The Eucharistic Experience – From Weakness to Strength.

Perspectives from the COVID-19 Lock-down Situation.

Part 1.

We emerged lately from a very traumatic experience, which laid bare the very depth of our personal faith in God.  For Christians who had been privileged to attend Holy Mass and receive the Blessed Sacrament frequently,the COVID-19 lock-down was a blow in the face. Actually, it brought you face to face with a reality that seemed to probe the depth of your faith and to question the reasons for believing in the unique Presence of God in the Eucharist. Yes, we all experienced this, didn’t we?However, our individual experiences might have been different. This is mine.

To me, it suddenly appeared like the tables had turned. The secure bedrock on which my faith was built seemed to have been taken from under my feet.   We were told that the churches would be closed, the sacramental life stopped and communal life forbidden because of a monstrous disease that had suddenly descended upon us.  And that was the week I had given one of the talks of a Life in the Spirit Seminar in a local church. In fact, it turned out to be the last talk of the series as we could not gather there the following week – the disease would have caught up with us! I remember those good people hugging me and saying “good bye” and “thanks for the talk”. Then we left.  None of us knew if we would meet again!

The talk had been powerful. It convincingly portrayed Jesus, the “Son of God and Son of Man” as filled at every moment with the power of the Holy Spirit. It challenged everyone to endeavour to open up to the Holy Spirit as Jesus had done to effectively carry out his mission.  Then all of a sudden, the whole world stood trembling before an impending danger. The only way forward, we were told, was to face it alone in your house! Suddenly, the soothing and familiar voice of God in Scripture – “Do not be afraid” (Lk 6:20, Mt 14:27), was hushed by the barrage of the news of the world. It presented massive numbers of deaths the world over that grew at an alarming pace. The bold whisper of hope grew fainter by the day and was soon overwhelmed by a colossal “Fear”.

Perplexity set in as the reality of closed churches dawned and the wearing of masks became a must – Even the mountain goats came down to verify the cause of the uncanny silence, we were told. (My only reason for laughter in an otherwise grim situation!).As a Catholic, the most poignant spectacle I witnessed was the lone figure of the Pope that Palm Sunday, walking up the Piazza of St Peter to the Basilica. It remains with me still!Is your story similar? 

These are some of the intense moments in our human experience that defy explanation, whether planned and calculated by men or accidental!  They have been faced by innocent, unexpecting populations going about their jobs then struck like lightening by instruments of war or natural disaster.[1]

I tried to connect with myself and with God in the depth of me. The voice on the other side of my phone was my only other companion for days – often more scared than me. But that wasjust days before online communities began to spring up like mushrooms and life-streamed prayers overtook the internet. This graduallystarted to write overthe lonelinessof those exposed to the internet and an aspect of the universality of the Church,which we had often forgotten began to emerge!

As a Christian, one who believes that God controls the affaires of men – I searched for a precedence in my Christian faith to instruct me. What visited me was the image of the confused disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ in the wake of the Crucifixion of their Lord and Master,trying to make sense of it all.

I remembered in particular the episode of the disciples on their way to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-25. The explanation they gave for their melancholy to the Stranger who had caught up with them was:

“It is about Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” 

And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

In my circumstances, the phrase that first caught my eyes was:

21but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.” 

That is the disappointment. The disciples had put their hopes in Jesus and his particular mission and now he was gone.  This passage goes on to say:

22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body.

This was another disappointment.  Things as they expected them had taken an unexpected twist.

You see, we do not often recognise the Lord Jesus because we fail to identify him in the various ways by which he is present to us.  The question here is, what actually changed for the disciples when, in spite of their dashed hopes and the happenings that did not add up, they eventually recognised Jesus in the breaking of Bread? Was it Jesus’ manifestation or the disciples’ mode of conceiving it?  I recalled that when Jesus explained the word to the disciples, their hearts burnt within them (Lk 42:32), and those men who had previously pressured Jesus to stay because the day was nearly over, became renewed and even embarked on the journey back to Jerusalem that very night to tell the good news.  Jesus had been present all along but had not been recognised until the breaking of the Bread. Their distress and expectations had prevented recognition.  Is this our situation too?

The Eucharist

Most Catholics agree that during the Covid-19 lockdown, the Sacrament we missed most, was the Eucharist.  It is also here that the challenges to our faith stemmed.  Was Jesus present?Why were we prevented from receiving the Eucharistic at a time we needed to do so most?  What does Real Presence signify? Why were we deprived of this unique Presence of God among us and left to fend for ourselves until it was all over? These are just some of the questions interested Catholics and others raised. Some Churches are not yet back to normal.

“The disciples recognised him at the Breaking of Bread”.

In Part 2 of this article, we will go through some elements of our understanding of the Eucharist.  We have alluded to the fact that Jesus manifests himself in a variety of ways which sometimessupersede our expectations. 

The reason why this topic is still relevant is that a significant number of people, who have passed through covid-19 lockdown still ask these questions. 

Please Look out for Part 2.

EEJ 11/10/2022

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