I am listening to Father Reuben\’s homily about Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well with her earthen vessel when it begins to happen.
Father Reuben paints a word picture of their encounter from the point of view of the woman. I find myself there, watching the two of them interacting.
I see her earthen vessel. I look down the well and see the stagnant water that the old well provides. I hear Jesus speak of the living water that he offers, like an underground river bursting to the surface.
Father Reuben finishes his homily and continues saying the Mass while I, in the pew beside my wife, find myself floating downstream on the leafs of his homily.
I swirl in the current of the Samaritan woman\’s five husbands, and find myself naming them, not with the ancient labels of the religions of Baal she had tried to find faith in, but in the present labels of the religions many of my generation try in vain: (a) doubt; (b) discouragement; (c) despair; (d) delusion; or (e) denial.
Then my stream of consciousness hits rapids. Coming to attention, I find Father Reuben at the Consecration leaning onto the altar and breathing words onto the breaded host and then into the chalice of wine.
Suddenly, I am struck at the significance of what is not happening and what is.
Father Reuben is not engaging in a symbolic memorial as some of my friends would understand it. No, rather, he is breathing life into the bread and wine, just as Jesus did at his Last Supper. Father is not saying \”This is like my body…like my blood.\” Is he repeating a bold claim? Or even bolder, an expression in words of the power of God? The river that burst forth at the Last Supper of Jesus has resurfaced again right in front of us. Much like the Holy Spirit who brooded over the waters at Creation, Father Reuben leans over and expresses the power he has been ordained to exercise. What is this re-creation?
I gaze intently at the rising Host and the embracing Chalice. What do I see?
Many times before I have comprehended through my senses, a circle of unleavened bread marked with a cross and a golden grail sparkling with red wine are about to be poured out for our consumption. These appearances do not change in front of me.
Many times before, I have known through my intellect this is the Sacrament of the Eucharist, bringing to us again the ritual that Jesus offers us in the New Covenant. The essence of this ritual has not changed over the centuries, over the millenia.
Many times before, I have understood through theological insights the bread now hosts the Body of Jesus and the chalice cups his Blood. The explanation of transubstantiation remains understandable as a way of communicating about the inherent mystery of what is happening.
This time, though, something new happens. It is a moment of child\’s play, a recreation, perhaps, as Melanie Jean Juneau suggests in her post. It is something beyond sensory comprehension, intellectual doctrine, and theological dogma.
The somewhat stagnant waters of my own well of comprehension, knowledge, and understanding are being touched by the living water that pours out upon us, right before our very eyes.
What is happening I find myself calling \”The Real Present.\” Let me parse that phrase into three parts.
* * * * * * *
1. THE Real Present. The Real Present is not some indefinite, symbolic theater we are participating in with Father Reuben acting the part of Jesus in a play. No. The Real Present is something definite. Looking back on that moment, it actually happened. It is so vivid, I am inspired by it as I write these words. I have hope and faith that it will happen again each time I go to Mass. It is not a scientifically repeatable experiment in a public chemistry lab. What is offered each time is not an event to judge based on the past nor an event to choose for the present, but maybe not again. What is being offered is an event calling for decision. It is definitive and decisive each time. Thus it is THE Real Present.
2. The REAL Present. The Real Present is not some magical illusion: (a) where descriptive words provide language game allusions and sets of hypothetical premises leading to conclusions to invalidate doubts; (b) where dark collusion seeks to overpower discouragement through force of persuasion; (c) where confusion of infusion and transfusion seeks to overcome disintegrating despair; (d) where delusion dominates like an addiction; or (e) where fusion of energies seeks to solidify denial. No.
No longer does the philosophical balance of the material and the ideal result in harmonious ontology claiming more than superiority, in fact supremacy. No. Rather, like a March madness basketball player going for a lay-up, the presiding priest, Father Reuben, runs up the wooden lane of materials before him on the altar, pivots in plain view around the objections of idealistic defenders and drops the ball through the hoop where it emerges with a difference: score. He steps back from the altar. Extends his hands and invites us to contemplate: \”The Mystery of Faith.\”
Some will want to say that Being is Becoming incarnate at the Consecration of the Mass. That\’s an ontological way of putting it, I suppose. The trap there is how today Being and Nothingness are absurdly confused by modern existentialism. For those caught up in epistemological concerns from which this absurdity derives, what they may want to dismiss as an object of a magical construct might better be understood as the divine subject of our worship becoming the miraculous reality with which we are now communing.
If the prevailing secular nihilism is a invitation to live in the midst of absurdity, I prefer the honesty of Camus over Sartre. For Camus was open to other possibilities, somewhat like a secular version of Chesterton who accepted the reality of spiritual kingdoms. Pieper sees even Plato recognizing the reality of \”Divine Madness,\” as do each of us. How? Artists experience inspiration. Lovers fall into it. Those who experience catharsis know the value of weeping. Prophets do not last long when they claim themselves to be the source of their visions.
What we want far exceeds what we need. Where does the \”want\” come from? A moment of kairos is when Heaven opens up and lets us visit in advance of moving there. That is a way of describing The REAL Present. The REAL Present is what we want at the deepest part of our wells.
3. The Real PRESENT. The Real Present is not some representation nor even a re-presentation. Rather, I see it now as The Second Coming of Christ happening at each Mass. Father Reuben and all ordained priests are truly fathers, for they are pro-creators when they express their consecrating words. Through Father Reuben, God the Father fathers Jesus and Jesus sons his Father. The unity of the Lover and the Beloved are mutually expressed in their Love\’s sign: the Body and Blood of Christ. When we consume the Body and Blood of Christ, we become what we eat. Not God, not gods. Rather, we become Loved, like Jesus. Jesus is the proto-type of what being human is. Being human is a gift, a present from God.
The Consecration then is not just a memorial service for the dead Jesus, though it always reminds us of his dying for us. No. Rather it is a remembering and serving up of the living Jesus, always reminding us of his Resurrection. In this sense of remembering, we are in the Real Presence of our risen Lord and Jesus is thus The Real PRESENT, the gift God gives to us so that we may become united with Him and thus be saved.
* * * * * * *
The Samaritan woman got it. Got him: THE REAL PRESENT. As I returned to my pew after receiving communion, I followed her in my mediation to her village where she told her families and friends what Jesus told her. They got it, most especially when Jesus came to be with them. They even recognized that they no longer needed her word on it. They got it from our Lord himself.
When I go to Mass now and say before Communion time \”Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed,\” I think not only of the Centurion who first said it, but also of the Samaritan woman and the people in her community who found faith by opening up their roofs to Jesus.
To acknowledge this opening up, I no longer take the Body of Christ in my hand. I do it the old way and open up my mouth to receive Jesus from the hand of his ministers. I receive him into my earthen vessel.
Is there any wonder that I now recommend you bring your earthen vessel to the well of the Mass and get some of this living water yourself?
What happens may surprise you. It did me when I opened The Real Present I found there. Thanks be to God and how Jesus encounters the Samaritan Woman in each of us.
© 2014. John Darrouzet. All rights reserved.
Photography: See our Photographers page.