“The grace of Mass lasts as long as it takes to get from the pew to the parking lot,” one of my early pastors used to say. He’d heard too many curses and seen to many fists shaken as people rushed to get home after the 10:30 service to be naive about the sacraments power to transform lives. I remember that it struck me as sarcastic and even a bit cynical at first. But, as I got to know the man better, I realized that it was more sadness than sarcasm. He deeply wanted to promote peace and a shared vision in his parish and he chafed at the slow pace of our progress.
Sometimes people think of religion as an aspirin, some thing that we get to make life better. Catholics, because we place great emphasis on sacraments, can view our rituals in the same way.
But a religion is the form of a relationship and sacraments are symbols of a relationship. Without the people the relationships and hence the religion and the sacraments are nothing.
The parties to the relationship are Jesus and the God he revealed and the Bobs and Bettys trying to live in Jesus’ Spirit. Our Church has always sought to place its reliance on the divine element in the relationship without tying its hopes too tightly to the much less constant presence and support of the human element. That has never worked very well.
Human salvation, the human future, is a partnership between the Creator and us creatures. The Creator comes through every time: we and our universe endure. We creatures come through sometimes: much less reliably that we’d wish. The reality, nonetheless, is that Jesus’, and thus God’s, ongoing love and care is historically embodied in his disciples: in us.
The eucharistic presence that we’re encouraged to believe and place our trust in isn’t simply the bread and wine as the physical and spiritual reality of Jesus. We are encouraged to find Jesus fully present in the person of our fellow Christians. In fact, we are encouraged to realize that our faith makes us the presence of Jesus for one another and our world.
It costs us nothing to believe in Jesus’ Real Presence in the bread and wine. It is much more difficult, much more demanding to put our faith in the Real Presence realized in one another and in ourselves.
A popular nutritional aphorism used to remind us, “You are what you eat.” As trite as it sounds, that saying is absolutely true when it comes to Eucharist. Those five words are a succinct definition of our religion and, yes, they include church parking lot dramas. They also contain great love, service and hope.