40 Hours: Thursday Evening Solemn Vespers

Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a

So I’m now in my early forties and when I was growing up, like a lot of people my age, I think, Eucharistic adoration wasn’t something that I encountered. In those days shortly after the Second Vatican Council, a whole lot of the old got thrown out to make way for the new. That was kind of like throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and it was never supposed to happen. Were there excesses and abuses tied in with some of the old traditions? Yes. But that never meant that everything old was supposed to go away. Instead, the intent of the Council was for everything old to be made new again. And so, in these days, we see a lot of people returning to the devotions that gave people a sense of the mystical and a glimpse of the beautiful and an intimate connection with God who is higher than the heavens, but also nearer than our own hearts. And the most beautiful of these devotions is the worship of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

We’ve gathered here, then, to spend these forty hours in renewed devotion to the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. What has been beautiful for me to see is that this devotion has not been restricted to any particular age group, but has involved everyone from the youngest among us to our seniors. There have been groups of teens who got up early and came for prayer at three in the morning. Children in our school have been coming as a class throughout the day, and that will continue tomorrow. But probably the most touching to me was last night at the opening Mass, when so many families came together. They say the family that prays together stays together. I have no idea if that’s true or not, but I know that praying together gives families a common experience, and roots them in the communion of the Lord. Children who see a love in their parents that comes from their love of the Lord will certainly be able to look at others and love them in Christ. The family that worships the Blessed Sacrament together may be the family that makes it possible for others to see Christ in them.

Because that’s exactly what this forty hours should be saying to us. Yes, we worship Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Yes, we receive Christ in the Eucharist. But yes, we are also called to be Christ to one another and to receive Christ in them. As we serve one another in gratitude, we are Christ for them. As we allow others to minister to us in our need, they are Christ to us. As we gather in faith, we become the presence of Christ for one another. As our service to the poor, needy, or afflicted radiates hope to those in need, we become the presence of Christ to others. As we love one another into a community of grace, we are Christ to a world that desperately needs God’s presence. The Christ in us is the same Christ in the Eucharist we receive and the Eucharist we adore. By worshipping and receiving the Eucharist, we become a divine presence in our world in a way that has absolutely nothing to do with our own efforts or worthiness, but is all about our Jesus.

And we are all the Body of Christ in whatever way we have been called. This evening’s reading from St. Paul reminds us that we are not all the same, we do not all have the same gifts, we are not all in the same place on the journey of faith, but we are all absolutely part of the Body of Christ wherever we are and whatever our gifts may be. None of us can have the audacity to lord our gifts or talents over others, because they are just that – gifts – and we would not even have them if it were not for Jesus and his gift of the Holy Spirit. As we serve one another in Christ, we should be moved with humility by the way God works through us. Jane Ehrlich from our staff was telling me that they had some difficulty finding someone to play Jesus in our living stations this year, because people felt unworthy. And you know, they’re all absolutely right. None of us is worthy to play Jesus, but that’s okay, sometimes we are called to play Jesus anyway.

You may find yourself called upon to witness to someone who doesn’t believe in God and feel totally unworthy of it. And of course, you are. But that’s okay, God will give you the words and the grace and you’ll be fine. I struggled with my vocation for a long time because I felt like I was unworthy of it, and I was absolutely right about that. I am completely unworthy of being a priest of Jesus Christ, but that didn’t change the fact that I was absolutely being called to be that priest, and it didn’t change the fact that everything I do as a priest is a result of God’s abundant graces that are poured out on me each day. We’re all in there somewhere. We are unworthy, but we’re called anyway, we are graced beyond anything we can accomplish and beyond anything we deserve, and we are all the Body of Christ.

It is our experience of Christ in the Eucharist that makes this happen. Our worthiness comes from Christ himself, who is really present to us in the Eucharist each time we receive it, and each time we adore. In the Eucharist, Christ washes away our unworthiness to reveal the icon of Christ we were all created to be. There’s a prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas that I like to say when I prepare for Mass. It begins like this:

Almighty and ever-living God,
I approach the sacrament of your only-begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ.
I come sick to the doctor of life,
unclean to the fountain of mercy,
blind to the radiance of eternal light,
and poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.
Lord, in your great generosity,
heal my sickness, was away my defilement,
enlighten my blindness, enrich my poverty,
and clothe my nakedness.

As we continue to adore our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament as we observe these forty hours, may our worship unite us ever more as families, ever more as a community of faith, ever more as the Body of Christ we have been called and created to be. May we set aside our unworthiness to instead take up, with incredible humility, the grace so freely given to us in this Blessed Sacrament. May we become ever more aware of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and in one another. May we open ourselves to the challenge of reaching out to others in love as we contemplate the great Charity of Christ in this Saving Sacrifice. May we receive with gratitude the bountiful graces of our God in every moment of our lives.

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