“Having been created to share in the very life of God, the Holy Eucharist is the beacon by which we find our way through the mists that sometimes shroud our eyes from the glory that awaits us,” Fr. Paul Jerome Keller, O.P., writes at the beginning of his recent published devotional, A Year with the Eucharist. Fr. Keller, a Dominican priest and professor of sacramental and liturgical theology of the Athenaeum of Ohio, Mount St. Mary’s of the West Seminary, who also serves at Saint Gertrude’s parish and Dominican priority there, talks about the importance of the Eucharist as the holiest week of the year for Christians, commemorating, among other things, the instituting of the Eucharistic meal, is set to begin. The book has no set start date; Easter might be the time to begin, an aid in making every week holy. — Kathryn Jean Lopez
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Why do you encourage Eucharistic adoration?
Father Paul Jerome Keller, O.P.: Because we meet Jesus Christ personally in the Eucharist! It’s not just a matter of meeting Him, but of being able to speak with Him present sacramentally before us. And adoration is important because we receive so many more graces and gifts by acts of praise, worship, and adoration than we do by merely asking for things. In fact, since we so often don’t know what to ask for, it’s better to open our hands in adoration before our Eucharistic Lord and allow Him to give what He knows we need.
Lopez: Is making Eucharistic adoration part of daily life plausible for busy people — and for those with young children?
Fr. Keller, O.P.: Yes, Eucharistic adoration is definitely plausible for busy people — and with children. Every Christian has an obligation to pray. The amount of time will depend on one’s schedule and station in life, of course, but since we are obliged to pray, because we owe God worship, why not spend that time in front of the Blessed Sacrament? People with young children can bring them along and teach them how to worship Christ in the Eucharist in an age-appropriate way. Moreover, Jesus loves to draw children to Himself.
Lopez: How can you be so certain about its power?
Fr. Keller, O.P.: I can be sure of the power of Eucharistic adoration because there we find God. What greater power is there? And He loves us more than we could possibly imagine, and always brings about our good when we come before Him. If He desires our good infinitely, and is all-powerful, how could we doubt His power active in our lives? Eucharistic adoration opens us up to receiving that power in a most unique way.
Lopez: “Unfortunately, few people today, even devout and dedicated Catholics, have learned how to really pray,” Bishop James D. Conley of Nebraska writes in the foreword to your book. Can anything really be done about that?
Fr. Keller, O.P.: Yes, people can learn to pray. My counsel is to simply start. If a person wants to learn to pray, go before Jesus and tell Him just that: Lord, I want to learn to pray. Teach me to pray. With those words, one has already begun to pray! God will take it from there–just watch Him!
Lopez: You write that “No one has ever desired anything more than God desires to draw us into union with himself.” How can you be so sure of that?
Fr. Keller, O.P.: Because God created us out of love for us. His love for us is infinite. Love’s end is union. So, divine, infinite love has as its end union of the beloved with Himself.
Lopez: “Man is divinized by his participation in the life of the Blessed Trinity, and the Eucharist is the continued nourishing of our divine life.” How can people come to better understand this is what we’re meant for?
Fr. Keller, O.P.: This is an important question for our age. People have lost sight of the meaning of life. We need to help people to come to some quiet time in life in order to reflect on the meaning of life, and the meaning of one’s own life. We must help people to ask the question: what is my purpose in life? These questions, when considered seriously, bring one into contact already with God. This happens because God desires to draw us to Himself — and as soon as we take time to stop and consider what is most important in life, divine grace is seeking to break in to our lives to illuminate our minds.
Lopez: “Nothing could be more objectively real than Christ’s sacramental presence in the Eucharist at the Sacrifice if the Mass through the ministry of those men Christ has chosen as his priests.” That’s going to sound crazy to some. What’s the invitation? What if the evil that priests have done and the infuriating ways it’s been handled leave some not believing any of this anymore?
Fr. Keller, O.P.: I grant that it can be quite difficult to trust once we’ve been hurt or betrayed. We all have people in our lives who have let us down, but it’s particularly difficult when one who lets us down is someone who is supposed to be morally upright — such as our parents, our doctors and police, and especially our priests. But, just because one parent has let someone down, or one cop has done something corrupt, or one doctor has abused the medical privilege, does not mean that all cops and doctors are bad, or that upholding the law or medicine is to be ignored. So it is with God and our faith. People who do bad things do not make the whole religion bad, nor do they make belief in God bad.
Lopez: What’s so important about prayer before and after Communion?
Fr. Keller, O.P.: Prayer before and after the reception of Holy Communion is essential because without it we fail to receive the full benefit of the sacramental graces. Not praying before and after Communion is like going to dinner at your best friend’s home and never speaking to the other. The moment of Communion is the most intimate time we have with Christ who is present, body and blood, soul and divinity, within our very beings. There could be no better time for prayer, especially contemplative prayer.
Lopez: Do you have a favorite prayer in the book?
Fr. Keller, O.P.: Yes, my favorite prayer occurs on Day 1. It’s the prayer composed by St. Thomas Aquinas for the feast of Corpus Christi, titled “O Sacred Banquet.” It’s the prayer that Dominicans throughout the world pray several times a day at the beginning of the each of the hours of the Divine Office in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
Lopez: What do you think is particularly helpful about the “Year with series” and the whole one-day-at-a-time approach?
Fr. Keller, O.P.: The presentation of daily meditations that are brief prevents the reader from feeling overwhelmed. But what is particularly helpful is that there is no particular date tied with each meditation. The days are numbered successively, one through 365, so that if a reader misses a day, he/she need only pick where he/she left off. Moreover, the book need not be started on the first day of the year. Day 1 begins as the reader determines, on any given day of the year. It’s a marvelous plan to help the reader go through the book at one’s own pace, regardless of the start date.
Lopez: One of your prayer prompts got my attention: “Do I realize the power of Christ’s Blood to pierce my sorrows?” How is spiritual inebriation different from drunkenness? How do you go about explaining that to someone for whom that sounds completely foreign and even downright weird?
Fr. Keller, O.P.: In the Anima Christi, that ancient prayer to be pondered after we receive Holy Communion, we find the line: Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Inebriation comes from the Latin root ebrius, meaning full, sated, having had one’s fill of drink. It can refer to being intoxicated, too. But the essence of the prayer is to be filled with the Blood of Christ to the point of saturation. We might consider the way that the Apostles were filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and how they appeared to the people of Jerusalem as being intoxicated. They were full of the joy of the Holy Spirit.
So it is with the Blood of Christ, which is able to saturate us. Of course, this means that we must be aware of what it is we receive in Holy Communion. Lack of awareness, lack of attention, turns the reception of Communion into something almost meaningless.
But, aware of receiving Christ’s Blood we should lift our minds in thanksgiving to Him who desires to lift us up from our miseries, our sorrows. In terms of explaining how Christ’s Blood is not something strange and weird…well, it is rather strange. I think that it is important to see how unusual is His command that we drink His Blood. Perhaps we have tried to tame too much the “strangeness” of the message of God. After all, isn’t it strange that God would become man in the first place? The entire message of the Incarnation is strange. Let the strangeness speak for itself.
Lopez: How are we — or are supposed to be — like candles?
Fr. Keller, O.P.: St. Catherine of Siena, in her Dialogues, speaks about the necessity, first of all, to be like a candle insofar as a candle is to burn. Just as water quenches the burning candle, so sin quenches the fire of the Holy Spirit in our souls, and makes us less disposed to receive our Lord in Holy Communion. Serious sin makes it impossible to receive Him. Also, St. Catherine speaks about the way that others, when the fire of our candle is burning brightly, are able to come to us and be set on fire by us. More so, however, are we set on fire when we receive the Eucharist, which is like fire itself.
Lopez has been working on the upcoming A Year with the Mystics for the same series.