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Walking to the Banquet

by Fr. Nathaniel Drogin, O.Praem.

 

One morning at the Office of Readings, speaking of the three distinct comings of Christ, St. Bernard told us that the middle coming, in which Christ comes in spirit and power, is like a road on which we travel, from the first coming to the last.

On this road, he says, Christ is our consolation and rest. We can rest in Him even while we keep going, keep walking. Another way to say this is that Christ is our hope, that we are saved in hope. Hope gives us the ability to grab hold of the good things to come even while we are still walking through this “dark valley.” And if we weren’t somehow already able to possess these good things, even while we were walking, we would never be able to finish the journey. We would, like Elijah, sit down under the broom tree and get ready to die.

Most of us here have had the experience of walking to the university in Rome from our house near the Circus Maximus. After morning prayers, Mass, and a very Spartan breakfast, we would set out around eight in the morning. The walk, although amazingly scenic—past the Circus Maximus, the Arch of Constantine, the Colosseum, and the Forum—was also very taxing, day after day. If you went fast, you could make it in thirty minutes. The only problem with that was that in the winter there was a decently strong wind, and the faster you walked the more the wind would chill your hands and face. By the time you arrived, every area of skin exposed to the air was practically frozen. So we bundled up in hats and scarves and gloves. In the summertime, weighed down by a load of books, a habit, and an overcoat, we would have the opposite problem: it was too hot, and we would arrive drenched in sweat.

Either way, after four hours of class, the last thing any of us wanted to do was make another half-hour walk, usually a powerwalk, through the crowded streets of Rome.

We had one consolation to keep us going: pranzo. Just the thought of making it back, being able to sit down, eat some pasta, drink a little wine, and probably take a nap afterwards, was enough to keep us going.

The prophet Isaiah tells us that the Lord has prepared for us a banquet of rich foods and choice wines—juicy rich foods and pure choice wines. He has these graces ready for us, something big or small, a little glimpse or a foretaste, to strengthen our hope and keep us going on our journey.

Often these little consolations come when we least expect them. We react by saying, “Wow, I never even thought that was possible,” or, “I never thought that person or this situation could change.”

This happened to Andre Frossard, an atheist and a skeptic, who went into a church one day to look for a friend, but instead met God. He describes it this way: “The meeting was unexpected—I could say it happened by chance were it not that chance has no part in events of this kind. It created the sort of astonishment a man might feel if he went round the corner of a road in Paris and saw before him, not the familiar square or crossroads, but an unexpected and boundless ocean lapping at the doorsteps of the houses.”

This is what happened to Frossard in the Church: “My gaze passed from the shadows to the light, from the faithful gathered there, to the nuns, to the altar, and came to rest above the second candle burning to the left of the cross (unaware that I was standing in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament). And at that point, suddenly a series of miracles unfolded whose indescribable force shattered in an instant the absurd being that I was, to bring to birth the amazed child that I had never been. At first the hint of these words, ‘spiritual life,’ came to me, as if they had been pronounced in a whisper next to me. Then came a great light—a world, another world of a radiance, and a destiny that in one stroke cast our world among the fragile shadows of unfulfilled dreams, of which I felt all the sweetness, a sweetness that was active and upsetting beyond every form of violence, capable of breaking the hardest stone and that which is even harder than stone: the human heart. Its overflowing eruption, so complete, was accompanied by a joy which is the exaltation of the saved, the joy of the shipwrecked who is picked up just in time. These sensations, which I find difficult to translate into a language which cannot capture these ideas and images, were all simultaneous. Everything is dominated by the presence of Him of Whom I would never be able to write His name without fear of harming its tenderness, of Him before Whom I have had the good fortune to be a forgiven child who wakes up to discover that everything is a gift. God existed and was present.”

And God is never more present than in the Holy Eucharist, than at Holy Mass. Even if we never have an experience like Frossard’s, the Lord has some glimpse prepared for us, to keep us going, until one day in heaven we all will have the experience of Frossard, and even more.

Frossard continues: “One thing only surprised me: the Eucharist! Not that it seemed incredible, but it amazed me that Divine Charity would have come upon this silent way to communicate Himself, and above all that He would choose to become bread, which is the staple of the poor, and the food preferred by children. O Divine Love, eternity will be too short to speak of You.”

So let us open our hearts to the graces the Lord has prepared for us. He has so many good things ready for us. So don’t stop. Keep going. And fix your gaze on Him Who will satisfy our every hope and desire.

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