Thursday, June 13, 2013

God Takes no Prisoners: Thoughts from the Eucharistic Congress in Cologne, 2013

Last weekend (June 7-9), I was blessed to be able to attend the national Eucharistic Congress in Cologne, Germany. Though a cold and a lack of sleep kept my hoped-for euphoria and spiritual high to a minimum, I didn’t go home without having experienced God.

If I look back and think about how much prayer and praise and perpetual adoration was going in that city for the five days of the conference, it’s pretty amazing. Actually, it should have been Heaven on Earth—maybe for many people it was. For me, this abundance of spiritual light threw into sharp relief much of the darkness in the world and in me. I had prayed Saturday afternoon at Holy Hour that we at the congress might see Christ in the Eucharist and in each other more clearly. All throughout the rest of the day, it became more and more clear how much I wasn’t doing that. Especially with regards to the homeless people on the street. One man asked me for a euro to buy a hot meal and I gave him 50 cents because the alternative would have been a two euro piece. Immediately the verse came into my mind: “the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (cf. Mt 7:2).[1]

When I went back to night adoration a few hours later, the light coming from the altar hit my body like a tangible force. Multiple huge candelabras surrounded the altar on which Christ in the Blessed Sacrament rested in a pearly white monstrance that just glowed in light of the spotlight. Faced with all this glory, I felt small and full of darkness. As I knelt I could just hear Jesus saying, “Now you’re kneeling in front of me, but when I asked for a favor you only gave me half.” I was automatically praying Glory Be’s, but my breath felt foul and hypocritical as the prayers crossed my lips. But I kept praying—what else could I do? Ceasing to pray wouldn’t get me anywhere either. All that I could do was to keep getting up again, every single time I fell. I say that every time. Then it hit me that, because of Christ’s love and his sacrifice, this getting up every single countless time is not completely pointless. It’s only pointless when we give up. We can become better people, with God’s help. God wants us to be righteous—fortunately he has the power to make us so!

Later on, I was imagining telling my friends about the incident with the homeless man. (I talk to people in my head a lot.) Being fellow sinners, they may (or may not) have tried to brush away my guilty feelings or justify my actions to make me feel better. Why wasn’t I imagining telling Jesus about these things? Because he would have done none of the above. God doesn’t take excuses, gives no quarter. Yes, no eye, no heart looks upon us with more love and acceptance and mercy than God’s. But God’s love for us is so great that he can’t stand to see us trapped in our sins. His merciful gaze contains an inherent call to change.[2] When we kneel as sinners before his glory, God takes no prisoners—he refuses to let us settle with being prisoners of our weaknesses and sinful tendencies, and gives us the strength to drag ourselves up out of the mud again and again to let ourselves be transformed by his grace.

[1] Whatever you may think of my action here, it’s my often stingy attitude that I’m trying to work on.
[2] This post reminds me a lot of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem, “Archaic Torso of Apollo”, though of course the gods in question are quite of a different nature.  J  For the German poem, go here: Here is the best English translation I’ve found so far:

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