Christmas memory. It is this very memory that comes to me, of my Granddad warming me up with his loving embrace, at so many Masses. At such moments, I know that we pilgrims on the Earthly journey towards Eternity, trying to find our way to salvation in Christ, are set upon a green Earth where God in a sense bends time.
There is a lot of truth in the statement that our familiarity with the everyday miracles of our Faith can cause us to underappreciate what is really and truly happening in the midst of the Mass, and throughout the liturgical year of the Church. And while this seeming ordinariness does not necessarily breed contempt, part and parcel of fallen human nature seems to be that we tend to become bored with Truth, Beauty, and Goodness when we do not constantly go back to the divine well spring for renewal.
Part of that renewal means always trying to learn more about our Faith and about our God. We cannot love what we do not know. The more we know of God, the more we can love Him. Life eternal with God is not stagnant, by the way, but a constant plunging forth. Seeing God as He is face, to face, will not bring monotony, but constant fascination and enrapturing joy contemplating Him, whose eternal depths we will never be able to fully plumb as finite creatures.
But I digress, or rather, progress us too far at the moment to our future destiny back in the hands of our Creator.
The Truth is, all times are contained in the Eternal God who has neither beginning nor end. In Christ Jesus, God comes to us with a human face, and shares in our sorrows and joys. The reality of His life on Earth is historical. The Timeless entered time. Giving us Himself at the Last Supper, He asked us the Apostles (and by extension their successors) to repeat the Eucharist until the end of time when He said “Do this in remembrance of me” as St. Luke notes in his Gospel. But our Lord asked not for any ordinary “memorial” of remembrance, but for a living memorial. At each Mass, Christ’s once for all sacrifice is really made present for us just as really and truly it occurred 2000 years back on Calvary. Bound up with this reality is the fact that Christ redeemed each moment of human existence from womb to tomb, from conception to the final agony of death by living them really and truly as the Word made flesh.
Throughout the Liturgical year, the Church celebrates the various mysteries of the life of Christ. For instance, during Advent, we live in past, present, and future. The past reality of the awaiting of the people Israel for the Messiah is really made present for us. We await with them. The future reaches out to us, reminding us of Christ’s Second Coming, both at our own personal deaths, and at the end of all time when Christ comes again to judge the living and the dead. Thus, in the now given us, we are called to prepare ourselves accordingly. As I write this, the Christmas Season is nearing an end as we approach the Baptism of Our Lord this coming Sunday. The Childhood mysteries of Christ extend across two Millennia to also embrace us here and now, really, and truly, each and every Christmas Season.
We should become startled at the ordinary, approaching the altar on Christmas Eve night (and every day and night) as we receive the same babe who was born in Bethlehem and lay in a manger. We receive the same God-Man whose life, death, and resurrection opened Heaven up for us.
The Liturgical year unveils to us the whole Mystery of Christ, centered on his Passover, including the first sweet years of our redemption at Christ’s Conception, Birth, and Childhood. Indeed, The Catechism of the Catholic Church points out to us that “When the Church celebrates the mystery of Christ, there is a word that marks her prayer: “Today!” This “Today!” spoken of knows no bounds.
And so I return to thoughts of my Granddad. As each Christmas comes and goes, each gifts us unique memories, and yet there is “sameness” to each, for every Christmas is present in God’s everlasting “Today!” My Granddad remains with me with a certain constancy, I think. My memory of my grandfather keeping me warm at Christmas Eve Mass in 1989 remains evergreen, and ever fresh in my mind.
In Christ, death has no hold on us, in Him we are set to gain back those we have lost, and all will one day be set aright. All that is true, good, and beautiful that renews us and transforms us each Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and throughout every “ordinary” moment and day of the liturgical year, we will have in abundance in the life to come. I will not again sit in the wooden pews of St. Peter’s with my granddad on a Holy Christmas Eve night, but by God’s gracious mercy, united in Christ, I will again see him, and be embraced by him in the never ending “Today!” of God’s merciful love that though veiled to the senses, even reaches the here and now in which we time traveling pilgrims live.