How to Clear the Hurdle to Holiness
By Father Angelo Casimiro, MIC (Aug 30, 2012)
I know that many people were glued to watching the Summer Olympics these past couple of weeks. I didn't see much of it, but one night, as I was on the treadmill at the gym, I watched some of the track and field events and saw the U.S. women's team defeat the Jamaicans in the 4x100 meter relay race. It was exciting to watch, and I was in awe at the speed in which those athletes ran that race.
Now, I think the Olympics are very inspiring for us because when we watch it and look into the eyes of the athletes, we see the focus and determination that comes on the heels of thousands of hours of practice. After all, these athletes have sacrificed and endured a lot just for this one moment in time. But more importantly, I think it should be a reminder to all of us how we can use our bodies to glorify God, who created us in His own image.
I believe this is something that many of the athletes haven't taken for granted. For example, there is U.S. gymnast Gabrielle Douglas who helped the "Fab Five" U.S. women's gymnastics team take home its first gold medal in a team final since 1996. Hours before the victory, she quoted a verse from Matthew's Gospel: "But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." Then later, just before becoming the first African-American woman to win an all-around women's gymnastics title, she invoked God again: "Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things He does for me."
A female Ethiopian athlete named Meser Defar provided one of the most emotional moments of the Olympics when she crossed the finish line in the 5,000-meter race to win the gold medal. From underneath her jersey, she pulled out a picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and showed it to the cameras and held it up to her face in deep prayer. You see, as an Orthodox Christian, she had entrusted her race to God with the sign of the cross before the race began.
I think one of the best movies about the Olympics that has ever come out has been the 1981 film "Chariots of Fire," which tells the story of two athletes from Great Britain who competed in the 1924 Summer Olympics. One of those athletes was Eric Liddell, a devout Scottish Christian runner who always ran for the glory of God. His famous line in the movie was, "I believe that God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure." This brings to mind St. Ireneus who said, "The glory of God is man fully alive." And I'm sure this is what Eric Liddell felt whenever he ran — it was the glory of God that made him fully alive!
Now, it was St. Paul who often liked to use the example of an athlete running the race as he explained the spiritual life. He said, "Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it." And so like the athletes we saw competing in the Olympics, we too are awaiting something special. We eagerly anticipate that moment when we will be with God forever in heaven. But first we must run the race.
And that's why we need to turn to Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to help us run the race so as to win the prize of eternal life. After all, it is Jesus who will sustain us. In the Gospels, Jesus keeps telling us, "I am the bread of life. I am the bread that came down from heaven. Whoever believes in me has eternal life." So we have to ask ourselves if we truly believe this, if we truly believe Jesus at His word, because if we don't, we can neither run nor win the prize.
After all, the Eucharist that we receive at Holy Communion during every Mass is the bread come down from heaven — Jesus Christ Himself! The Eucharist is not just a symbol, for it is truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. When I consecrate the bread and wine at the altar in a few minutes and after I say the words of consecration, the bread is no longer bread and the wine and no longer wine.
Now, the fancy word for all of this is the word "transubstantiation." What does that mean? Well, even though the bread still looks like bread, feels like bread, and tastes like bread, it has truly become the Body of Christ. And even though the wine still looks like wine, feels like wine, and tastes like wine, it has truly become the Blood of Christ. That's why after receiving Holy Communion, we should never say that we received the bread but that we received the Body of Christ, and we should never say that we drank the wine but that we drank the Precious Blood of Christ.
After all, as Catholics, we believe that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic faith and that's why we should never miss going to Mass on Sunday, unless in extreme circumstances. That's because the Liturgy of the Eucharist is the Sacrifice of the Cross, made present upon our altars. Just like on the Cross, the Priest is Jesus, acting through the visible priest. Just like on the Cross, the Victim offered is Jesus. Jesus becomes present, under the appearance of bread and wine.
Just like on the cross, God is worshipped, thanked and loved through the offering of Jesus. Through the offering of Jesus we ask God to have mercy on the world and to help us. Just like on the cross, the Blessed Virgin Mary is also present during the Mass. That means that at every Mass, Jesus gives Mary to us as our mother. Mary helps us to offer ourselves along with Jesus to the Father. Now, the only difference between the cross and the Mass is that Jesus doesn't die during the Mass. He now lives forever.
I believe that's why it's so important for us to develop a great love and reverence for the Holy Eucharist, because as Jesus tells us in John's Gospel, "I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is My flesh for the life of the world." That's why I encourage you all to always receive Holy Communion worthily by being in a state of grace. This means that your soul should be free from any mortal sin by having gone to confession beforehand. You also shouldn't eat or drink anything for one hour before receiving Holy Communion.
Now, the custom is to receive Holy Communion either on the tongue or in the hand. When you receive the Eucharist in your hands, put one hand over the other and make kind of like a throne as you receive Jesus. Then with your right or left hand, pick up the host and consume it in your mouth immediately. As well, never try to grab the host from the hand of the priest, the deacon, or extraordinary minister of the Eucharist as that shows disrespect. Now, I only mention this because of the abuses concerning the Eucharist that have happened over the years.
As well, when the priest, deacon, or extraordinary minister says, "The Body of Christ" or "The Blood of Christ," the proper response is "Amen." By saying "Amen," you are saying that you truly believe that this is the Body of Christ or the Blood of Christ. Then after you return to your pew, kneel or sit and spend some time with Jesus in a prayer of thanksgiving. Don't be looking around or talking to your neighbor; just focus on Jesus.
When the Holy Eucharist is reserved in the Tabernacle, we show our reverence to the Real Presence of Jesus Christ by genuflecting (getting down on one knee and making the sign of the cross) before the Tabernacle. Now, the Tabernacle is often at the center of the church or off to the side and the easiest way to find it is to look for the red (or sometimes white) candle beside it. This means that our Eucharistic Lord is present.
Now, when the Holy Eucharist is exposed for Adoration, instead of getting down on one knee, we get down on both knees and make the sign of the cross to show our reverence. And if you can't genuflect or kneel, make a slight vow. As well, when we are in church, because Christ is Truly Present, we should always try to maintain silence to show our reverence, and try to keep talking with others to a minimum, out of respect to others who may be praying. I believe that if we observe these things, it will make us more aware that Jesus Christ is truly in our midst.
So to summarize: Like the Olympic athletes, we as believers must always keep our eyes focused on the goal. And what is our goal in this life? Our goal is heaven, of course. Our goal is eternal life. That's why God the Father sent down His Son, Jesus, from heaven to become our bread — the bread of life — the One who is going to help us reach our heavenly goal.
Father Angelo Casimiro, MIC, serves at St. Peter's and Holy Rosary parishes in Kenosha, Wisc.