Updated: May 13, 2019
My 3 PM lull in the afternoon is killer. I hate it. I get so lazy. I don’t really feel like doing anything at all. Same at night. After heading up to bed, it’s difficult for me to even pray Compline. I don’t want to exert anymore brain power after officially retiring for the evening. During these moments of laziness, instead of doing something productive, I often find myself just watching Youtube videos.
Youtube has existed for almost half my life. I have fond memories of coming home from school with my friends and watching the newest videos on the Internet. We’d watch ebaumsworld or Homestarrunner and then, finally, YouTube. While other video-streaming sites have faded to obscurity, YouTube reigns supreme.
When I taught middle school and high school students, sometimes they’d be shocked when I hadn’t heard of YouTubers like Pewdiepie. “How have you not heard about [insert the latest trend here]!?” I’d just roll my eyes. I found myself sympathizing with God in his answer to Job from the whirlwind.
“Where were you when the Evolution of Dance was the Number 1 All-time Video on Youtube? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined when it was Peanut Butter Jelly time —surely you know! On what were all its bases all belong to us? When the Chinese Backstreet Boys sang together and the Nintendo 64 kid shouted for joy?”
Right now, my favorite guilty pleasure is watching conspiracy theory videos. These videos try to prove the Freemasons somehow control the world, or Bigfoot lives in the Northwest, or the world is flat, or that lizard people reside in the upper echelons of power. (As a Freemason, I can tell you we are indeed trying to take over the world, one pancake breakfast at a time.) These videos on Youtube are tremendously useful if your aim is to use as little of your critical thinking skills as possible.
The lesser parts of my soul want to sit and bask in my perceived intellectual superiority to these conspiracy theorists. Sadly, I know some of these people really do believe the things they say. Maybe they are unable to cope with reality because of a tormented past. How terrible! Those people I really feel for. However, if it’s one’s hobby is to simply make fun videos about Bigfoot, UFOs, or how the government controls the weather, then bring on the content! I can’t get enough of this stuff.
But, these crazy conspiracies have got me thinking. What are my beliefs? What do I hold dear? Are my own beliefs as crazy as some of the conspiracies on the Internet?
As a follower of Christ, I reflect on what I believe and profess every Sunday. There is so much mystery surrounding Christianity. To be a Christian means to accept not knowing the total reality of the world. In fact, as Christians, we believe we will never fully understand the mind of God until our days have passed and we rest in that Heavenly City. “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!” says the Psalmist.
A Western society built on Enlightenment-era principles, however, has no problem rejecting the mystery of God. For them, there are no miracles anymore (indeed if there ever were), science is God, and man is the measure of all things. As a Christian, I refuse to associate myself with this line of thinking. However, because I live was born and raised in the Western world, it’s impossible to avoid. It’s sad. Even more distressing is how this über-rationalist view shows up within the Church. (Look for the mention of the word ‘miracle’ in the latest edition of Lesser Feasts and Fasts or Great Cloud of Witnesses). Those within and without the Church who promote a purely rational or scientific faith suffer from a severe lack of imagination. It is the über-rationalists who miss the beauty of what it means to be a member of Christ’s Catholic Church.
Thankfully, my life as a Franciscan today is centered around the greatest miracle in the world—the Holy Eucharist.
In the Mass, Heaven and Earth merge together in a beautiful harmony. We gain a front seat to the heavenly Banquet.
The Sanctus, for example, is the part of the Mass when we, the Church on Earth, are joined by all the Heavenly hosts in our pews. We are, at that moment, entering into Heaven and enjoying a foretaste of what we hope to enjoy for all ages. Call me gullible, but I take the priest at his word when he says, “Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven...”
At the Mass, we experience the same sacrifice Christ made at Calvary. We are not observing a recreation of Christ’s sacrifice or a representation of His sacrifice. As catholics, we are called to be at the foot of the Cross, witnessing the sacrifice of Christ and partaking of our sacrificial Lamb. Saint Paul writes in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” The Sacrifice of Christ brings all of us together; not just those in a chapel or a church, but the united forces of Heaven and Earth are one body in the Lord.
Now, there is little Western science behind this belief. If you take a consecrated host and examine it, break it down to its elements, and compare it to an unconsecrated host, there will be no discernible change. The only difference is spiritual, not material; one host will bring you eternal life while the other makes you a little less hungry.
When contemplating this Divine Mystery, I reread those Sacred Words pronounced by the priest at the Mass. “This is my Body,” he says and “This is my Blood”. Compared to the countless parables and stories told by our Lord in his earthly ministry, how laughably concise is Christ when he institutes the Eucharist!
Somehow and in someway Christ is able to shatter the barriers of Heaven and Earth and come to us in the Bread and the Wine. I don’t have the words or vocabulary to explain how this happens. I’m not a theologian. I’m not an expert in Eucharistic theology. I don’t alter ideas about what the Church believes about the Eucharist in order to fit my own personal theology or whatever popular theology movement is around. I also don’t need to come up with endless definitions and redefinitions and proofs about the Eucharist in order to support my belief that it the Bread and Wine have become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Like St. Paul, I just take what “I received from the Lord.” That is what I also deliver to you reading this.
One of the first Latin songs I ever set out to memorize was “Tantum Ergo” by St. Thomas Aquinas. We would sing it all the time at the Roman Catholic Church where I grew up. We still sing it at Church of the Advent during Eucharistic Adoration, but sadly, not in Latin. However, the English version is quite beautiful too. The first stanza can be translated as:
Down in adoration falling,
Lo! the sacred Host we hail,
Lo! oe'r ancient forms departing
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith for all defects supplying,
Where the feeble senses fail.
In the face of so much mystery surrounding God, I cannot help but fall down in adoration at so great, so majestic a God. In the face of so much rationalism haunting Western societies and leaking into our churches, I cannot help but stand solidly on the rock of the mysterious tradition of our forebears. I don’t feel alone in this endeavor; I meet young people returning to the faith not for the answers the Church provides, but for the mystery it supplies.
There is so much beauty and mystery in our faith. We don’t have to solve and answer every riddle Christ ever gave us. An informed faith is a good thing. But a faith that pretends it can provide all the answers to life’s great questions is built on sand. It’s doomed to fail.
We will always be wrapped in by the Divine Mystery of God’s infinite love for us. We’ll never understand fully the gift He gave us in sending His only son Jesus Christ into the world to die for us. We’ll never be able to quantify and package neatly the workings of the Holy Spirit. We can at least begin the journey towards understanding. In Christ, we truly do meet each other upon the level.
Another lyric from St. Thomas Aquinas offers the Christian a daily prayer worth reciting and memorizing.
Contemplating, Lord, Thy hidden presence,
grant me what I thirst for and implore,
in the revelation of Thy essence
to behold Thy glory evermore. Amen.
Brother James Nathaniel can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.