Holy Eucharist: August 2008 Archives

Vere tu es Deus absconditus

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Nineteenth Sunday of the Year A

1 Kings 19:9a, 11-13a
Psalm 84, 9, 10, 11-12, 13-14
Romans 9:1-5
Matthew 14:23-33

Christ in Solitude

Today's Gospel begins with the absence of Jesus. It takes place after the miraculous multiplication of the loaves prefiguring the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus has withdrawn into solitude on the mountain. It is night. There, hidden from the eyes of His apostles, He prays to His "Father who sees what is done in secret" (Mt 6:6). "He went up by Himself on to the hill-side, to pray there; twilight had come, and He remained there alone" (Mt 14:23). In two brief sentences, Saint Matthew twice emphasizes the aloneness of Jesus. This would indicate that we are to attend to the solitude of Our Lord. It is, in some way, an invitation to enter into the prayer of Christ in solitude.

A Stormy Night

Mysteriously, Jesus is away from His apostles and, at the same time, present to them. Not only is it night; it is a stormy night. "The ship was already half-way across the sea, hard put to it by the waves, for the wind was against them" (Mt 14:24). Jesus is present to His apostles in the storm-tossed boat because He is present to His Father, who "probes us and knows us, who knows when we sit and when we stand, who discerns all our thoughts from afar" (cf. Ps 138: 1-2). Jesus is present to the Father for whom "the night shines clear as the day itself; light and dark are one" (Ps 138:12).

Linger over the mystery of Jesus' absence: an absence that is presence; a presence that, in the dark night of faith, we experience as absence. Jesus' presence to the Father renders Him wholly present to us. Yielding Himself to the Father in a movement of adoring love, Jesus yields Himself to us in a movement of compassion. There is no artificial separation here between contemplation and action, between presence to the Father and presence to Peter's fragile bark tossed on stormy seas.

The Hidden God

The Christ of today's Gospel is hidden on the mountain with the Father; the Ascended Christ is hidden with the Father in glory; the Eucharistic Christ (Gesù sacramentato, in Italian) is hidden beneath the sacramental veils. Christ is the Deus absconditus: "Verily thou art a hidden God, the God of Israel the Saviour" (Is 45:15).

With Us As He Promised

Jesus comes to the apostles in the fourth watch of the night; their boat, by this time, is many furlongs from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind is against them. In just the same way, Our Lord comes to us in our stormy nights; He comes to us without leaving the Father, just as He goes to the Father without leaving us (cf. Jn 16:28), for He is with us as He promised, even to the end of time (Mt 28:20).

The Word proceeding from above,
Yet leaving not the Father's side,
Went forth upon His work of love,
And reached at length life's eventide.

(Verbum supernum prodiens, Lauds of Corpus Christi)

The Voice of the Lord

The passage of the Lord, His "visitation" of the Church and of our souls is characterized not by a great and strong wind, nor by an earthquake, nor by a fire, but by "a still small voice" (1 K 19:12). This is the voice that says, "Take heart, it is I; have no fear" (Mt 14:27). And again, this is the voice that says, "Why didst thou hesitate, man of little faith?" (Mt 14:31).

He Is With Me

Saint Bernard says: "When the Bridegroom comes to me, as He sometimes does, He never signals His presence by any token, neither by voice nor by vision nor by the sound of His step. By no such movement do I become aware of Him, nor does He penetrate my being through the senses. Only, by the movement of the heart, as I have said, do I come to realize that He is with me" (Sermons on the Song of Songs, 74).


What is that movement of the heart, by which we detect the passage of the Lord and become aware of His presence? It is, first of all, interior peace, the effect of the voice of Jesus saying: "Take courage, it is I myself; do not be afraid" (Mt 14:27). It is a pull of the heart that compels us to draw near to Christ in spite of the dark night, which obscures our vision, and in spite of the rolling waves, which threaten to pull us back and drag us down.

Il est là!

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08-04 Jn M.jpg

L'abbaye aux puces

Twenty-nine summers ago, my dear friend Père Jacob, O.P. (not yet a Friar Preacher) and I were on a kind of back-packing pilgrimage in France that allowed us to discover all sorts of holy people, places, and things. At one point we stayed in the "hôtellerie" of a certain famous monastery only to discover that the beds were inhabited by . . . fleas! I should have guessed as much when I noticed that there were cats lolling about on most of the beds and freely roaming the hallways.

One of the goals of our pilgrimage was to seek the intercession of Saint Jean-Marie Vianney at Ars. For both of us, the priesthood we so desired seemed an almost unattainable dream. We wanted Saint Jean-Marie Vianney on our side.

The Baron with the Purple Hair

We hitchhiked (in the rain) from "l'abbaye aux puces" (the Abbey of the Fleas) to Ars. At one point a shiny black sedan stopped for us; the youngish driver, being frightfully avant-garde, had a bright purple streak of hair. He was very "sympathique," and drove us right to the door of the basilica of Ars. As I extended my hand to thank him for the lift, he gave me his card. He was the Baron de R., a scion of one of Europe's most famous banking dynasties. Who would have known?

Guitars at Ars

We washed our clothes in Ars and, once liberated from the fleas, were able to make our devotions to Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. Oh, one more thing -- there was a "rock" Mass going on in the basilica. Very upsetting. I looked at the Curé of Ars reclining in his glass reliquary, fully expecting him to turn over at any moment. But he didn't.

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The Preacher Belongs to the Word

The Word does not belong to the preacher; the preacher belongs to the Word. This was true of Saint Alphonsus Liguori, it was true of Saint Peter Julian Eymard, and it is true of today's saint, the holy parish priest Jean-Marie Vianney. The Curé of Ars stands in a long line of preachers possessed by the Word, and compelled to speak it without compromise.

Incendiary Preaching

Jean-Marie Vianney was not particularly eloquent; he preached in a cracked and broken voice, but his words communicated the fire of the Holy Spirit. Even the greatest preacher of the nineteenth century, the Dominican Père Lacordaire, fell silent before the charism of holy preaching in Jean Marie Vianney.

John Paul and Jean-Marie

When the Curé of Ars spoke of the Sacrament of the Altar, he glowed. He communicated to his hearers the Eucharistic fire that burned in his own heart. Twenty-two years ago, Pope John Paul II devoted his Holy Thursday Letter to Priests to Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. I think that today we can read that letter as one saint talking about another. This is what Pope John Paul II said:

The Eucharist was at the very center of Saint Jean Vianney's spiritual life and pastoral work. He said: "All good works put together are not equivalent to the Sacrifice of the Mass, because they are the works of men and the Holy Mass is the work of God." It is in the Mass that the sacrifice of Calvary is made present for the Redemption of the world. Clearly, the priest must unite the daily gift of himself to the offering of the Mass: "How well a priest does, therefore, to offer himself to God in sacrifice every morning!" "Holy Communion and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass are the two most efficacious actions for obtaining the conversion of hearts."

Recollection and Adoration

Thus the Mass was for John Mary Vianney the great joy and comfort of his priestly life. He took great care, despite the crowds of penitents, to spend more than a quarter of an hour in silent preparation. He celebrated with recollection, clearly expressing his adoration at the consecration and communion. He accurately remarked: "The cause of priestly laxity is not paying attention to the Mass!"

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

Donations for Silverstream Priory