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Sunday 7, Year A: A personal Eucharistic story

The story of our lives is really a library of smaller stories, some short, some long, some more important than others. You could write the library of your life by recalling and recording the main relationships you have had, by remembering all the places you have lived and worked, by looking at the different stages of your life from childhood to old age. You can also do it by tracing your relationship with God, not any “God”, but with the Holy Trinity, indeed with each of the three Persons of the Trinity. Of all these ways of writing your life’s library, I wonder which story would be the shortest on detail! A good exercise for Lent would be to buy a jotter and try and write down the story of your relationship with God. You could call it your personal gospel: how you found God and how he found you. How you fell in love with God, and how he fell in love with you. Given our 40 Hours’ adoration this weekend, I’d like to share with you today, give witness if you like, to something of my personal story with the Eucharist. My earliest recollection is probably seeing the Host elevated at Mass by the priest. I remembered thinking he was trying to stretch up to God to give him the Host. Thankfully, I never saw God’s hands reach down to take it. The ringing of the bell felt like a warning that something special was happening. I couldn’t see what it was, but I knew it had happened, because the priest fell on his knees and everybody bowed their heads in silence. One of the strongest picture memories I have of my mother is of her devoutly bowed head at the consecration, her black mantilla covering her face. When I was getting lessons for my first Holy Communion, I remember her telling me firmly to make sure I was kneeling and had my head bowed for the consecration, even if no-one else was doing it. I recall her saying to me, as if revealing a solemn secret, “there’s nothing greater than the Holy Mass!” At the bright age of seven, I was an altar boy. The first time I had to go to early morning Mass it was dark. I fumbled my way into the barely lit sacristy but on opening the door into the sanctuary I saw that the church was all in darkness. I got a fright, because I also saw that the nuns of the parish, les Filles de la Misericorde, were all there silhouetted against the church windows, the dim street light seeping in and revealing the outline of their veiled heads. I heard them chuckle. I eventually found the light, which I could barely reach, and walked onto the sanctuary. I then remember suddenly stopping in my steps and turning to the tabernacle with the red lamp beside it. It was the first time I felt His Presence, like a warm hand reaching out and staying on my head. At that moment, I didn’t want to move, not because I was frozen with fright, but because it was too lovely. Its memory still moves me to this day. The parish church sanctuary became a place of many memories of the Eucharist. There was the Mass, Benediction, Exposition. And then there was Canon Fischer, the parish priest – Canon by name and by nature! You daren’t touch the chalice or ciborium or monstrance lest you get a boom! I recall him thumbing into his chalice every last crumb of broken host off the altar plates used at the distribution of communion. Then there was the dramatic moment when I fell backwards off the altar steps as I tried to lift the heavy bell at the consecration! Canon Fischer liked everything exact, but seven year old boys don’t do exact! I graduated from being altar boy to being organist – it was the only way to escape the Canon! To practice the organ, of course, you had to be in the church a lot, and usually it was empty except for the Blessed Sacrament. In my early teens, I used to practice all Saturday afternoon. I would spend my pocket money on a box of chocolates and eat them all as I practiced! In between pieces of music and eating chocolates, there was the stillness. At times I would just sit in that stillness, which seemed to be talking to me. When I’d been a bad boy I would sing Him something, usually a psalm. I used to love the music for the psalms written by the French composer Gelineau. During the week, coming back from school in Kilwinning to Ardrossan, I would get off the bus at the church and go in and sit. I felt a strong pull. Those were years in which, imperceptibly, I was falling in love with the Eucharist, which, or better Who, had clearly already fallen in love with me. It then seemed a natural progression, despite some doubts and opposition from family members, to enter seminary. My motives were probably mixed, possibly even naïve, but 17 year olds do naive. Time would tell. And it did. Seminary felt like home to me. One of its greatest blessings was learning to know and love the Liturgy, the Mass, to understand more deeply the meaning of the Eucharist, of Adoration, and having the time to be with that same stillness I had known from the age of seven. Then, of course, came ordination to the priesthood and the inexpressible privilege and duty to lead God’s people in the Mass and in many other things, including Adoration. I remember thinking once that it was as if that hand that I had felt on my head at age 7 had now lifted me by the hair and actually transported me into the tabernacle. I was to be beside Him and to be sent out by Him to bring Him to others and to bring others to Him. What I can tell you with all sincerity is that I am most fully who I am when I celebrate the Mass. It not only brings out the best in me; it brings me out. It’s my anchor and bedrock, where I am rooted, healed and renewed. I cannot imagine not being able to say Mass. That’s what Christ does to you. And He also does and wants to do it to all of you: he literally brings us out of ourselves to be who we truly are. He does it through the slow, patient and gradual method of Sunday Mass, of hearing again and again the Gospel, of receiving again and again Holy Communion, of being cleansed again and again of our sins. As for my own vocation, I don’t need anyone to tell me anymore that priesthood is who you are and not what you do: I already know it and feel it, as I also already know and feel that having been anointed a priest, the overriding reason for which I exist is for the Eucharist, for the Eucharistic community, that is, for you. Have I always celebrated the Eucharist worthily? Alas, no I have not. I have been presumptuous, heedless, careless and, alas, sinful. In His mercy, the Lord has dealt with, and continues to deal with, that side of me. What I know is that, before processing in for Mass, neither my virtues nor my vices, my ups or my downs, are of any importance. The only thing that’s important is that I make myself available to Christ in me so that he can make himself available to you through me. The rest is detail. Putting the Eucharist first means that any other concerns I may have of any kind simply are irrelevant. It’s as if the Lord says to me: Peter, shut up, get out there, say the Mass, and I will deal with you later! Each of you has, or is called to have, your very own story and relationship with the Eucharist. If you don’t think you have one, you’re wrong. You just haven’t thought about it. And anyway, don’t be glum. It can start or restart today. But you need to want it to. You need to seek Him out, to be ready to be found by Him. Take a decision today: I want to fall in love with the Eucharist, or at least, I desire to want to do so. He will take nothing of true value away from you. No, he will give you everything. He will give you the gift of yourself to become a gift to others. What we do in life only matters to the degree we do it in a deep communion of love with the Eucharist. Think of this. The Eucharist is a combination, on the one hand, of a simple element of creation, wheat, given by God and worked upon by man to become bread and, on the other hand, its miraculous union with the Risen Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. And you, too, are a combination, on the one hand, of simple elements of creation received from your parents and, on the other hand, a spiritual soul and heart created directly at the moment of conception by that same Jesus Christ in his own image and likeness. When you receive the Eucharist, then, you become one with the Origin of your own existence and with the Author of your future existence in the Resurrection of the body. Whether you are aware of it or not, your life unfolds within these two magnificent realities, which manifest themselves to you in astounding simplicity in the Holy Eucharist. There was a film years ago on the life of Christ called, “the greatest story ever told.” That story is not, however, complete, without you. Resolve anew today to become a player in the greatest love story ever told. I can assure you: there is no other.

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