Celebration in Time of Grief
In the wake of the Asian tsunami and the bushfires in South Australia almost everyone appeared ready to take few moments of silence, or take part in some other public ritual, to honour those who died and to remember the overwhelming suffering of those who remain. For Catholic Christians, we find in these public rituals echoes of our own celebration of Eucharist where we remember God’s goodness to us and Jesus Christ's solidarity with us in suffering and in death.
Meal and Sacrifice
The Mass is both a meal and a sacrifice. These two ways of speaking of the Eucharist capture for us our deepest meanings and most profound hopes. In remembering Jesus’ death we use the language of sacrifice. We remember his terrible death. In Jesus Christ we believe that God’s Son entered totally into our world and become one of us. Even in the most cruel death God’s love is still, somehow, mysteriously present. Death, however tragic, is not the final word. We believe that Jesus is raised and is with God, and this is the same destiny that is the vocation and calling for all people.
The Blessings of Creation
In recent years we have had an emphasis on the Eucharist as a meal, and rightly so. In this thanksgiving meal we bless and praise God for God’s bountiful goodness to us. God intends us to enjoy and celebrate the gifts of creation. Many of those who died in the tsunami were on holidays enjoying some of the most beautiful coastlines and underwater reefs in the world. The glory of God’s creation is an ongoing invitation to come and worship the Creator. All our worship begins with faith and with a sense of God present to us and present in our world.
Tragedy in the World
However, we do live in a world that is both filled with blessings and too often shuddering with tragedies. The mystery of evil can tempt us to despair or draw us into the inexplicable mystery of God who surely loves us, but seems at times to be totally absent. In the story of the Jesus in garden of Gethsemane we gain an appreciation of how the one we call the Son of God knew only too well the terrible sense of God’s absence and the fear that the reality of death brings.
Jesus, like the thousands who died this year, died before his time. Jesus’ life was all too brief. There is, of course, a huge difference between the deliberate execution of Jesus as a criminal and the tragic death by drowning or burning in the bushfires that no one deliberately intended. Both the personal tragedy of Jesus’ death and the death of thousands, raise questions for us about God’s presence in our world. Jesus felt the utter abandonment by his Father and we can read on the faces of those who daily appear on our television screens, something of the utter shock of losing family, friends, livelihood, food and shelter. In our limited human way we cannot make any final sense of this; and yet we can respond in the moment to peoples’ needs.
Care for the poor
People all over the world have responded to appeals for help by giving time and money. Many people have responded by being part of organised volunteer groups or government organised initiatives to help the victims of these tragedies. In doing this, we, as Christians, see these many volunteers and military personnel living the Gospel Beatitudes of feeding the homeless and sheltering the poor. Other people of faith and of no particular belief may understand things differently. We can celebrate our common action and purpose together, even if we do not understand and appreciate what precisely it means to other people.
Living the Meaning of the Mass
At the end of Mass we are directed to “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”. In our efforts to rescue and support those in need we are literally carrying out this command of Christ. The Pope and the Bishops at the Second Vatican Council challenged us to work alongside people of good will for the salvation of all, so that we show the “face of Christ in the world.” We do this by recognising and supporting the good will of our many brothers and sisters under God who, throughout the world, are expressing their beliefs in different ways, but still act out of concern for others. At Mass we remember Jesus life death and resurrection. As the Second Vatican Council reminded us, the celebration of the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. In community with all those who grieve, we Catholic Christians are living out the meaning and implications of our celebration of Mass.
In the many generous responses to the needs of victims we are putting into practice the Gospel-inspired service we pledge when we come to receive the Body of Christ.
The Presence of Christ
As Christians we believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in our liturgical celebrations. He is also truly present in all those who suffer throughout the world. Inspired by Christ then our Eucharistic pledge to love Jesus is lived out in generous gifts and active service of others.
These reflections are not only the property of Catholics. Recently the captain of a huge American warship, whose whole command was actively involved in relief efforts, said. “I have been in military service for thirty-four years; however this work of relief has given a whole new meaning to ‘service.’” He said this was true not only for himself but for all the men and women under his command.
Prophet of Peace
The prophet Isaiah would surely weep for joy to see the warriors of today beating, not swords into ploughshares, but the most powerful and complex war machines, into hugely effective means of bringing food, water and some semblance of hope to a devastated people. (Isaiah 2:4)
Celebration of Eucharist
The Eucharist is a source of the grace of God’s love for us. In one of the great images of how God’s love and grace effects us, St Ambrose said we are each like a small sail boat with our hand on the tiller. God’s Spirit is like the wind that fills the sail and our task is to steer the boat in a Godly direction. After the terrible force of the wave that killed so many, the gentle breeze of God’s love does seem to be energizing us towards goodness.
In our celebrations of Eucharist this year, and for many years
to come, we will all surely remember those who have died in local
and international tragedies. If we are to be true to the command
to go out and serve the Lord then we will continue to support them
by prayer and by active giving of our resources. In this way perhaps
the mystery of God’s ongoing love for Jesus and for us, that
does not prevent us from experiencing human suffering, may become
more real for us. It may be a source of meaning and consolation
and an impetus to continue the work with people of good will from
all around the world. The Eucharist is a sign and symbol for us
and the goodness of so many others is also a sign of God’s
creative love alive in our world through the service of those who
love and give at a time of tragedy. This service may also remind
us of God’s love that is ultimately fulfilled in the offer
of eternal life for every person however tragically their life ends