By PEDRO MENDEZ
CONNECTING FAITH AND LIFE
He was a thief, a schemer and a deceiver. He built his economic empire by living the rat race. He had two wives, 11 children, two maids and livestock. He was now restarting his life. He was on his way to reconcile with his brother, from whom he had stolen a blessing. Afraid of his brother and at the lowest point of his life, he decided to be alone. In that lonely night, an unknown man wrestled with him until daybreak. Unable to prevail, the unknown man struck him on the hip socket leaving his hip out of the joint. At daybreak, this unknown man begged him to let him go but he refused until the unknown man blessed him. This unknown man replied: “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven (wrestled) with God and with humans, and have prevailed” (Genesis 32:28).
The Church, without replacing Israel, is the new People of God; the new Israel! The Church is the community of believers called to wrestle with God and with humans, and to prevail! We are wrestlers by nature! We need to claim our capacity to wrestle with God and man as we start our Eucharistic Renewal. The Eucharistic Renewal will not happen primarily through the completion of parish, diocesan, and national activities – which are highly encouraged – but by the wrestling with God in the fields of our conscience – the core of who we are – and intellect.
Wrestling with God is the spiritual struggle fought in our conscience and intellect – the places where our deeper convictions reside. Wrestling with God is our response to the longing that God placed in us for him and for truth. Avoiding wrestling with God is not natural to who we are and our longing for him. There is a saying in Spanish: “tragar entero” meaning “to swallow whole.” Not wrestling is “to swallow the Church’s teaching whole,” i.e. to accept the Church’s teachings without chewing it up or, in spiritual language, without reflecting on them. The result of not chewing food is the risk of choking, but also not enjoying the food. We are not chewing or wrestling with God, thus we are choking; according to a Pew Research survey, 69% of Catholics do not believe in the real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist!
Have we wrestled with God and man on the Eucharist? Have we accepted the teachings of the Holy Eucharist by swallowing whole the biblical and Church’s teachings without any spiritual struggle? The person who does not wrestle with the Church’s teachings or just swallows them up despairs in times of illness, death, and tragedy. The wrestler hopes amid unbearable suffering and even death.
In the wrestling, God, the unknown man, struck Jacob on the hip socket. The hip is a wrestler’s core to fight. So, God struck Jacob’s core! In wrestling with him, God will strike our core and take away all that is not his and all that takes his place, including the false images of Jesus created out of our own needs, desires, and fantasies (idols). Jacob said after wrestling with God: “I have seen God face to face” (Genesis 32:30). Wrestling is not about convincing ourselves of the Church's teaching, but allowing God to reveal himself to us and to convince us of all truth. He wants to reveal himself to us, and we need God himself. It is better to go “limping” with certainty of God’s presence than “walking” well but with spiritual blindness.
In future columns, I will reflect on wrestling with God and men on the Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist under several topics, including the Holy Spirit’s work; prayer; liturgy; Sacred Scriptures; sin; religious/popular piety; worship; secularism; and the beliefs of other Christian denominations. I will go in-depth on several aspects of Jacob’s life and story in comparison to us, the Church, on personal and communal levels.
It is time to wrestle! Don’t swallow whole! Wrestle until it hurts!
The Eucharistic Renewal will happen in the wrestling with God and man in our consciences and intellects. Are you ready to wrestle with God and man – and prevail?
Pedro Mendez is a husband, a father of four boys, a parishioner at Good Shepherd Parish in Evansville and a Board Certified Chaplain. He can be reached by email at [email protected].