How many years did Simeon wait in anticipation of the messiah? Long enough that we can feel his sigh of relief when seeing Jesus for the first time, “Now Lord, you let your servant go in peace, according to your word.” (Lk 2:29) For that matter, can we imagine the people of Israel as they waited, generation after generation for the priestly king who would come to restore them to their rightful place among the nations and in the eyes of God. Children heard the story from their fathers and mothers, how Moses stood by the banks of the river Jordan and heard God’s word that another would come to lead the people (Deut 18:15). Today on Palm Sunday, that prophecy is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. Today, to shouts of Hosanna, the Messiah comes triumphantly through the streets to jubilant crowds. The promise and the hope are complete.
But today in the year 2020 our Churches are empty. Rather than rushing to see the great king, we stay at home. Red cloth is placed upon the altar where no sacrifice of the Mass will occur. At St. Rita Church we will set the monstrance and have a time of adoration and prayer but few will come and that is as it should be. We have a community of elders, many people who would be highly susceptible to the virus that tears through our towns and cities. The monstrance, which holds the most Sacred Body of Christ will serve as a reminder for us today.
When I converted to Catholicism it was over a year before I could receive the Blessed Sacrament. That year was a time of growing anticipation. I longed to receive the body of Christ. Every week I would watch as the faithful processed to the altar and my anticipation grew. There were so many stories that had come to me of the Eucharist and its transformative power. For years I dismissed these as fantasies, the delusions of people who clung to faith because they simply had nothing else or out dogmatic obedience to tradition. It is true, I have not personally experienced any the dramatic miracles associated with the Eucharist, such as the Host turned to living flesh on my tongue. Nor have I seen miraculous visions from the sanctuary or flown through the air as the delightful St. Joseph of Cupertino is said to have done.
However, Christ has worked in me as he promised to, as constant companion to my soul. “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:20) he said. Our Lord has shown me the corrosive ways of hatred and helped to drive them away. He has illuminated the false promises of desire and spoken to my heart in the true voice of continence. He has gradually drawn me down the path of faith and given me permission to let so many doubts fall away. Above all, he has shown me that love, which I once sneered at so openly, is the greatest and most powerful presence we can ever know. Isolation need never touch our lives, for Jesus is bridegroom to every human soul. We are bound to him and he will never abandon us.
The Eucharist is not operative only on Sunday at the Mass. The Eucharist is Christ, who is present to us every moment of our lives. To receive this sacrament is to receive our strength again, to be fortified with our original nature when sin has carried us far away. As St. Augustine so wonderfully said to his parishioners who gathered for communion, “Receive what you are!” Then what are we to do when we cannot receive that which keeps our hope strong and beats back despair. We have to dwell in remembrance of the promise, as Simeon did. Our anticipation will grow as we wander through this time in the desert if we keep the eyes of our heart fixed on the one true mark.
Consider the words of St. Francis de Sales, “If any imperative hindrance prevents your presence at this sovereign sacrifice of Christ’s most true Presence, at least be sure to take part in it spiritually. If you cannot go to Church, choose some morning hour in which to unite your intention to that of the whole Christian world, and make the same interior acts of devotion wherever you are that you would make if you were really present at the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist in Church.”