In life we often have what I call, ‘ready or not, here I come moments,” especially when it comes to the working of God. Sometimes Christ presents Himself directly into our midst – most often when we least expect Him; and at those times we are given a choice – either welcome Him and be present to Him working among us; or reject the possibility that He can move and work among us in a manner of His choosing and in His time.
If I may, I had one of those moments in 2012 during the International Eucharistic Congress in Dublin, Ireland.
I was scheduled to assist at one of the Masses, serving and proclaiming the Gospel. The Mass was in a stadium with about 8 or 9 thousand pilgrims in attendance. This was more than I had hoped for on this pilgrimage, and I was thrilled to receive such a blessing and opportunity.
But it was several hours after that Mass, when preparations were underway for the Eucharistic Procession, one of the main events of the Congress. For those who aren’t familiar with the procession, it is where the Blessed Sacrament, in a monstrance, is carried formally through the Congress complex, and then into the streets of the city hosting the event.
The Blessed Sacrament is preceded by thousands of pilgrims, people stand and watch from the sides of the streets, and under a canopy, the monstrance is carried for the adoration of all who are present. Official estimates suggest there was anywhere from 18 to 20 thousand people participating in the procession, along with about 100 cardinals, bishops and archbishops, over 800 priests and 50 to 100 deacons.
Cardinal Ouellette was the Papal legate for the Congress, and as such was representing Pope Benedict XVI. As the senior prelate, He was to carry Jesus in the procession; in the few minutes before the procession was to take place, the liturgical secretary from Dublin archdiocese came up to me, grabbed me by the arm, and said I had to come with him. He needed a deacon, and I was still there. Next thing I knew, I was being vested in a small room, and told I and another deacon would be assisting the Papal legate in the procession.
As we progressed through the congress complex, and just before we started into the public area, the cardinal indicated he was tiring, carrying the monstrance. The liturgical secretary motioned me to come forward, under the canopy – Cardinal Ouellette then handed the monstrance to me, and then – and it still seems like a dream these years later– I carried Jesus through the streets of Dublin.
Some of the pilgrims from our group were very happy for me and quite excited!
A few people who have known me for awhile were somewhat stunned – ‘you? They picked you to carry the Blessed Sacrament in this procession? Shouldn’t it have been someone else – maybe more important?”
I can assure you, no one was more stunned than I was. But the reality is that I was not providing the blessing of the people at this procession of about 18 thousand people: I was only an instrument, carrying Jesus in the Eucharist, and He Himself was blessing the crowd. But what a privilege to be such an instrument!
Sometimes we think that Christ cannot possibly be present in those around us, because we know them too well; at other times, we have a hard time considering Christ is at work in us, because – well- we don’t feel ‘worthy’.
Elijah in our first reading echoes this sentiment, when – after performing an amazing work for God – he says, ‘I am no better than my ancestors.’
In our Gospel, we hear the crowd again complaining against Jesus, this time for saying He is the bread come down from heaven. “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph? ‘ They say, ‘we know who this man is – how can he now say ‘I have come down from heaven?”
Jesus reveals his true nature to them; yet they are so stuck in their personal experience of who they think Jesus is that they can’t see beyond that – they can’t consider that Jesus is more than who they think He is. This is too great a challenge to their faith and so rather than consider a wonder of truly cosmic proportions happening in their midst, they choose instead to complain and to limit Jesus to who they think He is or should be.
They refuse to be open to the possibility that God is directly intervening in their reality, in their daily life.
Every day we are given opportunities to be witnesses to the involvement of God in our daily lives. Each day were are called to bring Christ to others, and to be open to accepting Christ when he appears to us – when he appears to us in the poor and the sick and the neglected– or comes to comfort and strengthen us in the words and actions of others.
We can’t plan these times or opportunities; we have to be open to participating in them though when they do happen. We need to understand that the Christ we receive in the Eucharist at Mass is truly Jesus – and in a very real and intimate way we take Him with us from this place, and bring Him out into the streets of our own communities – we are invited to be present with Him and to Him wherever and whenever he makes Himself known;
… whether we are ready or not.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.