I scrolled through Twitter videos watching the Palm Sunday processions. People danced on the streets of Jerusalem. ‘Hosannas’ rang through the streets of Nairobi. I stared at an alley from my window watching the only procession in view. A man rummaged through the dumpster obtaining value from someone else’s waste. I put on my red stole and grabbed my palm. “Hosanna to the Son of David; blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel. Hosanna in the highest.”
After two years, Covid finally caught me. So here I was, for the third straight year, deprived of a celebration of Holy Week with God’s people. The last two years at least I had the opportunity to worship with my Jesuit brothers. This year I was confined to my room exercising one of the exceptions of The Code of Canon Law, canon 906, which permits a priest to celebrate Mass by himself “for a just and reasonable cause.”
I had tried to celebrate Mass alone once before. On that occasion, I decided to do it at the end of a long day of travel and mostly rushed through it to finish. I needed to complete an obligation. In my Covid quarantine, I had nowhere to go. The Eucharistic Sacrifice was the only thing that I had. I thought of Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ alone in a Siberian prison cell saying the Mass from memory. While I am no Fr. Ciszek, my quarantine had stripped me of any pretense. When I have nothing left, no ministerial effectives, no physical capacity, no fancy sermons to preach, I still can offer the world’s needs to God. I felt so close to God. The divinity in its fullness was visiting me in my smallness, my helplessness.
Celebrating the Mass alone also opened an empathetic space inside of me. I thought of all the shut-ins of the past two years deprived of contact with Jesus. I offered Mass for them. I also recalled how I myself was so richly nourished by the Eucharist when it was the only thing that made sense to me while visiting a foreign country.
Everything felt radical. Real. I knew people could veer into my window from the alley, and in doing so, would veer into my soul as I elevated the host. My veneer, my self-consciousness, my occasional reticence was stripped. Anyone who saw me would see me for what I am—a priest, consecrated to serve. My sense of priesthood sharpened. Justin Martyr talks of the Eucharist by using the Greek work metaballo [i], the word from which we get metabolism. The body fully incorporates what it takes in. Jesus is fully a part of me.
We spend so much time trying to define ourselves, to label ourselves. This of course comes from a good place, wanting to connect, wanting to express something inexpressible—our essence. The problem with our labeling is we often yield our autonomy to the label, becoming it, or looking for our tribe with the same identification tag. In our search for our tribe, we often lose sight of the One who searches for us. The One who comes to us, gives Himself for us. We lose sight of reality. We forget that when we allow God to enter us, we become an alter Christus.
All these thoughts flew through my head in my days of quiet solitude and eucharistic devotion. The quiet helped me appreciate the eucharistic renewal occurring in the devotional life of many young Catholics with whom I work. They come to adoration to sit in silence in front of what is real. As the mid-twentieth century English priest Ronald Knox once preached, the window in the monstrance is a window into the soul. [ii] They understand that the Real Presence does not market to them or try to cajole them. It penetrates their hearts, stirs and clarifies their desires.
“The small window in the monstrance reveals everything we ever need to know.”
We have begun the Eucharistic Revival here in the United States of America. As we begin the Revival, we would do well to remember what is real--God’s self-sacrifice so that we might live. Let us remember that the Eucharist brings us together, that the small window in the monstrance reveals everything we ever need to know.
Let us embrace this Revival, this call to quietly sit with the Lord. And if we find ourselves hesitant, doubtful, hurt, scared or divided, let us enter into the quiet in front of Our Lord. Let us trust that alone with God we might once again discover what is real—ourselves and God’s unending love for us.
[i] O’Connor, James T. The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist. Ignatius, 1988, pp. 21-22.
[ii] Knox, Ronald A. The Pastoral Sermons. Burns & Oates, 1960, p. 204.