As we begin the year 2022, we do so with a little trepidation, but also much hope. I suppose that this is true for each and every year, but it is especially true now after all that we have been through in the past two years of pandemic, significant difficulties and great change to our world and to our lives. As I knelt in prayer on the first day of this New Year, on the Solemnity of the Circumcision of our Lord on January 1, I was thinking of the words to the hymn that we sometimes sing only on this one day of the year, “New Year Comes Flying.” It was the third verse specifically that spoke to me on this holy day:
How shall we find Him? How shall we know our Jesus, Lord?
In humble wrappings, not in rich velvet, see Him there.
Now of course we know that these words are speaking to our Lord being found in the manger in Bethlehem by those, such as the shepherds, that sought Him out. Although He is born as the King of kings and Lord of lords, He was found in a humble manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, not in the rich velvet of an earthly king. There was certainly a reality to the humble wrappings of Jesus at His birth.
But as we consider where we each stand within our own spiritual and religious lives, maybe these words will speak to us as well. Maybe there is also another sort of humble wrapping.
Throughout the past two years many of us have been challenged by the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has had the effect of causing a fracture in our worship life, especially in our reception of the Holy Eucharist. We were all cautioned to be careful within our lives in order to keep ourselves isolated and safe from the virus. But a consequence of this action, this isolation, is that we became isolated from the worshiping Body of Christ, isolated from each other in accomplishing the work of the Church and most significantly isolated from receiving our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
At several points during this pandemic time, I was moved as I distributed Holy Communion to those who had not received the Holy Eucharist for a significant period of time: some approached the Eucharist with tears in their eyes; some told me how receiving Christ present in the Eucharist filled a longing that went unfulfilled for a long time; some told me that they just missed being with Jesus in the Eucharist. It was truly a gift to be present for these situations and it made me grateful that I could help facilitate this true spiritual experience in their lives and also grateful that as a priest I was always able to celebrate Holy Mass and have access to Christ present in the Holy Eucharist.
But as I have had the opportunity to reflect on these moments of communion, I have thought that while I can be grateful for always having access to the Eucharist and being able to celebrate Holy Mass, there was still something great that was missing in our collective worship and religious experience this year. We need to remember that Christ is present to us in many ways within the Church. Certainly, we know that Christ is truly present in the Holy Eucharist, but that is only the first step of being Eucharistic people. There are other ways that He is present to us as well. Within the worshiping community, Christ is present in the proclamation of the Word, as well as the Sacrament of the Word of God. And beyond that, when we gather together He is also present, since in that gathering we become the actualization of the Body of Christ in the world today. It is exactly this message that we hear on the Third Sunday in Ordinary Time this year. St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians tells us: “You, then, are the Body of Christ. Every one of you is a member of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27) And here St. Paul is speaking both of the worshipping community and all of the actions of the Church beyond it. In the section of the letter preceding these words, St. Paul was speaking concerning all of the various parts of an individual human body. How each of them is important, in fact vital, for the full functioning of the body. St. Paul then follows by listing some of the parts of the body in the Church at that time: apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, assistants, administrators and those who speak in tongues. Again these roles speak, not only to the community in worship, but to all of the actions of the Body of Christ, the Church.
In the hope that we share as we find ourselves at the beginning of a New Year and in considering the hymn given above, to find the Lord in “humble wrappings” let us all consider small and humble ways in which we can once again fully return to the Body of Christ.
The Future Direction Subcommittee of the Supreme Council has chosen a focus this year on the Holy Eucharist. During the pandemic time many chose, for a variety of reasons, to stay away from the worshipping community of the Church and therefore
deprived themselves of the Holy Eucharist. While some certainly do have a longing in their hearts and souls for the presence of Christ in Holy Communion, so many also don’t realize the centrality of the reception of Christ in the life of a Catholic Christian. The receiving of Holy Communion is the summit and central point of everything we are and everything we do as the Church. We must, therefore, take the time to seek the Lord in the humble wrappings of our time at Holy Mass, our time seeking the forgiveness of God in the Sacrament of Penance, our time in hearing the Word proclaimed to us, and especially in our time in approaching the Lord in the Holy Eucharist.
In this return to the Lord, we can then begin to once again take up our full places as members within the Body of Christ. As we receive the Holy Eucharist, we are members of the worshiping Body of Christ which gathers at Holy Mass, offering praise and thanksgiving to God the Father, being strengthened by His Holy Word and then sent forth to extend that body of Christ into the world.
In this we do not seek for anyone to be either careless or reckless. There will certainly be health challenges and concerns in the days, weeks and months to come. But truly this has always been the case and through it all the Church has continued to worship God, receive Christ present in the Eucharist and accomplish the ministry of Christ to the world. Things should be not at all different at this time. We must still gather for the Eucharist, we must still gather for Holy Mass, we must still accomplish the ministry that Christ has given to us all.
Although I have never been a big fan of resolutions at New Years, I do encourage each and every one of you to make one resolution for this year of 2022. Let’s make this a year of being Eucharistic people. Let’s be people who are active and vital parts of the community gathered for Holy Mass, people who recognize and receive Christ present in the Holy Eucharist, people who hear His Word at Mass and then put those words into action within our lives, people who give thanks to God, for each opportunity to worship, opportunity to work, opportunity to be a member within the Body of Christ that is the Church. Let’s be Eucharistic people, in our reception of Holy Communion and in all that we do as the Body of Christ in the world today.
As Eucharistic people, let’s let each and every action, word and thought of every day of our year and our lives, be the “humble wrappings” where Christ