All Catholic Christians universally face a sobering reality, during this current pandemic, that God has permitted an imposed Lenten sacrifice of the highest order. Specifically, we face temporarily giving up our reception of the real presence of Christ’s body and blood as a community. This deprivation offers an opportunity for the whole Church to experience an “impatient waiting” to receive the Sacrament again. (N.1)
This “impatient waiting” is not a sinful sort of “impatience” toward your neighbor, but instead it is an appropriate eagerness, an increased hunger, to receive the Lord again. As we’re longing for the Lord, our excitement and anticipation grows. This season of waiting can reawaken our realization of the power invoked at every Mass. We rekindle our appreciation for what we have come to take for granted. Most of all, this season of “impatient waiting” offers us the chance to rediscover God’s ever-present Fatherhood, especially in our daily relationship with His Holy Spirit.
This “impatient waiting” is a hope needed by both the apathetic and the lovers of the Mass. It’s obvious that people who are indifferent toward the liturgy would benefit from a wake-up call to realize the gift of the Eucharist and hunger for it. Jesus warned sternly against such apathy saying, “because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). This season allows all of us the opportunity to leave behind any trace of indifference within our hearts.
Perhaps less obvious is that “impatient waiting” also applies to the lovers of the Mass as well. As we faithfully tune into televised liturgies, we can, especially in our culture of Zoom meetings and social media, begin to feel like these services are an equivalent to actually attending Mass. As Archbishop of Milan Mario Delpini preached in one such broadcast: “The difference between participating in the Mass in the church and watching it on TV is like the difference between sitting next to a bonfire that warms up, illuminates, brings joy, and watching a picture of the fire.” We can forget that we are not actually present at the campfire, neither warmed nor illuminated by its flames.
In addition to growing our eagerness for the Lord, an increase in gratitude is also among the chief redemptive purposes of these troubling times. Many of us have taken the Eucharist for granted or have become indifferent toward Christ in the Eucharist. Wherever the malaise of this spiritual pandemic takes hold, we correspondingly become indifferent to Christ in our neighbor and even to Christ in ourselves. Since the human person was made in the image of Love, whenever we are indifferent we become less of who we truly are as human persons. But through our Lord’s redemption, going without the Eucharist can rejuvenate our gratitude for it—both now and once we have it back. And gratitude is the Great Physician’s remedy for lukewarm indifference.
How does gratitude cure the vice of indifference, the deadly “virus of spiritual apathy”? Whenever we experience gratitude for any gift, it creates a connection between ourselves and giver of that gift. In other words, whenever we are grateful, we are receptive to other people, placing us in communion with them. Gratefulness thus opens us back up to the other and reconnects the interpersonal bond. Where covenant was poisoned by apathetic indifference, gratitude reforges the loving bonds of human relationship. We were created in the image of God Who is Trinity, a Loving Relationality. Therefore, by reestablishing love-bonds, gratitude makes us more completely who we are, realigning and conforming our life to its ultimate purpose of loving, relational communion with God and neighbor.
It’s worthy to note that gratitude is a source of joy. Numerous scripture passages explicitly link joy with gratefulness (1 Chronicles 16:8–10, Psalm 28:7; 30:11–12; 42:4, 1 Thessalonians 5:16–18, Romans 1:21, Philippians 1:3–6, Acts 16:22–25, 2 Corinthians 6:10, James 1:2). Part of our impatient eagerness for the Eucharist should include this reinvigorated appreciation for it and corresponding joyfulness—the joy that ought to characterize Christ’s faithful. Have you ever noticed how joyous you are when you’re thankful? It’s no coincidence; again, gratitude is a source of joy. It would do us well, during this fast from the Eucharist, to increase our appreciation for it—and therefore our joy over it. I trust God will heal the world from COVID-19. Perhaps it was His first priority to heal us from a spiritual epidemic of indifference that was killing the souls of so many of His precious children. Finally, this Lenten season of “impatient waiting” for the Eucharist ought to include a widespread embrace of the Holy Spirit, Whom we can sometimes neglect. For example, we may see neglect in our hearts as we say the creed. To explain, as we recite the creed we might hear our hearts saying, “Boy, we say a lot about the Heavenly Father, and we say a lot about Jesus, I feel like I should say something about what the Holy Spirit has done, so I’ll say, ‘He has spoken through the prophets.’ Now I’ll move on, because I don’t really know what to say about the fearful and wonderful reality of the Lord dwelling within me, making me His temple.” This sentiment is not what the drafters of the Nicene Creed had in mind; however, I think it’s sometimes what’s in our hearts. Sometimes we’re far more comfortable talking about the Lord’s real presence in the Sacraments than his real presence within us—probably because our true self-image remains darkened by fear, doubt, and insecurity.
Our understanding of the Church is often dominated by our understanding of Christ. However, “Christology,” the study of Christ, can be emphasized to the neglect of “Pneumatology”, the study of the Holy Spirit. To really appreciate and embrace God’s Fatherhood, we need to embrace the daily guidance of His Spirit as much as we embrace our adoption through His Son. In other words, we need a “Holy-Spirit-centered” understanding of the Church as much as we need a “Christ-centered” one, if not more so; after all, the Last Supper was not the Church’s birthday—Pentecost was. Sometimes, we tend to reduce God to the Sacraments alone, dodging the Spirit’s presence within us and our corresponding daily accountability to be Christ to others. We can easily forget that, while our Lord is truly present in the Sacraments, He is not limited by them. (N.2)
Part of our neglected emphasis on the Holy Spirit regards the Third Person of the Trinity being “like the wind” (John 3:8; John 20:22; Ezekiel 37:9–14; Acts 2:2). We cannot see the wind; rather, we experience its movement. However, we should talk about the Holy Spirit, upon whom all of our growth depends. After all, he is the “Counselor”. He is the indwelling Lord God within us, speaking to our conscience. Being “like the wind”, it’s impossible for us to concretely get our hands on the Holy Spirit and his agency. At the same time, we can still learn about Him and His guidance. In navigating the boat of our lives across the waters of time, the Holy Spirit is our “Copilot”. We do our best when the Lord directs our sails. He even stays in the boat with us during our shipwrecks.
Just like we need the Eucharist, we need the daily guidance of the Holy Spirit—attuned to His promptings and obedient to them. To hear Him, we have to intentionally silence our cluttered hearts and minds and listen. When we do, we will not see the Holy Spirit with our natural eyes as we cannot visibly see the wind, yet we can feel the wind blowing and watch the treetops bend. When we listen, we hoist our sails. That’s when we will—like feeling the wind’s movement—experience the Lord moving us.
Notice that we don’t doubt the wind’s existence, especially if we’ve ever experienced a tornado or a hurricane. Even though we can’t see it, nobody relegates the wind to some ethereal, distant, or magical notion. We know it’s real. The Holy Spirit, Whom Jesus said is “like the wind”, is also literally real, and His directing power is truly available to us.
Perhaps God saw that His people needed a fast of the Eucharistic Sacrament, not only to rekindle our gratitude and joy for it, but also to reconnect us to His Spirit within us and to the Counselor’s daily guidance—more vital than oxygen. The Lord really is more closely involved in our day-to-day affairs than we can possibly imagine. He is literally there with you, as present as that person who is sitting in the other chair. His guidance and assistance are real—He waits to show you. Invite Him into your life because He cares about you. Use this current Sacramental fast to quiet your weary and cluttered heart, tune out the wrong frequencies, and hear from your Lord that He is right there.
May this temporary deprivation be a season of “impatient waiting” that increases hunger, hope, gratitude, joy, and our daily relationship with the Holy Spirit. ...and may the Lord bless you and keep you!
1. Dennis Feltwell. Mass, Interrupted: Longing for the Eucharist in a Time of Exile (April 2020). Under review: Homiletic and Pastoral Review.
2. St. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio (7 December 1990) 28: AAS 83 (1991), 273. Cf. St. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Dominum et Vivificantem (18 May 1986) 53: AAS 78 (1986), 874-875; Vatican II, Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 22.