Vol. 167 No. 22 - May 28 - June 03, 2016
The Solemnity of Corpus Christi or the Body and Blood of Christ is over 700 years old and very Catholic. Since Maundy Thursday, when the Lord gave us the Eucharist, occurs in Holy Week which centres on the Lord's passion and death, the Church set aside this feast to reflect on the Eucharist - God's greatest gift to the Church.
The words of Jesus when He instituted the Eucharist were, "This is my Body….. This is my Blood...Do this in memory of Me". These are the most important words ever spoken that have shaped the life and spirituality of billions of people. They call us to dwell on the heart of Catholic life, the Eucharist, the Mass and the Blessed Sacrament.
Jesus' gift to the Church on the night before He died was the gift not of His parables or His blessings but of His very own Self in the form of bread and wine. In the Eucharist we have Jesus really present, body and blood, soul and divinity. When we receive Holy Communion, we have closer contact with Jesus than was possible to anybody during His earthly life. In the Eucharist, the actual distance between Christ and ourselves vanishes.
Jesus gave us the Eucharist as place of unity to draw His followers to Him and to each other. It is important to remember that receiving Holy Communion is not simply a personal gesture but a public proclamation that we are in communion with Christ and the Church. We need to examine the consistency of our life in following the Gospel, in making a serious effort to stay away from a sinful state of life or indulging in lifestyles that do not depart from Church teachings. Communion is more than receiving the Body and Blood of Christ, it is an act of renewing our commitment to Jesus.
The deeper issue for each of us with regard to Holy Communion is not whether another person is receiving worthily, but am I receiving Holy Communion worthily? If we are not in serious sin, but are still not the Catholics we should be, and none of us is perfect, Communion reminds us to be more faithful by recourse to the Sacrament of reconciliation that calls for repentance and metanoia. The Lord will give us the graces we need to become strong followers.
The Eucharist is not reserved for the perfect but is given to help us along the journey of life. In the Eucharist Jesus simply does not come to us like a dignitary passing through a crowd. He is coming to each of us as food and drink and although the gift is always the same, its effect in us, the influence it will have, is something very personal, in proportion to our receptivity like sunlight through multi-coloured glass.
The Mass, the gathering of the Church, reminds us of our identity as Christians, and our sharing in the mission of the Church. We are not just living a life but are on a journey to the Promised Land. Through difficulty, pain, problems, suffering and death, the Eucharist, our assurance that the Lord is with us in all these moments as our food strengthening us for this journey.
Corpus Christi is a good time to refresh our reverence for Mass. Spiritual masters tell us one cannot pray the Mass with others unless one has learned to pray alone. Visits to the Blessed Sacrament, Exposition and Benediction are occasions for private prayer that will prepare us for the Eucharist. The Body and Blood of Christ – is the great school of Jesus where we learn about Christian life, about Christ's love, about our own dignity as Christians, about our mission in life and about our unity.
The feast of Corpus Christi brings back memories I simply cannot forget. They are so vivid that the original events can even now be experienced through all my five senses, pulsating as they did when, as a beardless youth in short pants, I merged into the devout and excited crowds that formed a long procession, brought up in the rear by the large Monstrance that contained the Blessed Sacrament. It was placed high on a flamboyantly decorated mini-chariot, pulled by huge oxen flexing their muscles, but the goads used on them made them drag the chariot gently, with a speed that never exceeded what the crowds could manage, intent, as they were, to show their reverence by saying the beads and singing beautiful Tamil hymns. You can imagine how pumped up I was when, in the final year of my schooling, my family’s oxen were harnessed to do the chariot-pulling, and I had the privilege of anchoring the procession.
In later and more affluent times, when oxen were replaced by tractors from the fields, the parishioners asked me—by then a Jesuit Scholastic who had learnt to drive four wheelers with Superiors’ permission—to hitch the family-tractor to the chariot and give the Blessed Sacrament in the Monstrance a jaunty ride, accompanied as before, by the hymnal acclamations of the people.
Two things stand out in the nostalgia I feel for that annual feast celebrated in my village. One was the focus on the Blessed Sacrament, sharpened by the novena devotions and the preaching that preceded it, and by the sway of the divine blessing over all our hearts when we bowed our heads at the Final Benediction. Even before theological studies, I never tired of reading about the Eucharist, and my attention (constantly wandering during Mass) never veered during the Consecration. I did not require convincing that the incomprehensible God came to me in the life of Christ, tangible in the mystery of His death and resurrection, celebrated in the multifaceted Mass, and all of it available again.
Mother Mary and Elizabeth could not have been happier to meet each other. Mary wanted counsel and guidance. She was seeking answers to her many doubts and questions. She was at the crossroads of life. God had chosen her to bear His son. She could not discuss the innermost fears of her being with her parents. Her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant, and required help and a comforting hand. She required reassurance that all would be well. She was advanced in age and there was the risk of complication in the pregnancy. There were no midwives or hospitals in those days, and Mary’s visiting at this crucial moment was more than welcome.
Mary did accept God’s will and said “I am the handmaid of the Lord,” but the teenager hurried to meet Elizabeth, seeking reason for God’s decision and favour. After a long and difficult trip on the back of a mule, in a town of Judea, Mary enters and embraces Elizabeth with love and affection.
Elizabeth had secluded herself for five months from the sight of curious relatives and neighbours at a country house. She was alone. Her husband, Zacharias, could not help Elizabeth much, as there was not only segregation amongst men and women, but his role during the pregnancy was limited.
In his post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation (Amoris Laetitia) on love in the family, Pope Francis has invited the whole Church “to value the gifts of marriage and the family” and encourages “everyone to be a sign of mercy and closeness wherever family life remains imperfect or lacks peace and joy.” (5) The nine chapters of the exhortation include 325 paragraphs and sums up the discussions that took place in the last two Vatican Synods on the Family during the past two years. The tone of the exhortation reflects the Christian attitude of compassion, hope and pastoral concern in a refreshingly new way. In effect, the Pope asks that law needs to be applied with compassionate love in the way Jesus did.
At the start, the Pope states that “not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium” and that the Church’s “teaching and practice… does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it.” (3)
In the first chapter, the Pope describes the family as a reflection of the Trinity. “The Word of God tells us that the family is entrusted to a man, a woman and their children, so that they may become a communion of persons in the image of the union of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (29) In chapter two, while acknowledging that the Church’s pastoral efforts with regard to family relationship have been useful, the Pope says that the Church has “often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness.” Some even feel “that the Church’s message on marriage and the family does not clearly reflect the preaching and attitudes of Jesus, who set forth a demanding ideal, yet never failed to show compassion and closeness to the frailty of individuals like the Samaritan woman or the woman caught in adultery.” (38)
With high divorce rates among Catholic couples – and marriage rates plummeting among millennials – Church leaders are scrambling to address the problem.
But long before Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation on “The Joy of Love” was written, one marriage prep ministry was already putting the Holy Father’s message into practice.
The US-based Witness to Love marriage prep ministry seeks to challenge engaged couples to a greater and more fulfilling life of virtue through an intensive, multi-faceted programme.
It’s something that’s called for distinctly in the Pope’s document when he says that “marriage preparation aimed at giving couples a genuine experience of participation in ecclesial life and a complete introduction to various aspects of family life.”
However, tough conversations about an engaged couple’s spiritual situation often fail to happen in marriage prep.
“In most marriage preparation, we don’t expect them (couples) to accept the challenge, and we don’t give them the challenge,” Mary Rose Verret, founder of Witness to Love, told CNA in an interview.
“Most of us in marriage prep have lost hope,” she admitted. But couples, she said, “are capable of great things.”
The Witness to Love marriage prep ministry is intensive. It involves engaged couples working with a priest or deacon who catechises them and a “mentor couple” at the parish who befriends them.
On Monday, May 23, 2016, Sr Hermanelde, working in Mumbai’s Holy Spirit Hospital since 1963, was awarded the Cross of the Order of Merit by Consul General Michael Siebert at his residence.
While bestowing the prestigious award on Sr Hermanelde, His Excellency, the Consul General of the Federal Republic of Germany said, “For the Head of a German Mission abroad, one of the most pleasant duties is to bestow the ‘Bundesverdienstkreuz’, the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. Today, I have the honour and great pleasure to bestow on you, Sr Hermanelde Pulm, the Cross of the Order of Merit, or ‘Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande’. The Order of Merit is the highest tribute the Federal Republic of Germany can pay to an individual. The Federal President awards it for outstanding services to the nation. And let me add that he especially likes to award the Order of Merit to women (there are still more men being decorated) and to people whose work has not been widely recognised by the bigger public. You, Sister Hermanelde, fulfil both criteria, though many, many people of course know about your charitable work, because they had the chance to be the objects of your loving care.”
The Religious Sisters of her congregation run the Holy Spirit Hospital that provides healthcare, especially for slum dwellers and low-income groups, regardless of their religion, and follow the motto ‘Service in Love’.
Sr Hermanelde was born in Cologne as Auguste Pulm on August 24, 1937. When the Holy Spirit Hospital in Andheri was built, she came to India to serve Indians in need. She is a member of the Catholic Order of the ‘Missionary Sisters Servants of the Holy Spirit’ (SSpS).
1-10 of 15