The youngest member of the clergy to address the recent Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s City-Wide Lenten Mission wasn’t afraid to address the “elephant” in the room, with the Catholic Church worldwide rocked by scandal after scandal as Catholics explored the theme “Eucharist – the core of our faith”.
Father Jay Cartwright frankly told Missioners that church news around the world today was distressing and called for renewal in this season.
“We find ourselves in a bind. We know all too well our own personal sinfulness, our need for renewal – and if that weren’t bad enough it’s no secret that the church in our day and time is in need for renewal. We may have grown used to the constant stream of bad news about events all around us that fills our newspapers, our radio stations and our TV broadcasts, but we expect more don’t we? We expect better when it comes to the church we are a member of and which we profess each Sunday as one Holy Catholic and Apostolic. But some church news around the world in our day quite frankly is distressing. Who hasn’t grown tired of scandal after scandal? The pain and suffering that has been inflicted on vulnerable children and young people is horrific,” said Cartwright.
He also spoke to the cries for change and reforms which he said have not only come from the media, but from the faithful as well. He said thankfully some changes have already been made such as more rigorous screening of seminary candidates and better formation and training for everyone who work with young people. And he said more changes are likely to come in time.
During Lent he said the faithful should be looking at a time of renewal, but that during the season, renewal must go deeper than structured programs and procedures.
The priest did not exclude himself from among people that needed to be renewed in this season, and told the Missioners that came together at Loyola Hall on Gladstone Road, that as a priest and as the preacher chosen to speak on the night he did, that on a fundamental level, he was simply a man who was also in need of deeper conversion and renewal as does everyone else.
“Don’t we all need to return to the Lord?” he asked.
Cartwright recounted the story of a visit he received from an American friend and how he was awestruck by the view as they traversed West Bay Street heading into town. It’s a view that Cartwright said he had seen so many times and ignored, because he was more focused on avoiding any potholes or rough spots on the street. His friend’s reaction he said was enough to cause him to see the view he had seen many times before with new eyes. He recalled not telling his friend that, but simply saying to him that if he thought the view along West Bay Street was beautiful, he should see the beaches on Long Island.
The moral of the priest’s story was that Bahamians live surrounded by beauty which they take for granted. He said its beauty many people spend lots of money on to come to The Bahamas to take in for a few days each year.
He said driving the same streets day in and day out, taking in the same view breeds familiarity and a person no longer sees it. He said that familiarity with their surroundings can make a person blind to it, which he said also holds true for people too.
“We can become so familiar with a friend, or spouse, a family member that we end up taking them for granted. We can even end up closing ourselves off from learning anything new about them. That’s what happened to Jesus when he visited his hometown of Nazareth. The people there said where did this man get all this? What kind of wisdom has been given him? What mighty deeds are worked by his hands? Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary; the brother of James, and Joses (or Joseph) and Jude and Simon and are not his sisters here with us? And they took offence at him. What did Jesus say? In reply, he said a prophet is not without honor, except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”
Cartwright said the people’s familiarity with Jesus and his background, prevented them from recognizing who Jesus really was – the Messiah. And as a result, unfortunately he was not able to perform any mighty deeds there.
That reference, he said, in modern day could also apply to the City-Wide Lenten Mission which many people attend year after year, so-much-so that it’s tradition to attend and they are intimately familiar with it. They know how it used to be and how it is now.
The priest himself has been attending since he was a child, and told of his earliest memory of Mission being when it was held at the Church of God Auditorium on Joe Farrington Road. And of being told that Missions before he started attending took place at the Poinciana Arena, Bernard Road. Of course, he had to ask where that was because it was before his time.
Judging by the audience’s reaction he ascertained that many of them have been attending Mission faithfully since those days, a kind of fidelity that he said is certainly commendable and too rarely seen nowadays. But at the same time he wonders, having attended Mission practically every Lent, no matter where it is held, and being intimately familiar with the program, whether they are still able to recognize it as an opportunity for renewal – a moment for deeper conversion, or whether it had simply become something they do because it’s just what they do. He questioned whether people have become blind to Mission’s potential to change them.
According to the priest, on some level he said he was convinced Catholics attend Mission year after year or each Lent because they are looking for something more – to change for the better; for spiritual growth; for some guidance; a little bit of inspiration; for some consolation. Ultimately, he said people are looking for a deeper relationship with God.
“I certainly enter Lent each year hoping for a change, in need of some real renewal. Year after year at Ash Wednesday at the beginning of this season, we hear the Prophet Joel say ‘Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart’. It never fails that I need to hear those words. I need to return to the Lord,” said Cartwright. “Sometimes in some significant ways, but most years, it’s the small things that can slip by seemingly unnoticed that get me.”
He said he even finds himself looking forward to Lent a season of fasting, penance and alms-giving.
“I look forward to it because it gives another opportunity in a focused way to return to the Lord with the support of the entire community of faith.”
Cartwright said the church is sinful, always in need of renewal and purification, and in need of change for the better, until the fullness of time when God brings his church to the perfection in Christ.
But he told them that the renewal they desperately long for now, they would be unable to bring about on their own no matter how hard they try. Cartwright said the renewal needed can only be found through a return to the Lord by the whole church which he said includes all members – lay men and women, consecrated persons, and even ordained ministers and can only be found in returning to the Eucharistic Lord.
“It is he who makes the church. It is when we gather around the altar at the Eucharistic celebration, led by the successors of the apostles and those who assist them in that ministry that we are made one Holy Catholic and Apostolic. The celebration of the Eucharistic is our moment of return to the Lord – but do we recognize it as such?”
Cartwright said people are intimately familiar with how the Eucharist is celebrated, but they should not allow their familiarity with the celebration to prevent them from recognizing the awesome reality they participate in, as he had taken the view along West Bay Street for granted.
During the Mission week, the priest said the opportunity was present for Catholics to reflect more deeply on the Eucharist, the core of the faith, of which they have only scratched the surface, as the Eucharist is a profound mystery. He said the wealth of its riches, wisdom, knowledge and the grace of Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist cannot be exhausted.
Disengaging the autopilot he said entails recognizing Christ in the Eucharist which moves people to prepare their minds and hearts, by meditating on the readings for the Mass ahead of time; moves them to mend relationships with their brothers and sisters before they approach their Lord God; and pre-supposes a unity or a communion among the members of the body forged in a common faith and baptism and renewed in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, a sacrament which he said people don’t take enough advantage of.
“In consuming the Eucharist we are consumed by the Body of Christ,” he said.
“According to Pope Francis, holiness at its core is experiencing in union with Christ, the mysteries of his life. It consists in uniting ourselves to the Lord’s death and resurrection in a unique and personal way, constantly dying and rising anew with him. But it can also entail reproducing in our own lives, various aspects of Jesus’ earthly life – his hidden life, his life in community, his closeness to the outcast, his poverty and the other ways in which he showed his self-sacrificing love.”
Cartwright said true renewal in and through the Eucharist therefore doesn’t just happen passively or automatically. He said it requires genuine effort and cooperation with the grace freely given through the Sacraments administered by the church.
“True renewal does not leave room for an erroneous division between faith and life as if we could contain Jesus to just a few hours on Sunday, and lock him in a church building. The love of God and the Eucharist moves us to a deep love of our neighbors, especially those who are most difficult or are in the greatest need,” he said.
He urged Catholics to approach the Eucharistic table as often as possible.
“When you are totally consumed by this Eucharistic fire then you will be able more consciously to thank God who has called you to become a part of his family. Then you will enjoy the peace that those who are happy in this world have never experienced, because true happiness does not consist in the pleasures of this world, or in earthly things, but in peace of conscience which we only have if we are pure of heart and of mind,” said Cartwright.
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