Today is the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, Corpus Christi Sunday. Let us begin our reflection with a story I am sure many of you have heard. I quote this familiar story from a book by Robert Johnson and Jerry Ruhl.
“There is a wonderful story set in medieval times in which a man sees a laborer walking by with a wheelbarrow and asks what he is doing. ‘Can’t you see, I’m pushing a wheelbarrow,’ the laborer replies. Another man comes by doing the same thing and he, too, is asked, ‘What are you doing?’ He replies, ‘Can’t you see, I’m performing the work of God; I’m building Chartres Cathedral.’”(From “Living Your Unlived Life,” Robert A. Johnson & Jerry M. Ruhl.)
This story very simply yet beautifully drives home the point of living a life of meaning as living life with greater awareness or consciousness.
It’s an awareness of our choices, conscious choices, which ultimately lead to an awareness of mission. Allow me to propose a consciousness that is particular to our faith, what I call our “Eucharistic Consciousness.”
This is the great gift of the Mass, which I always encourage people to pray that they develop a devotion to and great love for.
Let us reflect through the four stages of the Eucharistic Consciousness, which describes four moments in Jesus’ own coming to full consciousness of his mission and attaining the full depth of awareness of his identity—a consciousness of mission and an awareness of identity that he leaves with us to remember and to do.
To take, an interior act of taking, as in taking stock of things or taking hold of ourselves, is the initial stage of becoming aware and conscious of our life, becoming self-possessed—the first stage in living a life of meaning and mission. Further reflecting on this stage, we point out three experiences—the first being awareness itself, the second is the act of reintegrating, and finally the act of remembering our wholeness as a person.
Quite often the experience of awareness seems to begin from a negative. We are jolted into awareness by a realization of how our lives have become disintegrated—we burn out, we get depressed, we break down. We realize how we have become so distant from the meaning of what we do.
Most of the time when someone sees me to assess his/her life, especially when one is in a rut or a problematic situation, I tell him/her to step back and regain perspective. Or, as I would like to say, what is the inspiration—the original inspiration—that made us do the things we do?
Awareness is by nature a present moment experience. To be aware is to be aware of the here and now. There is also an awareness of our past, our history, or our story that is a dynamic merging of the past and the present. This is the awareness of remembering, and also an experience of reintegrating.
Margaret Wheatley writes that the best way to restore an organization to health is to reconnect it to its identity. It is through remembering that we reconnect. To remember our past, our story, is to be aware of who we are as a person. As Thomas Merton puts it, “In all things there is a hidden wholeness.”
Parker Palmer also writes, building on Merton’s wisdom, that we are all born into this world whole, and as we go through life we surrender this wholeness as we are abused or disabused by the dos and don’ts of life. We can go on and on remembering how the dos and don’ts prevented us from following what might have been natural inclinations or gifts that could have been developed and expressed our hidden wholeness.
This is our deepest and most integral wholeness, our identity and mission. Our Lord himself shows us this as He, from beginning to end, lived out his identity and mission. His identity was being the beloved Son who came to do his Father’s will to fulfill His mission.
‘He blessed, gave thanks’
The second stage of the Eucharistic Awareness naturally flows from the first, as all awareness that leads to a remembering of our wholeness brings us to a deep sense of gratitude, discovering in all things and all experiences God’s presence.
Eight years ago this was the singular grace I experienced in my annual retreat, the grace of gratitude for God’s presence, his loving providential presence. On the second day of my retreat, a vivid memory of my childhood clearly came back to me. I must have been less than 6 years old then, and it was one morning when my brother and I, still in our pajamas, were playing on my grandfather’s driveway as the drivers and house boys were cleaning the cars.
My grandfather called for us to have breakfast with him. We had barely sat down at table when all of a sudden we heard a loud crash. One of the boys who was promised a promotion to driver by my grandfather decided to learn driving earlier than planned. He tried to start one of the cars, which zoomed through the driveway, ripping the gate where my brother and I had been playing a few minutes earlier. The car rammed into the fence of the neighbor across my grandfather’s house.
The vivid memory made me realize that I and my brother would not be here now had my grandfather not called us. From that memory and for the rest of the eight-day retreat, I simply remembered how God had been and continues to be present in my life, a presence that is always providential, and a providence that is always loving. The natural and perhaps only response I felt was gratitude.
This realization healed me more than I imagined then. This also led me back to my hidden wholeness, and was a conscious start of a process that eventually made me decide to request dismissal from the Society of Jesus, and leave the Jesuit milieu I had know as a student, a teacher, and as a Jesuit for over 40 years of my life.
The natural response of a grateful heart, a grateful spirit, is to give back—the third stage of the Eucharistic Awareness. To break is a conscious choice out of gratitude, offering out of a deep sense of gratitude. It is clear that the stage refers to us “breaking” ourselves, a conscious self-sacrifice. We are not broken as we were in our moments of trauma or disintegration, but we choose to break out of gratitude.
The final stage of the Eucharistic Awareness, to give, is the conscious choice to serve others. It is a service borne out of gratitude and to make this world and the life of others better. Ignatius of Loyola would say, “Love is best expressed in deeds.”
There is a parallel awareness from Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. In the second week of the Exercises, he asks the retreatant to pray for the grace: “Lord, that I may see thee more clearly; love thee more dearly; follow thee more nearly.”
The seeing in the Exercises is the stage of becoming aware, a holistic and realistic knowledge of self, our blessing and curse, our being graced and sinful. This leads us to healing and a sense of wholeness.
The response to this love is to love in return, to be grateful for God’s graciousness and forgiveness. Out of gratitude, we love God in return and this love is best expressed in deeds, most especially the supreme deed to follow Christ in his mission to heal, to save, to love the world in a life of loving service.
Let me end with the words—the spirit—of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. When asked how she was able to do great things, she responds, “We do not great things. We do only little things with great love.” This, in the end, is the life of meaning, always conscious of meaning in all things we do as we do all things with great love.