One of my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs is “Homeward Bound.” Whenever we are returning from a family vacation, no matter how fantastic a time we have had, I find this song playing in my head over and over again. I have to agree with those writers who believe that it is the single most important theme in literature. Even when J.R.R. Tolkien says that all art is about death he is simply baptizing the received wisdom of the ages – for what is death from a Catholic perspective? It is going home.
I could not help being brought to this thought as I attended Sunday Mass for the first time since mid-March when all of the churches in our diocese closed down. As if on cue, our wonderful pastor at St. Ignatius of Antioch Church, Fr. Kevin Estabrook, used for his homily – and rightfully so – the theme of coming home as the doors to our spiritual home reopened for the celebration of the Feast of Pentecost. The irony of a group of people wearing masks and listening to a Gospel reading that talked about the importance of Christ breathing the Holy Spirit upon His Apostles was not lost on me. God, indeed has a sense of humor.
The previous Monday, Memorial Day, was the first day that Mass in our diocese was open to the public, and I was one of a dozen parishioners in attendance as we tested the waters for those who would be attending on Sunday. All, as one would have imagined, went well.
As a teacher of Catholic theology, in a Catholic school, I am acutely aware of the importance of the incarnational aspect of what I do. God became one of us in Jesus Christ in the single event in history that elicits a childlike wonder in all those who realize the importance of the birth of the Creator of the world in a stable to a young woman of absolutely no social standing and her bewildered but faithful husband.
A Catholic education, at its core, is incarnational, and therefore demands real, not virtual, contact with the People of God. How much more, then, does the Mass – what the “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church” from Vatican II rightly called “the source and summit of the Faith” – demand real, not virtual, contact with the People of God? And so we must be supremely grateful for the ability to once again make the Eucharist the center of our lives.
As, week in and week out, I watched Mass online I recited the prayer of spiritual communion that appeared on the screen after the priest had received the Eucharist. In that prayer’s opening lines we are asked to make the following statement of faith and commitment: “My Jesus, I believe that you are truly present in the Holy Eucharist. I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.”
In one sense, the first is a rather easy statement to make. It has been the teaching of the Church from the time of the Last Supper that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus. But it is the second statement that should make us stop and think. Do I really love Jesus above all things?
This is not a statement that I ever thought about when I was in line to receive the Eucharist, but because of the last several months it is on my mind now each time I approach, with a sense of awe-filled unworthiness, the kindly visage of Fr. Kevin as he proclaims to this very humbled sinner, “Body of Christ.” Very humbled, and very glad to be home.