It is curious that we speak of physicians and dentists and lawyers who “practice” their profession, presumably obtaining more experience and knowledge. They get better and better at it because of the practice. On the contrary, we don’t speak of teachers who “practice” except for a brief period of time within their preparation. Anyone who has been in a classroom, however, knows that some teachers become exceptionally good at it; others do not.
Catholic Christianity is something that requires life-long effort. We even seem proud of the claim to be “practicing Catholics.” Weekly Eucharist is precisely what enables us to hold that title. Because we haven’t quite got it right yet, or because new situations require careful navigation, we keep practicing. Just as saints and scholars tell us that the Lord’s Prayer is the perfect prayer, containing absolutely everything needed for good prayer, so also we learn that the Eucharist, when celebrated fully and actively, is the key to spiritual health, emotional stability and the truly “good life!” So what are the ingredients? What’s all there?
The Eucharist begins with the sign of the cross, a recognition of the grace of baptism which unites us to Christ and each other in a wonderful new way, and gives us a share in the very life of God! We are never alone, isolated or marginal.
The very next moment is the flash of acknowledgement that we are sinful, not evil, but sinful and, once we recognize that reality (each in our own individual way) we are swept into the embrace of a merciful and forgiving God.
We pray for the grace to hear God’s Word, addressed to us at this precise moment of our lives as if we never heard it before! The passages from Scripture witness to truth which remains too important to forget. Someone thoughtfully unpacks it for us so that we can’t miss the point of it all.
We are reminded that absolutely everything is a gift, and we select a few of those gifts, bread of nourishment and wine of gladness, to offer back to the Source of all goodness, who takes our meager offerings and actually becomes them.
At that moment we enter into the Paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection! He took his entire life in his hands, said “thanks,” blessed it and gave it away! We are invited to do the same, each within the context of our own vocations. Having entered into the prayer of Christ, we become Christ. The external sacramental sign says it all.
After Communion we are sent back to our daily lives to make them different. In fact the entire purpose of the church is to praise God by transforming the world, and to do so by being ourselves transformed by the Lord’s death and resurrection. It is as simple as that.
Each week we arrive with new questions, different bruises, fresh dreams, and once again, bound together as young and mature, we enter into the crash course of Catholic Christianity. If we have caught the fire, tasted the love, been confronted by the truth, we have come alive in a new way.
We can leave newly determined to live lives of integrity, compassion, generosity, forgiveness, humility and even hope. God does it all, but God won’t do it without our cooperation and “help.” Ultimately, every sacrament is for the whole church and for the entire world.
That, my friends, is a truly “practicing Catholic.” That is why the one Eucharist, offered once and for all, is extended and “stretched,” so to speak, in order to become present at every Eucharist throughout the world, and amid every community of disciples everywhere and in all times. We keep practicing and learning. Nothing else really matters.