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Father Muench Says...

Finding joy in the Eucharist, as priest

June 15, 2022

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

One of my favorite non-canonized saints is Thomas Merton. He was a Trappist monk and a very popular spiritual author. Since his death in 1969, many books have been written about him and his message. Recently, I began reading a new book about him, “Man of Dialogue” by Gregory Hillis.

I was attracted by one of the chapters in this book that describes Merton’s happiness upon the occasion of his ordination as a priest. I was impressed by this devotion to the sacrament of the Blessed Eucharist from the time of his conversion to the Catholic Church. This devotion became more intense upon his ordination. Now, he would celebrate the Mass himself and consecrate the Blessed Eucharist himself.

I remember well my own joy when I was ordained a priest. I found so much in common with Merton’s excitement at his ordination. I continue to remember how blessed I felt when I could celebrate the Mass those first times, and I continue to find great happiness each time I go to the altar at Mass. I am truly grateful that the Lord has chosen me.

This new book quotes several of Merton’s writings about the Blessed Eucharist and his priesthood. These are taken from his daily Journal which Merton faithfully kept during his life as a monk.

At the time of his conversion to being Catholic, the reception of Holy Communion became the central moment of his life as a Catholic. We are told that as he looked back at his newfound love for the Eucharist, that he carefully wanted his readers to understand that it was not for him a mere ritual, but a moment of profound significance.

Merton often wrote about his faith in the Holy Eucharist. He discovered a God who desires to become one with us through the Eucharist, a God who incorporates us into the divine self out of love.

Merton entered the Trappist Monastery at Gethsemani, Kentucky, in 1941. He was ordained a priest in 1949. I am so impressed by his writing as he expressed his joy as he prepared for his own ordination. He writes: “It seems to me impossible that I should live the next two and a half weeks without keeling over, dying of heart failure, or having the house come down on my head. How can I possible achieve such a wonder as the priesthood? To do the thing that transforms the world and brings health to it and makes you capable of such happiness.”

I do wish I could express my own joy at being a priest as well as Thomas Merton. At one place in his journal, he just blurts out, “I just keep thinking, I shall say Mass, I shall say Mass.” I know that Merton celebrated Mass every day of his life as a monk and priest.

He writes later: “There is only one thing – and that is better than anything else I have done in my life. For six months I have been saying Mass, that one fact is teaching me to live in such a way that I do not care whether I live or die.”

In conclusion, I want to again express my own gratitude to Almighty God, for choosing me to be a priest. I have been given many years as a priest to bring the Lord Jesus to so many through the celebration of the Mass and the Blessed Eucharist. Each time I offer Mass I have been blessed and allowed to say the very same words that the Lord Jesus spoke at the Last Supper. I have been chosen by the Holy Spirit to consecrate the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of my Savior, Jesus. As I do I remember all of you, my friends through this column, and place you on the altar of the Lord.

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