A few weeks ago my Knights of Columbus Council held a work day for the parish with the goal of beautifying the prayer garden for Easter. The prayer garden boasted a square walkway of bricks surrounded by the statues of various saints; amongst them such luminaries as the Blessed Mother, St. Francis, St. John Neumann, and, of course, my beloved St. Therese! The center of the walkway contained a circular fountain with hedges around its perimeter and, in turn, stones in the shape of rosary beads sufficient for one to walk and pray a full five decades of the rosary, surrounded the hedges.
When I arrived shortly after 9:00AM the work was already in full swing. All the guys seemed so engrossed in their respective tasks that I couldn’t figure out to whom I should report to receive my assignment. A woman who often does work for the parish, as a matter of fact the only woman present, must have read my thoughts and walked over to give me my work detail. She assigned me to trim the six bushes in front of the Chapel with manual hedge clippers. I could see that most of the other men had electric clippers so they must have been out of the electric clippers or deemed me unfit to use power tools! Probably the latter.
I acknowledged my Brother Knights with a quick wave and got to work. The woman instructed me to trim the bushes so they ‘looked like plump little rabbits’ and to not trim the fronts so closely that the sticks would show. The first part of the description didn’t help me too much, but the part about the not leaving sticks proved helpful to my new vocation in the art of topiary. I began clipping at a feverish pace before I realized that I had to pace myself to get through all six bushes without having a heart attack.
As I settled into an evenly-paced rhythm I realized that I had been given an enviable work location. I was working a mere fifteen feet from the Chapel where there was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament seven days a week. The Catholic Church has taught for 2,000 years that at the Holy Mass the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ at the moment the priest proclaims the words of consecration. “The Eucharistic presence of Christ begins at the moment of the consecration and endures as long as the Eucharistic species subsist. In the liturgy of the Mass we express our faith in the real presence of Christ under the species of bread and wine by, among other ways, genuflecting or bowing deeply as a sign of adoration of the Lord. ‘The Catholic Church has always offered and still offers to the sacrament of the Eucharist the cult of adoration, not only during Mass, but also outside of it, reserving the consecrated hosts with the utmost care, exposing them to the solemn veneration of the faithful, and carrying them in procession’.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Sections 1377, 1378) The bread which was changed into the Body of Christ during the consecration at Mass, was now reserved in a monstance in the Chapel for people to worship and adore in quiet prayer. Many people come to this Chapel every day to spend time with the One they love, Jesus, and it is truly a home away from home for me.
The Catholic Church teaches that Jesus Christ himself instituted the Blessed Sacrament or the Eucharist on the night before his death on the Cross. Today, which happens to be Holy Thursday, is the day that the Church celebrates the Institution of the Eucharist by Jesus at the Last Supper. “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you’. ” (Luke 22: 19-20) The priest says these words as he consecrates the host at the Mass. Jesus knew that he would soon leave the earth and return to the Father in heaven, but he loved us so dearly and said, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 20) The Blessed Sacrament is how Jesus remains with us always – constantly present to love us, bless us, and spend time with us.
“Jesus knowing that His hour had come, that He should pass out of this world unto the Father (John 13:1) would not leave us alone in this valley of tears, and therefore what did he do? He instituted the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist, in which he left us his whole self.” (The Holy Eucharist, St. Alphonsus de Liguori, p. 213) St. Therese loved Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and writes about it in many places in her Autobiography. She writes about visiting Jesus as a little child with her beloved father. “Each afternoon I took a walk with Papa. We made our visit to the Blessed Sacrament together, going to a different church each day…” (Story of A Soul, p. 36) Likewise, she relates that, “I loved all the processions in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. What a joy it was for me to throw flowers beneath the feet of God! Before allowing them to fall to the ground, I threw them as high as I could and was never so happy as when I saw my roses touch the sacred monstance.” (Story of A Soul, p. 41) St. Therese had a deep devotion throughout her life to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, the mystery that the Church celebrates today on Holy Thursday.
I worked quietly for the next hour and a half trimming the bushes in front of the Chapel where Jesus was present in the Blessed Sacrament. I’m not convinced that they came out ‘looking like plump little rabbits’, but I was pleased with my handiwork! It was a great privilege to “abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91: 1) as I did my work for the parish that morning. The clouds rolled in and a gentle rain began to fall as I put the finishing touches on the shrubs. I enjoyed some pleasant conversation with a few of the Knights before I departed and I arrived home just in time to enjoy one of Maria’s delicious breakfasts.
Happy 5th Birthday to our nephew and Godchild, Andrew! We love you!