Holy Hour Reflection: We are Always in the Middle...Beginning
by Diocese of Des Moines | April 18, 2021
By Bo Bonner
To contemplate “Eucharistic Renewal,” it is important to consider both words. The reflections so far, while certainly encompassing the whole idea, have wonderfully focused on the first part of the equation if you will, and thus for this reflection I would like to put the second under special attention. What, then, is renewal? But I propose to get to the “second word” via a few points about the “first” one.
The liturgy declares—through action and deed —that the Eucharist is “The Mystery of Faith.” And indeed, what a mystery it is. The very word for “sacrament” in the Eastern Church is “mysterion,” and the emphasis on the glorious miracle that occurs at every consecration is rightfully emphasized. But the “mystery” does not stop there. This sacrament is the “Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is the God Man, Jesus.
And who is he? “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” So says the Lord in the book of Revelation, and ushers another mystery in with that statement. “Nova et vetera,” says the Church. “Ever ancient, ever new” is our faith. In the Eucharist, the “Lamb who was slain before the foundations of the world” as St. Paul attests, makes present again what happened once on Calvary and perpetually before the Father in heaven. An event that exists before time, and in time, and outside of time, and even today. As the Holy Church proclaims every Easter Vigil during the blessing of the Paschal candle: “Christ, yesterday and today, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and Omega. To him belongs all time and all the ages; all glory and dominion is his now and forever. Amen.”
Therefore, as all time and ages belong to him, when we contemplate the Eucharist, we contemplate the future glory that exists today already in seed form here in the Host. “Behold, I make all things new!” says our Lord once more in the book of Revelation. And thus the very essence of renewal—of being made new, of beginning again—begins and converges and ends in the Holy Eucharist. And so we proceed to ask not only, what is renewal, but when?
We are always “in the middle” of our lives, even at the beginning and ending of our days. See this little baby girl, where is she at? Why, right in the middle of her life! See this old man, now in his waning years? Nowhere else is he but the middle of his life! We are invariably always in the middle of something, beginning, middle, or end. Here we are and ever will be, it seems, in media res.
But precisely because we are always square in the middle of something, it is difficult to ever truly begin to do anything, especially if that very thing is new, even harder if it is something we must restart. But how does one start right in the middle, how does one take the sage (but lesser known) advice of Aristotle which he repeats so often in the Nicomachean Ethics, “let us begin again?”
The answer is frighteningly simple, and for this reason immeasurably frustrating: we must begin with the smallest thing. If only every beginning was momentous! If only every start began with the herald of trumpets and the adulation of friends!
But the beginnings that stick are never so, which is why true change always sneaks up on mankind. In the middle of the noise and distraction of the tumult of things, here a new something appears, seemingly out of nowhere! But upon inspection, we see how very long and broad the roots grew unknown and long established. People can step over the tributary headwaters of a great river and will never notice. Often something strikes us as “new” only when it is deep enough for us to fall in.
Indeed, many people are absorbed with the bigness of their ideas, wrapped in the grand logic of their plan. I know this feeling all too well—forever afloat in the imagined goal, never one to dirty my feet with the soil of the necessary road needing trod. The end, how lacking it is in the rocks-in-shoes reality of the pilgrim path! The destination, how bereft of chaffed thighs and sunburned back-ear lobes the weary traveler must endure! If life were but great leaps we could all take, striding about mountain peaks as Nietzsche’s Zarathustra advises us to do—how enjoyable the petty (and callous) advice, “life is about the journey,” would actually be.
But you and I know St. Paul is no fool, and we do, as he says, “the very thing we do not wish to do.” In the middle of my life, I do not find myself walking down the mountain like Zarathustra, but parking my weary legs next to the likes of Dante, lost in a dark wood. I walk among the trees of multiple starts and stops, of failed New Year’s resolutions, lost Lenten plans and inconsistent interventions, and I find that I have seen this tree and that oh so many times. I am lost, right in the middle of my life. How do we once more begin again?
But lest we lose hope, I point to the wise words of a Father Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” In the worn-down world that we cannot even feel anymore, there is always a fresh beginning. There is always a small seed, deep down, waiting to bloom. But are we willing to attend to this one small thing?
Are we willing to let it grow in its underground tomb, unseen by the world, only to spring forth at some much later date? Will we allow the water to nourish it unannounced, let the worms dig around it, let the storm winds blow over it, growing in its humble womb?
In other words, are we willing to get serious about this change? Seriousness is too often relegated to the unmeasurable and unobservable intent of an agent, a status of the heart that no one save God would have any capacity to see. But I would contend we all know, intuitively at least, who does and does not take something seriously. The serious person attends precisely to the smallest parts of the matter at hand.
Though the matter be huge (a game, a movement, a soul), no detail is too small for them. They will run the play in practice for months on end. They will set up chairs for the meeting. They will have a tissue for the lost soul to blow his or her nose. They will sit silent for an hour before the Eucharist. They are serious, you see.
When people point out how lost everything seems to be, when it seems like we are all in the middle of something large and inescapable, they ask: why does this little thing matter? But it is indeed the little things that matter most.
The world? You might say its in the middle of spinning off its axis. Society? Maybe in the middle of melting into air. The Church? Is it in the middle of losing its heart, its voice, its way? Myself? What am I in the middle of? How can I, how can we, begin again?
My only advice: we must be willing to begin again and begin with the smallest things. Right where we are. Right in the middle of wherever it is you stand. If the problem is the loss of God in our lives, what better way to show that we are serious than to show this one small thing: here, in longing prayer before the Eucharist, the seed of the entire Body of Christ?
What the world needs is serious Christians, but you do not show your seriousness by a furrowed eyebrow, or a lack of humor, or the inability to take yourself lightly. Indeed, you do the exact opposite of these, and attend to the smallest of things, and begin right in the middle.
- Where is the Lord inviting me to “begin again” in my own spiritual life?
- What are the small details that the Lord is inviting me to give more attention?
- For our Diocese, that we may begin again in Eucharistic renewal, recognizing the profound gift of God’s presence among us, and that we might prepare the soil of our hearts to receive God’s love, we pray…
- That we might more easily see the fresh beginnings already at work in the world, and that we may do our part to cooperate with those grace-filled beginnings, we pray…
- That we may model our lives after Jesus, and by his grace we might be faithful to the “small things” that foster authentic discipleship, we pray…