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April 18, 2019
[Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace, Honolulu]
Wondrous. Awesome. Sublime. Inspiring. These are all words we have heard this week to describe the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, as we were saddened and shocked by the devastating fire that burned there just a few days ago. Yes, it is a World Heritage Site, a monument to the genius of Medieval architecture, and a symbol of enduring faith that has stood at the center of the City of Paris for over 800 years. But what we must remember is that there is one reason it was built in the first place and one reason why it has been such an important seat of faith and devotion. It is there that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God who took human flesh in the womb of Notre Dame, Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, was made present daily in simple words and gestures. Whether those words were spoken by the Cardinal Archbishop in the most glorious liturgy or by the simplest priest with a pilgrim group, they are the words of Jesus himself: “This is my Body. … This is my Blood.” And while the parishioners of Notre Dame of Paris will not be able to celebrate this Sacred Triduum this year in their beloved Cathedral, they will celebrate it in one of the hundreds of other places in which the Lord makes himself present to us, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. The reason Notre Dame was built is the same reason a military chaplain celebrates the Eucharist on the hood of a jeep or a priest in the simplest country church, to make the risen Jesus physically present to his beloved people.
On this night we remember many things. We remember our ancestors in the faith who were enslaved in Egypt and who ate the first Passover meal to spare their lives and to allow them to pass over the Red Sea from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. We remember our own passing over from death to life in the waters of Baptism, and our celebration of that pass over in the Holy Eucharist. We remember the death of the Lord, who was so beloved by many but so hated by some that he was cruelly crucified, and that in that destructive moment he destroyed all enmity and death itself. We remember that he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. We remember that he is the living Bread come down from heaven, who is still alive and still with us at every moment. We remember his humility in washing the feet of his disciples, and in making himself so little that he becomes life-giving food and drink for us, as little as we are.
In the presence of Jesus himself, who promised to be with us always and fulfills that promise here, we remember all who are suffering. We remember our own needs for good health and freedom from the slavery to sin. We remember the sick, the lonely, the hungry and the homeless. We remember those who are addicted or filled with despair. And we remember that we owe God our most profound gratitude for the gift of life and health, for our daily bread, for our families and friends, and for all the blessings he gives us. We remember that as magnificent as this encounter with the risen Jesus is meant to be, it is food for the journey, so that from this nourishing table we can go forth to wash the feet of the poor, the needy, the sick and the lonely, following the example of our Master and Lord. This is what we are commanded to do, so that we can always remember who is it that is among us: the risen Lord Jesus, who calls us into intimate communion with himself, so that we can continue his saving work united with him.
Dom Gregory Dix, an English Benedictine monk, who died in 1952, gives us this beautiful reflection from his book, The Shape of the Liturgy, as he refers to Jesus’ command to “Do this in memory of me.”:
Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei—the holy common people of God.
This very night, whether in the magnificent cathedrals of Europe or this beautiful cathedral in Honolulu, whether in the fields of battle or in little country churches, we remember that Jesus Christ died for us, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and is the living bread come down from heaven, so that we may become -- not for our glory but for his -- a living temple that is magnificent, wondrous, awesome, sublime, and inspiring.