The Abiding Presence of God – Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

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This is the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. We celebrate today the abiding presence of God with us. The Eucharist is the example par excellence of that presence, but it is not the only experience to remind us of God’s promise to be with us.

In previous posts on this Feast, I’ve focused on the Eucharist. I’m aware of how easily we can take for granted the gift of the Eucharist. It’s not always available to people. Think of those who do not have access to regular reception of the Eucharist. That happens in many remote parts of this country and throughout the world.

I’ve been moved ever since I read years ago about Cardinal Nguyen from Vietnam. I encourage you to learn about him. He is among the Venerable, on the road to canonization in the Church. I recall a quote from him that was included in a small book about the variety of experiences of the Eucharist.

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He spoke of his experience of the Eucharist during his years of being in prison in his home country. It seems that he never lost hope during his long imprisonment. His hope was buoyed through his Eucharistic celebrations in his prison cell.

It was there that he transformed his prison cell into a kind of chapel. Nguyen used bread crumbs and wine (smuggled in as stomach medicine) and consecrated these elements into the Body and Blood of Christ.

When he was pope, Saint John Paul II spoke of Nguyen’s time in prison and how “it serves to reinforce in us the consoling certainty that when everything around us and maybe within us falls apart, Christ remains our unfailing support.”

I wonder if I have the strength and fortitude to live the way he lived, even in a prison cell. Would I maintain hope? I really don’t know, but I hope that I would. As Saint Ignatius of Loyola suggests, I pray for the desire to have the desire – in this case, of hope.

As I mentioned last Sunday, I am at Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, Ontario, offering the Spiritual Exercises to several seminarians. The North American Martyrs who are celebrated here aren’t so different from Cardinal Nguyen.

The Martyrs here died because of their desire to bring Christ to a newly discovered corner of the world – New France. We might be critical in this millennium, but the beliefs of the seventeenth century were the worldview of the North American Martyrs. Cardinal Nguyen was simply trying to be a Christian in a Communist country in the twentieth century.

Ignatian spirituality has many offerings for those who follow its principles and practices. Why am I telling that to a follower of igNation? You probably know plenty about Ignatius and his spirituality.

One of the basic offerings is the recognition that we are invited to discover God in all things. That facilitates the abiding presence of God as we grow in the ability to seek God in the mundane and extraordinary experiences of our lives.

There are many who do not have access to the Eucharist on a regular basis, but we always have the ease of making a regular Examen of Consciousness. It is there that we can maintain the abiding presence of God. I’m sure that Cardinal Nguyen was helped not just by his simple celebrations of the Eucharist, but, also, by a regular reminder of how he was able to find God in his life in a prison cell.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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