You each have childhood memories of apparently small, insignificant moments that, for whatever reason, remain vivid even decades later. For me, one of those moments involved my dad showing me our home’s oil fueled furnace. An “Iron Fireman,” as I recall, with the logo of a robotic figure shoveling coal (the curious can view the image on the Web). My dad opened the metal cover on the burner – I was a safe distance away – and showed me the flame as the oil burned. I was perhaps five or six years old; and what struck me even then was how small that flame was compared to the size of a two-story house and the sub-zero winter nights.
Logically, it seemed incapable of keeping us warm; but undeniably, it did. As the Bishops of Minnesota resume the Sunday obligation for the faithful on July 3-4 as COVID cases wane and the population gains immunity, that tiny flame came back to my mind. Against the continuing aftermath of the pandemic – on health, on the economy, on our schools and workplaces, on relationships between nations and even within families and friendships – and many other problems – new ones and lingering ones – what can coming back to Mass each weekend do? After the Resurrection, when the Apostles were arrested for preaching about Jesus, their judges warned them to stop and released them. It is precisely because they resumed their witness, despite the obstacles, that we and our ancestors know the Gospel. St. Luke tells us the elders and scribes were amazed at their courage and wisdom, though ordinary and simple folks, but then “they recognized these men as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). That is what we do as we gather for the Eucharist – to spend time in the presence of Jesus, in the living Body of the Church and nourished with the very Body and Blood of Christ. But we do far more than the Apostles could in those years they followed Jesus. They could listen to Him, travel with Him, observe His teaching and miracles, eat and sleep alongside Him. But while they could share life with Him in these externals, they could not enter into His very life itself. That would only come later, in those mysterious words at the Last Supper: “Take it, this is My Body, this is My Blood … do this in remembrance of Me.” Many have known the hunger of the Eucharist in these past many months. Many more still know it without any indication when that hunger will end – due to persecution, or a lack of priests, or other factors beyond their control. We can celebrate the Eucharist again not only for our own spiritual growth, but in solidarity with those who cannot receive the Lord. As we pray at every Mass: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice … for the praise and glory of His name, for our good, and for the good of all His holy Church.” Please read the statement from the Bishops of Minnesota as they explain their desire for us to live by the gift of the Eucharist, and those who remain dispensed, in accord with canon law, for various reasons. The hidden and untiring work of the Iron Fireman to warm our home was only a marketing image. The hidden and untiring presence of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to warm our hearts and bring the fire of God’s charity to our world is the source and summit of our lives. That flame may seem small and insignificant against the cold and darkness. Logically, it seems incapable of keeping God’s love and mercy alive; but undeniably, it does. Fr. Tom