Thursday, June 30, 2011

Every Creature Under Heaven-A Guest Post by John Howard

I am delighted and overjoyed to share the words of my young friend and spiritual son from England, John Howard, who is just beginning his seminary career. Enjoy and learn from his words and then, please keep him in your prayers as he works and studies towards a life of service in the Church as a servant priest.

On Sundays and during vacation, I like to get to church about 40 minutes before Mass begins. No, it isn't to grab the best seat (I'm an altar-server, so seats are never an issue)! I love to use the tranquillity of the church and the presence of Jesus to meditate on the Sacred Scripture that is about to form part of the celebration. Somewhere I once read that when we attend Mass, we are fed from two tables: the table of God's Word and the table of the Eucharist. So it is vitally important that this Word is something truly alive and active in me. And it also gives me an opportunity to guess what the priest might be preaching about!

But in the last two months my spiritual director has introduced me to meditating on liturgical texts. These will never replace Scripture, but they are powerful texts and worthy of our time and love. It was St Benedict who urged us 'Let your hearts and minds be in tune with your voices'. I have begun by meditating on the Eucharistic Prayers, and especially number 4, which is my favourite. As my director explained, 'if you are going to become a priest, these prayers are the very foundation of your day... you act in persona Christi, and His words change humble bread and wine into the very presence of our friend, our brother and our redeemer, and at the same time the people are changed by the invocation of the Holy Spirit to become one body, one spirit in Christ'. As I see it, the danger is that we hear these prayers so often that the words just flow over us.

In the preface to Eucharistic Prayer 4, there is a passage which runs:-

"Countless hosts of angels stand before you to do your will; they look upon your splendour and praise you night and day.
United with them, and in the name of every creature under heaven, we too praise your glory....."

In the name of every creature under heaven! (The new translation of the missal says "giving voice to every creature under heaven"). I find that mind blowing! I'm not at Mass simply to further my own personal relationship with God, but to represent and give voice to all those who are part of God's creation, but may not have a voice to praise his glory!

Just recently Anne posted a story about her hometown and how the church there had closed because of dwindling numbers, and it is the same here in England. It bothers me that some people don't attend Mass, or appear to suggest that four times a year is more than enough! It upsets me that Catholics sometimes can't find time to offer one hour to God in a week, and, as a young person, I am in a minority in church where boredom is an over-worked excuse. In the name of every creature under heaven - I am here to represent you, to praise the glory of God, to pray for you and on your behalf. Nobody has been excluded from God's tender mercy - this particular phrase itself has scriptural roots and is found in Colossians 1:23. And then what about those who have been hurt by the Church through scandal, or those 'whose faith is known to you alone... and all who seek you with a sincere heart'?

But this liturgical text keeps on inviting me in and expanding my poor horizons, almost on a daily basis! Why stop at non-attending Catholics? Every creature under heaven! Why can't I also include those who live godless lives, those who pour scorn on the Church, those who are too ill to pray, those who force children to become soldiers, those who are destroying God's creation, those who exploit the poor, the aborted children who never had a chance to praise God's glory? And so each time I attend Mass, I try to include someone or some body of peoples that I have never prayed for before. The heavens are the limit!

If as Church, we are truly the Body of Christ, then we offer the world healing and redemption, and I can find no better way of doing this than through the sacramental re-presentation of Calvary by which we all became God's children, and so were enabled to praise his glory!

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