Christ is Risen! 

Truly, He is Risen! 

Alleluia!

In the Resurrection, Jesus truly conquered death and sin.  Death could not hold him.  Our celebration of this mystery is likewise unfettered.  It may look different this year, but we can celebrate with joy nonetheless.

When our traditions of attending Mass and celebrating in large gatherings has been taken away, though, it can be more challenging.  What can living as “Easter people” look like this year?  One of the most inspiring and challenging things I have come across in the past week or so is a post written by a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.  I keep coming back to this thought of his:

“Many people have been distressed over the last several weeks because they have not been able to receive Holy Communion. This is understandable and lamentable. However, it elicits the question, “Have you ever received Holy Communion?” You might think that’s a silly question. Of course you probably receive every week… or do you? Maybe the better question to start with is, “What is Holy Communion?” That’s easy, you say, it’s Jesus. Yes, very good, but then why do we call it “Holy Communion”? I’m not being facetious here. How many of us have ever thought much about the phrase Holy Communion? It’s worth a look.

Without opening a dictionary we recognize that the word communion is the word union along with the prefix com, which means with. So: with union. We also notice that there is an evident etymological connection with the word communication. And this union is with what or whom? With the Holy One. We begin to see, then, that Holy Communion is not so much some thing that I take or even receive, it’s a state of being, that is of being in communication (i.e., in relationship) with God.

Let’s look at an analogy. A man and a woman make a pledge at the altar to live in a lifelong union with one another. The two become one; that’s what union means. What does this union look like? It looks like a shared life. The two individuals now share a house, and finances, and children, and a dinner table. They hug, they kiss, they sleep in the same bed. However, all of these things illustrate a mere physical union. At their best, married people also share their thoughts and their feelings and their prayers and their deepest desires. In fact, their goal is to have one will with one another, that is, to choose and desire the same thing for one another and for their family.

We see also that this unity is not bound by physical proximity. It happens not infrequently that lovers are separated by space for one reason or another. In those times, how do they remain united? Obviously, they continue to call each other, to text each other, to write to each other, that is, to communicate with one another. But more than that, they think of each other, they pray for each other, and they long for each other. They even continue to influence one another. One can think of a scenario where a man on a business trip is deciding what to order for dinner, and just as he is about to ask for the deep-fried-whatever, he hears his wife’s voice suggesting a chicken caesar salad, and to please his beloved who is miles away he consents. Such a couple, though divided by space, is clearly in union, in a way that another couple, who happens to occupy the same space may not be. . . . .

This is also true with our relationship with God. Our spiritual, or moral, unity with God is primary. We can call this relationship our holy communion. Our goal as Catholics, as Christians, is to always be living in this communion. And what does this union look like? It looks like a shared life with a spouse. We talk to Him, we think of Him, we thank Him, we do things for Him, we spend time with Him, we listen to Him, and sometimes we get to receive Him in the Blessed Sacrament. In comparison to the rest of our life with Him, this form of “physical” unity, however, is extremely rare. We might receive Holy Communion once a week or even once a day, but we are living in holy communion at every single moment of every single day––or at least that’s the goal.”*

Perhaps because I am a married person who has had the privilege of working for many years to help prepare other couples for marriage, this analogy to the relationship between spouses has really struck a chord within me.  In witnessing to the many graces of practicing Natural Family Planning, we have often shared that times of abstinence from physical union opens up the possibility of sharing intimacy in other ways.  These opportunities strengthen our relationship, deepen our intimacy and allow for a fuller and richer life together.  Could the same be true in our relationship with God?  Can we use this time when public Masses have been suspended to foster our intimacy with God in other ways?  And will this time, then, strengthen our relationship with God, deepen our intimacy with Him and allow for a deeper and richer life in Christ?  Will we learn new ways to be in “holy communion” with Him each and every hour of the day?

It is said that St. Francis deSales strived to make a Spiritual Communion every fifteen minutes!  Saints show us how to live always in union with Jesus whether we are near Him physically or not.  This is not to say that receiving Eucharist is unimportant or unneeded, but it does remind us that it cannot be separated from the rest of our lives.  Like the marriage analogy above, our shared life with Jesus can (and should) be one where “we talk to Him, we think of Him, we thank Him, we do things for Him, we spend time with Him, we listen to Him.”  

Lastly, there is one thing that is really tugging at my heart as I ponder the words of this priest.  How often have I received Eucharist with little or no thought?  How many times have I taken it for granted?  How often has it not been a “Holy Communion” because my own heart has not been open to Jesus who is always there for me?  Again, thinking of marriage, we know that sexual union can be and often is misused.  Couples can attempt to substitute it for the oneness of life God calls us to in marriage.  It can fail to be an expression of the complete sharing of mind and heart that marriage calls for. Sadly, it can be reduced to an act of extreme selfishness, inside and outside of marriage.  The analogy carries over to our relationship with God.  If it is a serious wrong to use another person for our own personal pleasure, how much more so to approach the Eucharist in a casual or selfish or inattentive way?  

As Chris Stewart of Casting Nets Ministries says,  Jesus “has given Himself completely so that we can have life.  He has given us everything so that we can have everything. . Anything less than a complete gift of ourselves back, anything less than giving Him everything we are in return, is an inappropriate response.”

Both the tomb and the Church may be empty, but God is still with us.  He still beckons to us.  He still desires a deep communion with each and every one of us.  As St. Theresa of Calcutta often reminded us, he thirsts for us. Let’s respond to Him with our whole hearts this day and each day.  And then when the Churches open again and we have the opportunity to go to Mass, it will truly be a Holy Communion; perhaps a life-changing one as we are more open than ever before to the tremendous graces being offered to us by our Lord.  Enough graces in just one such Communion, the saints say, to make us saints.  

*Fr. Kyle Kowalczyk.  If you would like the full text, please email me!

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