Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Day I Infiltrated a Unitarian Pot Luck

On the road again last weekend, actress Maria Romine and I decided to hit the Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form) at St. Rose of Lima in Quincy, Illinois on our way back home to St. Louis.

A Mass in Latin that was All Greek to Me

Fr. Devillers gave an excellent homily in which he made a connection that resonated.  He focused on this verse from the Gospel reading ...

And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.  (John 6:11)

The Greek word translated "when he had given thanks" (or "having given thanks") is εὐχαριστήσας (eucharistesas), from which we get our word Eucharist.  In fact, this exact Greek word is used in every account of the Miracle of the Loaves in all four Gospels, and this exact Greek word is used in Paul's description of the Eucharist in First Corinthians.

Fr. Devillers pointed out that "giving thanks" is always associated with distributing the bread.  And since the distribution of the bread is, at the Last Supper, connected by Our Lord with the sacrifice of His body for our sake, giving thanks and self-sacrifice for the sake of others is the same thing.

What is Giving Thanks?  What is Gratitude?

G. K. Chesterton famously said ...

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.

Now, dear reader, you know as well as I do how hard it is to get through most days in that state of happiness doubled by wonder.  You know how hard it is to engage in this "highest form of thought".  You know how hard it is to be grateful - and yet how simple and refreshing gratitude can be.  Chesterton also says ...

When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with legs?

The fundamental doctrine of our Faith, after all, is that it's all God's grace - which is to say it's all gratuitous.  It's all a gift.

Should we not, then, go through each day grateful for this gift?  Chesterton did that, and that's why Chesterton was a saint.  He was always thinking about God and he was always "praying without ceasing" and he was always in a state of happiness doubled by wonder because he was always grateful.

Gratitude = Love = Eucharist = Self-Sacrifice

Gratitude is a keen expression of love, and love is not the self-indulgent sterile narcissism the modern world keeps insisting it is.  Love is God feeding us his very flesh, given up for us to save us from sin and death.  Love is "having given thanks" - εὐχαριστήσας - love is the miraculous distribution of the loaves.  Love is not only the Cross, it is the endless nourishment that flows from the Cross, the nourishment of self-giving, even unto death.

The Mass, then - in Latin or English - as tawdry and abused and routine and secular as it sometimes seems to be, is always and everywhere the central act of love on earth.

Which simply means that if we are to be grateful, our lives must become acts of thanksgiving - our lives must become the Eucharist.

Now this is liberating.

How is it liberating?  Well, for one thing we can stop worrying about ourselves and how other people see us and what sort of impression we're making and whether or not we'll be successful and we can simply say, "Of course I'm in pain.  I will always be in pain.  Gratitude is expressed in self-giving and that's a form of crucifixion, which is bound to hurt."  We can stop worrying about being loved and start simply loving.  We can try to live like Chesterton and the other saints, a walking prayer of thanksgiving to God.

Now this is not expressed by being a patsy or tolerating all sins or being indulgent with your children.  It is expressed in mature love, which is love with boundaries, love with a shape - a cruciform shape.  We all want to "love", but we don't want to love maturely.  We hardly even know what that is.

I would explain it, but Mass is over and I'm late for the Unitarian Pot Luck.

But don't forget the consecration.  I'll get back to that later.

The Dogpatch Ham

My friend Lisa, whom I haven't seen in ten years or so, lives in Quincy and invited us to the Unitarian church that she attends, which on that very day was celebrating its 175th anniversary, and marking the momentous occasion with an act of thanksgiving - meaning food: in this case a pot luck.

And so, even though Maria and I had no dish to bring, we got in anyway and there we were - two Catholic spies with Doctrine and Dogma on our hearts surrounded by erudite Unitarians who say it's OK to believe in Anything.   They were friendly and hospitable people and I even suggested to the chair of their "worship committee" that they book me as Fr. Stanley Jaki (my one-man show about Faith and Science), or as Orestes Brownson, 19th Century Unitarian turned Catholic (my one-man show about thinking your way from unbelief to belief).   One thing's for sure: they'd love Chesterton.

We were among the last to leave, and one of the Unitarian Church Ladies, while cleaning up, gave me a gift for the road - the left over ham wrapped in a plastic bag!

We went from the Unitarian church to the chapel at Quincy College, which Lisa assured us was well worth seeing (see photos below).

"Lisa," I exclaimed, "I got the left over ham!"

"You did?"

"I did!  It's like the Multiplication of the Loaves!  It's like the Dogpatch Ham!"

"What's the Dogpatch Ham?" she asked.

Well, in the comic strip Li'l Abner, a Dogpatch Ham had a special quality.  No matter how much of it you cut off and ate for dinner, that much more would grow back overnight.  It was a limitless source of nutrition.

For What the Bell Tolls

Which brings us back to the Eucharist.

During Mass at St. Rose of Lima, at the moment of consecration, Fr. Devillers, his back to the congregation, facing the altar, held high the simple bread, now become the Body and Blood of Christ.

At that exact moment the large bells in the belfry rang out deeply and richly.

It just happened to be exactly noon.

And the bells were calling us to pray the Angelus.

The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary,
And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord!
Be it done unto me according to thy Word.

And the Word was made flesh
And dwelt among us.

We eat junk food and we're rarely grateful.

But the Bread of Life is among us.  And He is ours for the taking!  And in gratitude for that, may we be always be feeding others, in a gift of thanks.

Glass at Quincy College Chapel.

Next to the Chapel at Quincy College is a modern chapel.  The glass in the modern chapel represents either the Tree of Life or the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  I suspect it actually represents the Tree of the Knowledge of What Makes Things Ugly.

The Altar at Quincy Chapel - Christ Pantocrator


Joey Higgins said...

I would like the, "tree of life room ," if it were a room and not a chapel.

Tom Leith said...

Fr. Devillers' back was (emphatically) not to the congregation. Neither did the person in the pew in front of you have his back to you. Rather, Fr. Devillers was facing God, same as you and the person in front of you.

Steve said...

Excellent point Tom.

Kevin O'Brien said...

Father's back was to the congregation, as was the back of the person sitting in front of me. Yes, we were all "facing God" (i.e. the tabernacle), but you can't face the tabernacle without turning your back to the person who is behind you, facing in the same direction.

Of course, at some parishes, you can face the tabernacle by turning left, right, sideways or leaving the sanctuary and looking for it.

So we were all "facing God", but as a by-product of that, not facing one another - which is another way of saying that Father's back was not to us, but his front was to God. Which is what you said.