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In these days of "surreality" in which we find ourselves - when, to the shock and dismay of many, public celebrations of Holy Mass are suspended - it is striking that the last photo I took in the final session of Atrium before shut down was this one: a child's work with the Eucharistic Presence of the Good Shepherd - International Figures.
As with so many presentations in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the works begin with the youngest child and build upon each other. With the youngest child, these 'pearls' of our faith are given with only the most essential of elements, but then are strung together like a necklace as the child matures and is able to synthesize these pearls and see their collective beauty.
Such is the case with the Eucharistic Presence of the Good Shepherd. The first pearl offered is, of course, the Good Shepherd Himself. This parable is at the heart of the program as indicative of its name. In this parable the children learn that the Good Shepherd knows each of His sheep by name, He cares for them, and He even lays down His life for them. With delight the child responds to this parable of Jesus the Good Shepherd Who loves His sheep so much! And we ponder, "Who are those sheep?" Then we wait on the Holy Spirit as He reveals to them and they come to realize, with profound joy, that they are the sheep.
After the children have come to this understanding that they are the sheep, they are offered the pearl of The Eucharistic Presence of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd calls His sheep by name to the particular sheepfold of the Church. In Baptism they are brought into this sheepfold. It is at the Mass that the Good Shepherd calls His sheep to give Himself completely in the Holy Eucharist. As the Good Shepherd is placed on the altar of this new sheepfold, the sheep are brought over one by one. But we ask again, "Who are those sheep?" As they exclaim, "We are!" the figures of sheep are replaced with figures of people. When the last sheep remains, we note that some sheep are called to a particular
work in the sheepfold of the church. Some are called to be priests of the Good Shepherd. The final sheep is replaced by a figure of a priest and placed behind the altar. The priest has the particular work: to say those words of Jesus at the Last Supper - "Take and eat, this is my body...take and drink, this is my blood" as a miniature paten and chalice is placed on the altar. As the priest says these words, and does this in memory of Jesus, Jesus our Good Shepherd becomes present on the altar. We then ponder that gift of Jesus, given us at every Mass.
In the next moment of this work, the one I presented last week, as we ponder that gift of Jesus' Presence at every Mass, we consider a new question. Is this gift of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist meant only for the people of our parish? It is then that the International figures of people in cultural dress are added to the sheepfold of the church as we ask, "The people of South America, are they invited to this altar of the Good Shepherd? What about those in China? India? Sweden? etc...." And finally, we ponder: "What about those who have already died? Could this altar reach even to those in Heaven? Could the Good Shepherd desire to give Himself to all people, of all times and all places?"
After a time of prayerful reflection, we put the materials away with the understanding that they are available for the children in their prayer-work time. It was in this time of prayer-work that a child asked me to see his work with these materials, and of which I snapped the photo at top. Though not presented in this way, he had set them up to be in line for Holy Communion.
Never could I have imagined that just hours later, reception of Holy Communion would be suspended. As the initial shock (and yes, anger) has sunk in and I am able to step back and consider things more prayerfully, I realize how meaningful it is that this was the last presentation I had given. First, I have come to realize how often I had taken reception of Holy Communion for granted (I have much more personal introspection to consider in that regard!). But I am grateful now for this 'Eucharistic Fast' which is imposed upon us, for I believe it will serve to bring about a greater appreciation of this Gift in future receptions. Second, it has made me unite my longing for Jesus with all those Catholic Christians around the world - whether due to oppression or lack of priests - who are regularly denied Our Lord, not only in Holy Communion but all the Sacraments. We are the Body of Christ; where one suffers, all suffer. May we unite this time while Mass is temporarily suspended, to those who endure an ongoing denial of the Sacraments. And may Jesus Christ, present in all the tabernacles of the world, be praised...by all people, of all times and all places!
By Julia Mead, Director Religious Education, St. Louis Parish
Written as the state of affairs began on Monday, March 16, 2020