Last night was the annual Cana Dinner, a time for couples to reconnect with each other and with members of the faith community over good food, a bit of wine, and a turn on the dance floor. Craig and I usually dust off the steps we learned at the U of M Ballroom Dance Club … but since my back has been a little on the hinky side, we content ourselves with a slow swing instead of a flashy cha-cha-cha.
This time the speaker was Steve Ray, who talked with us about “Men, Sex, and Heaven.” He explained that while husbands seek out sex – with or without romance and commitment – wives crave romance. Understanding this basic difference between the sexes does not come naturally to many couples. And yet it is a vital component of the kind of “oneness” God intended us to enjoy in the sacrament of matrimony.
Later, as I contemplated the message that evening, I wondered if this kind of mutuality had an application to the spiritual life as well, particularly with regard to the Mass. As Christ offers himself to us in the sacrament of the Eucharist, is there a corresponding yearning for intimacy on the part of the Bride?
As a convert to the faith, I grew up believing that God wanted a warm and intimate relationship with me. I did not know about the Eucharist, but I had been taught to cling to the Word, to study it closely for the personal messages God had for me each day. God and I spent hours together, me at the piano singing out into the dark, trusting that there was One who heard, and was pleased by my love offering. I was part of a “church family” that I depended upon for instruction and support. But ultimately it was that one-on-one intimacy cultivated through prayer and simple obedience.
When I was confirmed, I was overjoyed to be able to receive Jesus in the Eucharist at last. I was also delighted to be a part of the universal Body of Christ, the true unity that Jesus always intended for his Church. And yet, some of my fellow Catholics puzzled me:
The guy who would huff impatiently when someone tried to greet him before Mass … or when Mass went longer than the proscribed hour.
The self-appointed liturgy critic who spends twenty minutes after each Mass complaining about the music not being “Catholic” enough.
“Devout” Catholics so intent on worshipping the King of Kings with reverence and awe, they seem to forget that this King is also Father, Son, Spirit … and the great Lover of our souls.
I had to wonder: Was there some kind of deliberate “distancing” at work here? While I had come to recognize the deception of being guided solely by “feelings” in spiritual matters, it occurred to me that it was possible to go to the opposite extreme as well. Guided solely by the obligations and duties of “practicing” the faith, one could spend a lifetime in polite “worship” without ever having an encounter with the living Lord.
What a tragedy.
Just as a marriage is about more than a license – and far more than a perpetual teenage crush – faith must be more than going through the motions. Sometimes a Bride needs a little “romance.” A sense that God is listening, that he cares. And so, it was with a sense of great relief that I read this passage from the Catechism:
1108 In every liturgical action the Holy Spirit is sent in order to bring us into communion with Christ and so to form his Body. The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the Father's vine which bears fruit on its branches. The most intimate cooperation of the Holy Spirit and the Church is achieved in the liturgy. The Spirit who is the Spirit of communion, abides indefectibly in the Church. For this reason the Church is the great sacrament of divine communion which gathers God's scattered children together. Communion with the Holy Trinity and fraternal communion are inseparably the fruit of the Spirit in the liturgy.
The nature of communion, of worship, is supposed to be a life giving “intimate cooperation” between the Spirit and the Bride – and, by extension, involve real communion between each of the members. We are to enter in to the mystery, not holding back any part of ourselves out of a misguided sense of propriety.
This is the fiat of the Bride, responding with joy to her Groom.