Eucharistic Love and the Exaltation of the Cross

“It’s cancer.” His voice trembling, my husband brought me the news of my new reality. Breast cancer, I have breast cancer. The thought just kept replaying in a terribly painful loop.

This is so hard to write about. I don’t want any reminders of cancer or the painful treatment required to save my life. I don’t want the physical reminders still left on my body in the form of scars and fatigue and lymphedema. I don’t want to be reminded of what I lost and what I cannot now recover.

My body, both the source of life for so many children is also my betrayer. Having allowed this cancer to grow and spread, my body betrayed me. How can I see it any other way? Only, I need to see it differently. I must in order to heal.

How can the scene of such pain and suffering, my body, become in my eyes something worthy and good again? How can any such contradictions ever be reconciled?

For a time, I was resigned to ignore the problem. I hoped that with enough distance from the trauma of treatment that these feelings would go away. However, two years later, I realized that scars don’t fade that much, especially to the eyes of the afflicted.

In fact, the more I tried to distance my thoughts from cancer’s assault on my body, the more distance I felt from God. I hated the physical part of His creation in me. I became disembodied in my relationship with God. Somehow in wanting to avoid the trigger for my pain (my body), I blinded myself to my faith’s mystical and unique ability to reconcile the contradiction of love and suffering.

Ours is a bodily faith, a Eucharistic faith, a faith that exalts the Cross of Christ. The Cross is the greatest of all contradictions; an instrument of both death and salvation. The source and summit of our faith is the sacramental reception of the Body and Blood of Christ. His Body and Blood upon the Cross. His wounded and scarred body. His sacred Blood that flowed for my sins. Ours is a mystical and yet also a bodily, tactile faith.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons (AD 195) wrote, “He [Jesus] has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be His own Blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, He has established as his own Body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.” According to this early Church father, it is the Eucharist that causes “our blood to flow” and “gives increase to our bodies.” A mystical marriage of the supernatural and corporal indeed!

St. Irenaeus was writing before the third century to dispel the heresy of a disembodied faith – a faith divorced of the supernatural grace of the Eucharist and the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood!

His words ring true today! Modernity promotes a spirituality devoid of the sacramental life. Modern culture is content to be “spiritual but not religious,” forgetting the heart from which the spiritual lifeblood flows – the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist!

Even within the Church Jesus established, Catholics are ignorant of Our Lord’s True Presence in the Eucharist – Ignorant of Our Lord waiting for you in the sacrament of his sacrifice and love.

God who is all-powerful chose the Cross for our salvation. He could have chosen another form, right? He can do anything. Instead, Christ’s spiritual and physical obedience onto the Cross was God’s perfect means for our salvation, both a physical and spiritual surrender to God the Father.

The physical, the bodily has become a perversion in today’s culture. We separate the body from the soul in order to abuse one another. We deny the personhood/soul of the unborn to crush the life of the most helpless. This “freedom” is dehumanizing, dividing what God designed in His work of creation. We are meant to be body and soul and both are “very good” in his eyes. We are meant to be fully alive in Christ in body and soul. This life flows from the Eucharist.

My Lord Jesus gazes back at me from the Cross, as I adore Him in the monstrance. His spiritual and physical presence radiate Love. Knowing that He would ascend to the Father, my beloved left Himself as the Eucharist here on Earth. He left this gift of Himself for me to adore and receive into my body as food for my spiritual and physical life. In fact, because Christ holds my body in such high esteem, making it the means through which I am able to receive Him in the Eucharist, I am no longer disembodied. I have reconciled the contradiction of cancer in this body. I accept that which God loves and uses to come near to me – the Eucharist in me.

By the Cross of Christ, I have begun to reconcile physical suffering with love even as I struggle physically each day. Humanity cannot artificially divide body and soul or sacrifice and love. This is the lie of modernity and it separates us from God. God wants us body and soul just as he offers us His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist.

The greatest mystery of our faith is that to experience His amazing nearness in the Eucharist is to truly possess Love Itself. The Gospel of John is clear; “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56) 

He is waiting for you in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Love for Love’s Sake

I have a lot of children. I know this because the kind people at the grocery store frequently point out that I have my “hands full” (insert polite yet pretend laugh). Just in case I may have missed the point, without fail, the cashier posits that I must be feeding an army with the size of my order. Yes, I am raising an army of very hungry hobbits. Second breakfast is no joke in this house!

After my fourth child, I noticed the addition of one more question: Are you going to have more? Seriously? Who invited you, checkout lady, into my bedroom? People just can’t help it. Large families, once fairly common especially in Catholic communities, have become something akin to a unicorn sighting. Look, a well-educated affluent woman with more than two children!

There I said it! Society associates women having lots of babies with poor uneducated women who don’t know any better, or who should know better. Having many children in today’s culture is considered irresponsible if not immoral!

As evidence of this sad distortion in thinking, I offer you a recent article in the Huffington Post: 5 Things ‘Childfree’ People Want You to Know. Apparently, the “free” part of the childfree title is key. People are not childless; they are childfree – free from responsibility, inconvenience, and sacrifices of time and money. Only childfree couples are free to dance joyfully in the kitchen amidst their high-end professional kitchen appliances as the cover picture suggests. Good thing they saved all that money by not having children because that granite countertop looks expensive!

Amy Blackstone, a gender sociologist at the University of Maine conducted the qualitative study on which the Huffpost article was written. Ms. Blackstone specializes in “childfree” research. She also manages a blog she founded with her husband entitled “We’re {not} having a baby!” Ms. Blackstone and her husband are childless; I mean “childfree.” Consider now her recent study.

Finding one states, “Childfree people do not make their decisions lightly.” According to Janet, “You’re constantly making a decision about remaining childfree.” Dear Janet, to say that you are “constantly” making a decision to remain childfree might suggest that you are wrestling with a pretty profound urge, like some sort of alcoholic attempting to maintain sobriety.

This is kind of the problem with qualitative research. Ms. Blackstone interpreted Janet’s response as intentionality where others can easily see signs of an internal conflict, a cognitive dissonance of wanting the good of motherhood while desiring to be acceptable to a culture that devalues that choice. Dear Janet, go have some babies!

Finding two states, “They’ve observed parenting up close – and they don’t like what they see.” Poor unfortunate Steve had to witness older siblings struggle and “make [do]” following “accidental” pregnancies. His response, “Yeah, I don’t think I need kids.” Well Steve, if your vision of children is to complete some “need” of your own, then no, you are not ready to be a parent. Creating a person is an act of selflessness and love. You do it for the good of the child and not to satisfy some narcissistic need. Grow up Steve.

Finding three states, “For women, environmental and social responsibility often plan a part.” April boldly declared, “[Not having children] is responsible . . . Like I camped over the weekend and I saw the trash factor that people with kids had left and let build up from so much over use of a campsite. I think about stuff like acceptable population levels.” I almost can’t take you seriously April. Litter vs. the creation of a human being. I find this an increasingly popular criticism of large families. Somehow, those of us who reproduce are irresponsible at least when it comes to the planet.

This is possibly one of the worst forms of self-loathing. April and her like minded friends are declaring nature as primary while denying/removing humanity’s membership in that very thing. Human beings are not less than the created world, we are part of creation, and so are you April! Why must we deny the dignity of man in order to value the natural world? April, your argument is illogical and possibly a shield for the real ego-dystonic reason you aren’t having children. Would children mean fewer camping trips? Are you just a selfish person?

Item four makes me feel bad about suggesting April struggles with selfishness. As written, “ . . . While men’s decisions tend to be internally motivated.” Steve (again) offered, “I want to be able to travel, I want to be able to do things, that I would not be able to do it if I had kids.” Not only are you not ready to be a parent, you are clearly not ready for marriage. God forbid your wife became seriously ill and you were forced to cancel that golf trip to take care of her. Both marriage and parenting require sacrifices. Steve doesn’t want to have to make sacrifices. No one marry Steve. Steve is a narcissist.

According to item five, “They put a lot of thought into what it means to be a parent.” Bob clarified that not having children is “deliberate.” Do some people accidentally have no children? Thanks Bob for that unnecessary clarification.

I would argue that the childless participants interviewed put a lot of thought into how they would be inconvenienced, not “what it means to be a parent.” What it means to be a parent is to participate in the work of creation, to be a witness to love’s radical self-giving, and to make a gift to the world a new generation of kind and virtuous people. You’re welcome!

This self-selected sample group demonstrates a scientific and psychological reality that what is full cannot be added to. When one’s life is full of one’s own ego and associated needs and desires, there is no room for love of other as love of self has consumed all.

God created humanity not out of any need, for he needs nothing. God created humanity out of a generous act of love. That’s what love does. Love by its nature brings forth new life. It is love for love’s sake.

This unfortunate Huffpost article ends with a lament by the researcher that she and her husband are often left out of events where children tend to be present. Ms. Blackstone concludes that her childlessness “can be a kind of lonely existence.”

The significance should not be lost that this particular Amazing Nearness blog is first posted on the Feast of Our Lady’s Nativity – Mary’s Birthday! Today we celebrate as Pope Benedict XVI wrote, the Blessed Virgin Mary whose “soul was the space from which God was able to gain access into humanity.” Like St. Ann and Holy Mother Mary, our fiat, our “yes” to God, must be a total surrender to his perfect will – even in the hardships and sacrifices of family life. We must fight the tendency toward selfishness and the ethic that places pleasure and self-interest above God’s call to life-giving love.

May God bless all parents and those who desire to welcome children into their lives. Let us offer our sacrifices and trials of the day for all couples praying for the gift of a child.

St. Ann and Our Holy Mother Mary, Pray For Us!


Mother Teresa Vs. Colin Kaepernick

I understand professional sports about as well as I understand open-heart surgery. I know basically nothing. In fact, I seem to have a mental block about physical activity in general and I show signs of a neurological deficit when attempting to watch a sporting event. I am rendered almost senseless as my mind wanders to far far away places when forced to witness a game on TV. I may have a rare condition called Sports Induced Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (yeah, I just made that up). There is no known treatment or cure and the afflicted suffer in silence. Sigh.

So why am I writing about a saint and a professional athlete?   Laying aside my in ability to understand football (see above, SI-ADHD), Mr. Kaepernick’s recent protests during the National Anthem and the canonization of Mother Teresa on September 4th offer a tantalizing opportunity to articulate one important truth about authentic love.

I know what you are thinking. How can I smash together such seemingly opposite players on the world’s stage? I offer you that sometimes it is the coming together of opposites that help clarify a picture. If a painting did not make use of light and dark it would have no dimension.

The Internet tells me that Mr. Kaepernick has chosen to sit out the National Anthem at the beginning of his professional games. A few somewhat nonsensical interviews indicate Mr. Kaepernick’s motivation. He is protesting racism in our country and the gravity of the violence and death proceeding from that hatred. He is sitting on behalf of people of color.

Bravo Mr. Kaepernick in attempting to recognize a legitimate sickness in the world today. However, Mother Teresa might have characterized the issue differently. She saw with great clarity how the world dehumanizes people in order to justify death and abandonment. She understood that when we render a group as unworthy of life and protection (the unborn, the mentally ill, the intellectually disabled, the poor, various ethnic groups, etc.) we are saying they are not part of the human race.

Mother Teresa also knew that the proper response to this dehumanization was love – Love that was embodied as radical self-giving. She did not sit it out! She plunged into the poverty of Calcutta and with her whole being she cared for the abandoned. Her hands cleaned sores and her arms embraced the dying. She gave love in her active sacrifice.

Take note Mr. Kaepernick, Love is not inaction or protest. Love is radical self-giving.

St. Teresa of Calcutta, Pray For Us!