Sunday, February 25, 2024

Keeping Promises, Even Beyond The Grave

We, very reasonably, have some questions about Abraham almost sacrificing Isaac. Unsurprisingly, we also have some questions about the Father letting the Son die (and for realsies, not just "almost" like Isaac). The early Church saw the parallels and the author of the Letter to the Hebrew wrote on it in chapter 11. If we are going to wrestle with sacrifices of Isaac or Jesus or both, we would do well to let Hebrews 11 be our lens. We will see through it a path that not only shows that God (and Abraham) are not monsters, but that the Isaac story sheds light on both the extremity of The Father's plan and the logic of The Son's response. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Lenten Suggestion, Revival Proposition

We've only got a few months left in the U.S. Bishops' Eucharistic Revival and one thing I haven't seen a lot of is concrete suggestions on how to participate in the Eucharistic Feast. There's been good encouragement for Sunday-some-timers to become all-the-timers and for people to try spending more time in quiet prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, but I haven't seen a lot of "Hey, pastors and parishioners, try X or Y to see if it helps you to focus or to pray better or to "get more out of Mass". So after consulting with the pastor and principal here at our school, I made a pitch the last two days in the school Mass homilies about one thing they might want to try, and that Lent might be the time to try it. And I thought I'd share the outline of those here as well. (In case you're wondering, our school kids, K-5, attend Mass at the start of each school day.)


I want to talk about a cool thing that scientists tell us goes back and forth in our brains, connecting our thoughts and our actions. This is a big deal for us Catholics because we put a lot of emphasis on the idea of our physical actions and our internal thoughts going hand in hand. That's the whole idea of our sacraments, right? Our insides matching our outsides; the actions expressing the spiritual meanings. And sacramentals too. So we show reverence when making the sign of the cross. We're careful when bringing up the gifts. We want people to understand the amazing things happening during a baptism. 

Scientists like psychologists talk about body language. You've probably had parents and teachers talk about how what you do with your face or your body or your eyes communicates a lot of extra info, whether you intend to or not. Like if you cross your arms and look away when someone is talking, you're telling people you don't care or you're bored. Or like if I try to talk to K. there, but I stand here and I look at R. while I say, "K., let's go do something fun." That feels like K. doesn't matter and I'm really talking to R instead.

But folks have also learned that this connection works in the other direction too. How I do repeated actions starts to teach my brain about those actions. You can develop new ways of thinking about stuff by the kinds of actions you repeat around them. Think about how you line up. Your teachers have you do certain routines to help remind your brain what to think about and also how you're going to walk and act going down the hallways.

So with that in mind, I have a suggestion of something you might try for Lent. Lent is a good time to practice a new habit. Now, this is not required at all. It's not even a request. I'm just throwing out an idea that might give you cool new insights and experiences. My suggestion is to see if receiving Holy Communion on the tongue instead of on the hand begins to affect your thoughts about the Eucharist.  

Human hands are amazing. Seriously, even just having thumbs let us do so much more than any other animal can. And not just texting either. Thumbs are the difference between us and monkeys! Our hands are so practical, efficient, useful, skilled, effortlessly-in-control... They can write and draw and reach in between the cushions and tear up paper into tiny bits... 

But maybe we want our brains thinking something more spiritual at Communion time. If I take my hands out of the equation, perhaps it feels even more like I'm waiting to be fed by God. Maybe receiving on the tongue would put me in mind of trusting in God fully, a confident, childlike trust. Maybe even a feeling of surrender. "Jesus, I wait to be fed by You." Like a baby bird. Do you know how a baby birds eat? [C. says, "Mama bird takes it and chews it up and then gives it to the little babies,"] Exactly, and you picture those baby birds, heads back, stretching up, waiting, confident in being fed. Maybe that's a good image for us at Communion time.

So maybe that's something you want to try out. You could try it today, or wait for Lent, or never try at all. Again, it's not requirement or even a request. It's just a suggestion of something that might be cool to try out for Lent.


I want to come back to what we discussed yesterday. So today: a little review, a few more thoughts, and some practicals. I had too much to squeeze in yesterday. 

So what was my suggestion?

And is this idea something anybody is going to expect you to do? A rule, or a request even?

Right. It's just a suggestion of something you might want to try out, and Lent is a good time to try on new ways of thinking. 

And that's the whole pitch: we know our actions and our thoughts are connected, so the idea is to adjust our routines and see if that teaches our minds any cool new things. 

And the cool new idea or image we are trying to build up in our minds is how special and different and truly sacred this meal is. Because that's what "holy" literally means. When we sing "Holy... holy... holy Lord," or "Sanctus... sanctus... sanctus Dominus Deus Sabbaoth," the words "holy" and "sanctus" are translating the Hebrew word for "different". God is different; He is set apart; He is not like other things. And that is what "holy" means: it's different, it's things that are set apart for God's special purposes. 

This church is a holy place. Should we run between the pews and play tag? No, because it's set apart for holy things. My chalice up there, should I fill it with Kool-aid and sit on the couch and drink it while I watch cartoons? No, it set apart for only one, very special thing. Or the saints. The word "saint" comes from that word "sanctus". A saint is a truly holy person, someone who lives different. Even in the church, that space up there is the sanctuary —same word "sanctus", again— because it's the most special part of the holy building. 

So again, think of your hands. They're incredible. They can do anything. You can make one hand into this perfect little bowl. And then your other hand with that cool thumb we've got makes like this perfect miniature claw. And you can grab anything in one hand and carry around any shape of items and just pick them up, one by one, all day. Cheetos, Fritos, tortilla chips. Or for tiny, weird things, peanuts or Skittles. It's so easy and comfortable. So practical and in-control. 

But is that the set of ideas we desire in our minds at Communion time? I step up, one hand out to catch things with, one hand to pick the Host up, then into my mouth, eat and keep moving... a smooth motion, very efficient, practical. Now, everybody has different thoughts and mental images, but I do feel like this sequence of ideas connects more with normal eating, normal food, a normal meal. So the question is: Would receiving Communion differently help my mind think, "This is a different kind of moment. This is food that God has set apart for holy purposes."?

Maybe that's why for over a thousand years, really until just recently, like less than fifty years ago, the only way people received Communion in our part of the church, the Roman Catholic Church, was to receive on the tongue. There was what they called an communion rail or and altar rail —and it was usually made of the same kind of stone or wood as the main altar, and it was even referred to as "the people's altar" because it seen as an extension of that altar— and you would come up to that, and spread out along it and kneel down at the rail and you'd wait there and you'd receive on the tongue. A hundred little details all whispering to your brain that it's not a normal meal. It's the Lamb's banquet. 

Ok, so you get the idea, now let's practice. Kindergarten and 1st, you'll be doing this before long, and 2nd grade, it's almost here! The rest of you, it's always good to know how to do both. Even if you receive on the hand normally, there's going to be a moment when you're carrying a baby, or walking up with a little kid who might try to run, or you realize your palms are dirty or you just sneezed in them. The summer after 2nd grade I broke my arm and I was going to daily Mass with my Mom that summer and no one ever taught me to receive on the tongue and so for months I received just barely on the tips of my tiny fingers that poked out of my cast. I wish I would've know there was another way. 

So everyone gets weirded out because you think you're going to be sticking your tongue out at the priest or will look dumb, so here's a trick to not feel so weird: tip your head slightly back (like that baby bird, right?) and then just place your tongue on your bottom lip. Really, you're not putting it out there hardly at all. Bottom lip and head tipped slightly should give the perfect place and angle. Ok, and so that no one feels awkward we're all going to practice a couple times. Ok, tongue on bottom lip on three... 1, 2, 3.

Ok, now you know it and you're confident. Again, it's your choice. It's just a suggestion, but you might find it adds something to your Lenten experience. Might affect how you see going to Communion permanently.