Bow Down Before The Lamb

4th Sunday of Easter (April 21, 2013)

Acts 13:14, 43-52

Ps 100:1-2, 3, 5

Rev 7:9 14B-17

John 10:27-30

Last summer I went on a Catholic youth retreat called Catholic Heart Work Camp in South Carolina. It was a memorable experience because I was able to deacon at daily Mass all week just three weeks after being ordained. Needless to say, I was a very excited rookie deacon.

Daily Mass at Catholic Heart Work Camp. Deacon Kevin is on the far right with Fr. Watson to his immediate left.

Daily Mass at Catholic Heart Work Camp. Deacon Kevin is on the far right with Fr. Watson to his immediate left.

During this camp, they have a beautiful Eucharistic adoration night for everyone present. The day we had it, we already went to Mass in the morning but since there was no tabernacle, they couldn’t preserve the host from the morning Mass to use it for evening adoration. Therefore they asked Fr. Richard Watson from Lexington, Deacon Kevin Black (who was one of my classmates) and myself to celebrate an evening Mass by ourselves while the rest of the kids and adults listened to a motivational talk by another priest. We could then use a host from that Mass for adoration. So we went into the school’s gym hallway and celebrated a nice, intimate Mass, just the three of us. Fr. Watson jokingly said, “let’s just pretend we are at one of the side chapels at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome!” as we realized we were next to the bathroom and water fountains in the gym hallway.

When Mass was finished, a consecrated host was placed in the monstrance and we quietly processed Jesus into the auditorium while the priest was still giving his talk.  The students couldn’t see us since a big curtain was behind the stage blocking their view. I noticed that the staff had a small table set up with three chairs for us to sit on behind the main stage. My fellow brother deacon was carrying the monstrance and set it on the table. Naturally, I just assumed he would then sit down in one of the chairs the staff so generously provided for us instead of kneeling on the gym floor. Nope, he decided to go “hardcore Catholic” and kneel on the hard, wooden floor without any padding whatsoever in 90-degree South Carolina heat without the luxury of air-conditioning while wearing our church albs. “No problem,” I thought. “5-10 minutes tops and we should be done kneeling. I can handle this!”  15 minutes later, still on my knees, I was getting a little irritated that the priest was showing no signs of wrapping up his talk or starting adoration. irritated faceMeanwhile, Deacon Kevin hadn’t budged from his knees and I didn’t want to look like a wimp by sitting in a chair. So, out of pride and with sweat dripping from my face, I thought to myself, “If he’s not moving, I’m not moving!” Luckily the Catholic Heart Work Camp red handkerchief I bought as a souvenir was wrapped around my wrist. So I untied it and used it to wipe the sweat off my face. By this time my knees were completely numb. I thought if I shifted my weight, maybe it would help my knees. NOPE. That only made things worse. Now some of the feeling returned thanks to me shifting and allowing blood flow to return to my knees. The pain went from numb to stabbing. I was in pain, dripping with sweat and saying unpleasant things in my head as I grumpily kneeled on that gym floor.

It was then that it happened. The priest said something to the kids in his talk that smacked me upside the head. He said, “In a little while we are going to have Eucharistic adoration. Right now, behind the stage, our two deacons are on their knees in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament keeping watch over our Lord.” I felt like a heel. Rather than allow myself to surrender over to the prayerful moment, I was too worried about how hot and uncomfortable I felt on my knees.  I allowed my selfishness to blind me to the fact that I was in the presence of our Lord. It was in that moment that my handkerchief went from wiping away sweat on my face to wiping away tears from my eyes. I started imagining myself as one of Jesus’ disciples kneeling at the cross as He suffered a death far more painful than anything I could ever feel kneeling on that hard gym floor. Time no longer mattered to me. To this day, I have no idea how much longer I spent on my knees that night. But I do remember how powerful it was to kneel before our Lord in a state of complete surrender and thank Him for sacrificing Himself for me.

Adoration_PhotoEventually, everyone else processed to the gym floor and we all kneeled in silent adoration before Christ as they illuminated the golden monstrance with spotlights. The only sound heard was the quiet tears from the high school students as they allowed themselves to fully embrace such a powerful experience.

This is the story that came to my mind as I read today’s passage from Revelations, “For this reason they stand before God’s throne and worship him day and night in his temple.” That is what Eucharistic Adoration is all about. Worshiping God day or night before His throne. Now picture a golden monstrance as I read the second part of the passage. “For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” How beautiful is that??? During adoration, the center of the monstrance contains the Lamb of God in the appearance of bread. This is why Eucharistic adoration has the potential to change people’s lives. It allows us to humbly lower ourselves and admit that there is more to life than just us. It allows us to refocus and refuel our love for God and put Him back on His rightful throne. And if we surrender ourselves over to Him in EVERYTHING, He will wipe away our tears and lead us to that life-giving water.

After Mass today, everyone will have an opportunity to sign up and commit to spending one hour per week in Eucharistic Adoration that will be starting here at St. Andrew’s next month. I invite and challenge every single one of you to sign up. Don’t make excuses…don’t put it off…surrender yourself over to the experience of bowing down before the Lamb of God.

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Be A Bonfire

2nd Sunday of Easter/Divine Mercy Sunday (April 7, 2013)

Acts 5:12-16

PS 118

Rev 1:9-11A, 12-13, 17-19

Jn 20:19-31

This weekend we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. Most Catholics have at one point seen the image of Jesus associated with this day. For those that haven’t, Jesus has His right hand raised in a blessing and His left hand is touching his garments just above his heart. Red and white rays shoot out from his heart, symbolizing the blood and water that was poured out for our salvation and sanctification. Just below the image of Jesus are the words, “Jesus, I trust in You.”

Divine-Mercy-Sunday

The thing that strikes me the most about this image are how the rays have kind of a 3D effect coming out of Jesus’ heart. This is reminiscent to when Jesus, hanging on the cross, had blood and water shoot out of His side when the soldier pierced him. He is so full of love, so full of mercy that he was willing to empty Himself and bath us in His divine love and mercy. And if we are open to receive Him, if we are open to trust Him with everything, then we can hopefully one day fulfill the very desires of our hearts…eternal love with our Father in heaven.

The problem is, at least for now, we have to live in a world that is constantly telling us that following the Gospel is optional. We hear things like, “Do what you want; do what feels good; only worry about yourself, God’s mercy doesn’t exist.” But to live in the Gospel means that we must admit that it’s not all about us. We also need to admit when we have sinned, do good things and treat others with love and respect. This is not always an easy thing to do, especially when one of God’s children is tailgating you on the highway while flashing their lights and shaking a fist at you! To live in the Gospel means you also must be ready for the world to try and extinguish the flame you have burning in your heart for God…and honestly…some days it will feel like a losing battle.

retreat

The St. Andrew’s gang on retreat!

I recently went on retreat with 75 middle school kids from the Lexington Diocese, 10 of which were from St. Andrew’s Church. The theme of the weekend was “Out of the Darkness” and focused on how to find joy in one’s life. One of the presenters, at the end of the retreat, wanted to stress to the kids to not let the joy they found on the weekend fade out come Monday morning. She described how people’s joy and excitement following a retreat could be understood in relation to different types of lights. For example, some people will leave the retreat and be like a lighthouse. They’ll stand tall and beam out to the entire world but only attract the eyes of those already looking for them, much like a boat searching for the light of a shoreline. Then there are the flashlights. Very bright and focused, but only on whom they choose to shine their light on. Unfortunately, these people tend to shine their light only on the easy targets while ignoring the ones they know will resist them or call them crazy Jesus freaks. And what happens if you leave a flashlight on too long…the batteries will start to weaken and the light will begin to fade. Next are the candles.

The church altar where we celebrated Mass after the sun went down

The church altar where we celebrated Mass after the sun went down

Catholics love candles; we use them at every Mass! They are bright and can even light up an entire room. While on retreat we went to Mass after dark in a church without electricity that was lit only by candles. It was a beautiful experience. But what happens when you take those candles outside and the wind blows? The flame flickers and may even go out if the wind is strong enough.  Then there are the 4th of July sparklers. They tend to be very bright when first lit but fade out quickly. But for that short period of time you can really see their energy in motion. Finally, there’s the bonfire. It’s large, bright and can provide warmth for all who stand nearby. A bonfire tends to burn for a long period but also can start to fade away over time. But every good camper knows how to get a fading bonfire going again…just add more wood and step back!

We as Christians need to be like bonfires. Always on fire for our faith, drawing others close to us so we can spread the message of Christ to them. We need to be a source of warmth for those that are in need of God’s love and mercy. However, we also need to recognize that there will be times when our flames are starting to dwindle or when someone’ s trying to extinguish it. That’s why it is so important to have a steady supply of wood nearby to fuel our fires so we will continue to burn bright. You want to know the best sources of fuel from the Church??? Daily prayer, scripture, attending Sunday formation class from age 4-104 (yes, even the adults!), attending Mass as often as you can, going to confession, receiving God’s grace in the sacraments as frequently as possible.

Another extremely powerful way to fuel your fire is Eucharistic Adoration. adorationIf you are looking for a quiet way to pray and find peace, then spend an hour on your knees or sitting in silence in front of the God of the Universe during Eucharistic adoration. For those unfamiliar, this is when we take some of the consecrated host (the Body of Christ) from Mass and put it on display in a monstrance. Interestingly enough, most monstrances that I’ve seen are golden and shaped like a sun and have rays coming out from the center… a lot like the rays in the Divine Mercy image. So when I sit there in silence, I very often bow my head, close my eyes and put my hands out palms up. I’m trying to imagine that I am soaking up the divine rays of God with my entire body. I’m trying to add fuel to my fire so that it will blaze brightly once again. The great thing about Eucharistic Adoration is that during that time you can either pray, read a spiritual book or just be quiet and do nothing. Simply being in God’s quiet presence can have a profound effect on a person.

So which kind of light do you want to be? Here’s my suggestion…. Don’t just be a lighthouse whose light only reaches those already looking. Don’t just be a flashlight that only shines your light on a select few and ends up with dead batteries. Don’t just be a candle that flickers or goes out when the wind blows too hard. Don’t just be a sparkler that quickly fades. Only a blazing bonfire can provide the light and warmth needed for you and everyone around you. Actively keeping the bonfire of God’s love burning in your heart is the key to finding true joy in this life while we await the next. So be a bonfire!

bonfire