Christmas and Easter were always special occasions for Roberto and Ines Garcia.
From early on in their marriage, they made it a point to set aside these family dinners as “days of remembrance.” When their children were little, they would tell stories about what life was like when they were kids—before the Internet and cable TV. As the children grew up, however, the stories turned from pure nostalgia to lessons learned. They would talk about how they met and fell in love. They would talk about their ups and downs as they tried to forge a life together. Or they would talk about their own parents and grandparents and share stories from their past—stories about the lessons they had learned as well.
Over time, Roberto and Ines’ children came to appreciate these stories more and more. They came to see how these stories of the past helped lift them out of their everyday life and gave them a bigger, broader vision. Especially as the children began to move away and marry and have children of their own, they enjoyed these special meals for what they were: opportunities to step back and see the “forest” of their family life instead of focusing on so many individual “trees” like finances, school, schedules, and kids’ activities.
The Power of Story. This little story is a good way for us to understand the most important meal we can ever share: the Mass. Every Sunday, we gather as a kind of extended family and hear stories from our past during the Liturgy of the Word. These stories can lift our minds out of all the pressing details of daily life and give us a broader view of who we are and where we are going. They give us the opportunity to focus on the bigger picture of God’s love for us, how he is helping us today, and his ultimate desire to bring us to our heavenly home. By telling us about where we came from, these stories tell us who we are—and who God wants us to become.
Isn’t this what happened with the Emmaus disciples? They began that day feeling worn down by the events surrounding Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion. They probably replayed every little detail in their minds again and again.
But after spending time hearing Jesus tell them the stories of their ancestors and after sharing a meal with him, their faith was rejuvenated. They saw how faithful God was to his promises, and their hearts began to burn with hope now that they were able to see a bigger picture.
Messages from Heaven. A similar thing can happen to us when we gather to celebrate the Eucharist. We come to church carrying with us both the successes and challenges of the past week. And here, for just one hour, we can put aside anything that might be weighing us down. For this short amount of time, we can let the ancient stories of the Bible lift us up and give us a bigger vision.
It can be difficult to put aside all the demands of the week, but it’s not impossible. You can try to focus on God’s presence as the Mass begins. You can make it a point to slow down your breathing and to repeat a simple prayer, like, “Jesus, help me feel your presence right now.” Then, when it comes time for the readings, you can keep your ears open for a special message from the Lord. Maybe a line or just a word from the readings will find a place in your heart. Perhaps a point from the homily or a verse from a hymn will move you or make you think.
Remember, God often speaks with a still, small voice, so stay alert. If it helps, try closing your eyes during the readings and imagine Jesus sitting with you. Ask him to tell you these stories himself. Or imagine yourself in the midst of the story, and see if something new strikes you. When it does, hold onto it. Repeat it in your mind, and keep it as a special message from Jesus to you. He is speaking to you, and every time that happens, it’s because he wants to help you.
Reliving the Last Supper. But stories can take us only so far. There is more to the Mass than hearing about our past. The most powerful part is when we not only hear, but relive the most important story of them all—the Last Supper.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus felt their hearts burning while Jesus explained the past to them. But it wasn’t until he broke the bread that their eyes were finally opened. When they joined Jesus at table, they finally understood why their hearts had been burning in the first place.
“While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30). That simple gesture took them back to the Last Supper. It took them back to the feeding of the five thousand and to Jesus telling them that he was the Bread of Life. Suddenly, it all came together for them: Jesus had to offer his life on the cross so that they could receive that very same life every time they broke bread “in memory of” him (22:19).
A Few Precious Minutes. Just as he did for these disciples, Jesus wants to bring us back to the upper room at every Mass. He wants to help us taste and touch the love he has for us as he gives us his own Body and Blood.
These few moments after Communion are perhaps the most precious and intimate moments of the Mass. They may not last long, but they can be very powerful. You have just received the most valuable gift possible—Jesus himself—and now is your opportunity to spend time with him one-on-one. But because this time is so short, we often don’t think about how to make the most of it. So here are a few suggestions:
• You can pour out your heart to Jesus in worship and gratitude. Tell him how grateful you are for his death. Praise him for rising from the dead for you. Thank him for being faithful and merciful toward yourself and your loved ones.
• You can spend the time praying for the people closest to you. Offer them to the Lord and ask for his help. Picture yourself bringing them to the throne of Jesus, and see what he might say or do for them.
• You can sit quietly with Jesus and let the peace of his presence fill your heart. Maybe keep repeating his name in your heart. Maybe tell him you love him, and see if you can feel his love for you.
What you do during these precious few minutes is not half as important as the way you do it—in faith, in trust, and in love.
A Celebration of Hope. Every Mass is a celebration of hope. Every time we gather, Jesus lifts us from our day-to-day concerns and tells us stories from our past that will give us the “big picture” of his plan for us. Every time we receive him in Communion, he lifts us out of our immediate concerns and tells us that he is always with us, ready to help us. Every Sunday, we can celebrate the greatest mysteries of our faith: Christ is risen. He has ascended. And now he is preparing us to enter our heavenly home.