All of us want to be remembered by posterity. We evaluate our life by how well we would be remembered. Consciously and even unconsciously our choices, decisions, occupations, ways of talking and styles of living are moulded by the expectation of how we want to be remembered. The son of a famous boxer recounts how his dad told him that he should always remember his father as the most powerful man in the world as that memory would encourage him to pursue his father’s footsteps. A rich man who built the village chapel would always point it out to his children saying that they should always be proud of their father for this contribution of his.
“This is my body…broken for you” (Lk 22:19)
The Lord Jesus asks us to remember Him as the One who offered His body to be broken and His blood to be shed for us. This was his parting wish expressed at the Last Supper. While blessing the bread, the Lord said to his companions “This is my body to be broken for you” and taking the chalice of wine and said to them “This is my blood to be shed for you” (Lk 22:19,20). Jesus then told them “Do this in memory of me whenever you gather together in my name.” Jesus in his three years of ministry performed great miracles that left people wonder-struck. He taught authoritatively of the mysteries of the divinity and his listeners were amazed. However it was not by his spectacular actions and remarkable teachings that He wanted to be remembered, but by the self-offering He made for us that we may have life and have it in abundance.
Often we tend to interpret the passion and death of Jesus as if He was the helpless victim of the circumstances. The Lord however makes it very clear to his disciples that it was His choice to lay down His life for the salvation of humankind was His priority. “No one snatches my life away but I willingly lay it down” (Jn 10:18). In fact that was the purpose the Father sent Him to the world for. As John records “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh… for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink” (Jn 6:51,55). The gospel records that with this many of His followers scandalized by the claim walked away from the Master. The gospel also reveals that Jesus did not call them back. Neither did He take His promise back. Rather He turned to the twelve disciples and asked them “Do you also wish to go away?” (Jn 6:67).
This stance of Jesus makes His life mission clear to us. He had come to give us the fullness of life by the ultimate expression of love of sacrificing Himself in order to become food for us. This is what we remember, celebrate and re-experience every time we gather at the altar. It is when we stand at the altar that we really understand who we are in terms of how precious we are to Jesus. He places such value on us that He even opts to forsake His life that we may live forever. In order that we may never forget this ultimate expression of love He offered His body and blood for us to feed on.
“Do not remember the former things” (Is 43:18)
It’s very significant that Jesus inaugurated the Last Supper with this expression: “I have desired with a great desire to eat this Passover meal with you” (Lk 22). Every time we gather at the altar we remember that the Lord waits for us. When we affirm our faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist we settle for an intellectual acceptance of the doctrine that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharistic bread. However this truth should lead us further to understand and experience that He is present in the Eucharistic bread in order to be present to us. He said that even a strand of hair falling from our head is counted by Him (Mt 10:30). Even the seeming trifles of our life do not escape the keen loving attention of the Lord. In our day to day life we are often hurt by the indifference of others. We are worried about the uncertainty of the future. We are insulted by the thoughtless arrogance of those we must interact with. We are haunted by the painful memories of the past. Such overwhelming negative experiences of our past could lead us to lonely depression where we are left wondering whether anyone cares for us. The antidote to every such moment is the invitation of the Lord from the Holy Eucharist, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). Every negative experience of our life should lead us to turn our attention to the heart of Jesus throbbing in the Eucharist to receive us and replace every burden of pain and sin with His satisfying love.
All of us carry a heavy baggage of painful memories of the past – memories that hurt, tempt and depress us, memories that trigger anger and despair. These memories will continue to weigh us down till it pushes us to our downfall. Is there any way out, we can wonder. The Eucharist presents the one way that is in Christ’s unquestioning unlimited saving love.
“See, I am making all things new” (Rev 21:5)
A young college student came for a retreat. He had grown up in the Gulf. He came to India to pursue studies in engineering. Cut away from home, parents and community he clung on to his new found friends and soon lost his orientations and fervour of faith. He was led astray into an unholy way of living. He hardly attended college and did not clear any of the papers in the first year. He was shocked but his friends advised him to laugh it off. He never told his parents anything and continued to follow the careless ways of his friends. Towards the end of the second year his principal summoned him to inform him that he could continue in the college only if he completed the papers of both years together. This time his friends had no answer for him. Reality struck him hard. He was so distressed. He sought the advice of his local guardian who sent him for the retreat.
He was very distressed and came to meet me at the very beginning of the retreat and share how bitter he felt. he told me that he had wasted all the money sent by his parents and the great opportunity he had for a excellent training in engineering. However the most painful fact was that he wasted the trust his parents had placed in him. “I have made a dirty mess of my life and there is definitely no way out of this,” he concluded. I encouraged him to put his trust in God and offer himself totally in the hands of God believing in what Jesus said, “Nothing is impossible to God” (Mk 10:27).
At the end of the retreat he joyfully approached me to share his testimony. He recalled how on the third day while he was participating in the Holy Mass God spoke life to his heart once more. During the offertory all the unbearable memories of his sinful life surfaced piercing his heart. He then remembered that he was just told not to cling on to such haunting memories with regret rather to offer every such memory with the piece of bread on the altar to the Lord. He faithfully did so. During the time of consecration while the priest was praying the words of Christ at the Last Supper, “This is my body broken for you” the words resounded in his heart as though the voice of Jesus was whispering it to him. It occurred to him that the piece of bread on the altar had become the symbol of his own sinful past which Jesus took in his hands and held close to his heart declaring “This is mine.” He felt love gushing into his heart when Jesus took as His own the dirty mess of his past. In the heart of Jesus the misery of his past was transformed in a flame of love. He could not hear anything anymore except the whisper of Jesus, “This is my body.” All the painful memories of his past vanished from his heart as it was now replaced by a new experience. When he opened his eyes it was time for the Holy Communion. He received the body of Christ and he felt engulfed in a flame of love. He knew he was a new creation in the Eucharistic experience.
I met this young man three years later. I realized that everything was changed about him. It had become a daily habit for him to participate in the Holy Mass. Every time he was in the church by the side of the altar the precious memory he had in the retreat centre invariably surfaced filling his heart with that warmth of Christ’s love making him his own. He gained enough strength to say a definite goodbye to his old friends and old lifestyle. Even the memories of the sinful past had been washed off as a new memory had taken root in his heart. He passed out of the college as the first rank holder. He finally confided to me, “Father, whenever I have been faced with difficult and tense situations, the memory of my experience at the Eucharist gives me a confidence that carries me through the storms.” I was reminded of St Paul who said, “I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal 2:20).
“The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17)
One can ask, “What’s in a memory?” Indeed memories make or mar a human person. Psychologists today tell us that the memories we choose to hold on to will mould or distort our character. Though all of us are living in the present, our ways of thinking and styles of living are determined decisively by our understanding of the past events. If we cherish memories of being loved, appreciated and admired, we would have positive approaches in our relationships and be optimistic in our attitudes to life’s challenges. However if all the time we nurse in bitterness the negative memories of being rejected, sidelined and let down, fear and pessimism will color our expectations. Then we will not be able to trust anyone and we will become melancholic in temperament and judgmental in character.
We are not condemned to be stuck to our past forever. Our hurts were caused by the denial of love. Therefore our healing is made possible with a fresh flow of God’s love that is unchanging and that will establish us through affirmation where we earlier were shattered because we were rejected and sidelined. For this crucial purpose of restoration Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist. By offering to feed us with His body and blood Jesus promises us that in order not to die we need to eat of His body and drink of His blood.
Indeed we live in a culture of death because of the unhappy and unholy memories that weigh us down. When we come before the altar we are reminded of how much we are loved and valued. This memory flashes a light on our soul that will diminish and vanquish the shadows of our painful past. The holy Eucharist is given to us by the Lord in His infinite love towards our continued and complete healing.
We are living in a world that is negative and rude. We daily encounter persons and situations that can be demoralizing. It is precisely therefore that the daily Eucharist becomes relevant and crucial as a healing balm and a source of strength and will see us walk through the fire and come out unscathed.
Thank you Lord for opening your heart to us and offering your body and blood for our daily sustenance. The tiring and burdening experiences of our life and the wounds of the past continue to haunt us, raising fears and questions. Your love manifested in the Holy Eucharist is what reassures and strengthens us. Lead us by your grace to your altar daily and that we may be nourished by your life-giving body and blood. Let us never languish in the prison of the past for your love sets us free. Being liberated by the outpouring of your love we will become channels of your love and peace to everyone around us. Amen.