The Holy Eucharist:
Foundation for Fostering the Christian Family
and Rebuilding Christian Civilization
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Our present meditation is on the Holy Eucharist
as the bedrock foundation for the Christian family and for rebuilding Christian
civilization throughout the world. What I wish to stress is two words in the
title of this conference: "Foundation" and "Rebuilding."
Our focus, therefore, will be to explain how and why devotion to the Holy Eucharist
is necessary as the divinely ordained foundation for Christian families; and
how Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is our only hope for rebuilding a
civilization based on the values of authentic Christianity.
It is remarkable how people can lose sight of the obvious and how they can
be mislead by error or ignorance of the truth.
Foundation for Fostering the Christian Family
As we saw in our opening conference, the two virtues
which Christ in the Blessed Sacrament enables us to practice are charity and
chastity. Christian charity, we saw, is the love of others modeled on the love
of Jesus Christ for us, a love that was willing to die on the cross for us sinners.
Without this love there cannot be a Christian family. It was this kind
of love which the early Christians practiced and thereby converted whole nations
to Jesus Christ.
When Christianity entered the Roman empire, the followers of Christ were at
first ignored, then opposed, then persecuted, then legally forbidden to practice
their faith, as the underground catacombs below the city of Rome dramatically
reveal. Christians were thrown to the lions, burned to death, drowned, and crucified.
Yet, instead of being eradicated, they multiplied. Why?
- Because they practiced a charity which the
pagans came to realize was a witness to superhuman power,
- Because persecuted Christians loved their persecutors,
- Because the more Christianity was opposed,
the more widely it spread,
- Because Christians, unlike their pagan contemporaries,
did not practice polygamy, or homosexuality, or contraception, or abortion,
What we have just described is common knowledge
to anyone who knows the history of the early Church. What is not so well known,
however, is that the early Christians had a phenomenal devotion to the Holy
Eucharist. They participated in Mass and received Holy Communion every day.
You might say they had to. To become a Christian was to expect martyrdom. Whatever
else martyrs need, they need extraordinary help from God. Where else to receive
this help than from Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist? Christ could not have
been clearer. He told us -- Without Him we can do nothing on the way to our eternal destination,
then, seeing the beauties of nature they could conclude to the existence of
a creator who produced His beauty in the world in which we live.
But once God took on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin
Mary, the most significant event in human history took place. The God who had
always been on earth by His almighty, sustaining presence, began to be present
as man. The child in Mary's womb had flesh and blood like His Mother. He received
a soul which animated His body. He was born at Bethlehem and, as a child, had
to be nursed at His Mother's breasts. As Saint Luke tells us, He grew in age
and wisdom and in the grace of God. He slept and ate and talked and became tired
like the rest of us.
When He spoke to His fellow Nazarenes in their town synagogue,
His listeners were dumbfounded with anger at the alleged claim that He was indeed
the one predicted by Isaiah, whom the prophet had foretold would be the Emmanuel,
that is, God with us.
During His whole public ministry, Christ's most difficult
teaching to accept by His contemporaries was that He, though man, was the living
God. When some Jews in their livid anger at what they thought were His mad pretensions
picked up stones to kill Him; when He asked them, "Why do you want to kill
me, is it because of the good works I have done among you? They retorted, It
is not because of the good works you have done, but because you, though a man,
make yourself equal to God. The Greek word in Saint Johns gospel for equal
is isos. As we know from what we call the isosceles triangle, isos
in Greek means mathematical identity. The Jews were scandalized at what they
considered the blasphemy of a mere man claiming to be mathematically equal to
During His Passion, Christ was charged with a variety of
crimes. But the peak of those crimes was Christs claim to being not only the
Messiah but the Messiah whom the ancient prophets foretold would be the God
who became man.
All the foregoing was necessary to bring out what is the
first reason why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so powerful with God.
It is so powerful because it is animated by faith in the divinity of Christ.
It is impossible to exaggerate how crucially important this is. I really believe
that many, if not most, Catholics do not fully realize that Jesus Christ in
the Blessed Sacrament is God become man. It is faith in the humanity of Christ.
It is faith in Mary having given her divine Son a share in her own flesh and
blood. It is faith in Jesus Christ not only as a historical memory, but faith
in a present, geographic, local presence in our midst no 1ess than He was present
to His disciples at the Last Supper or present to them after His resurrection
when He told them to see and touch His risen body and even ate in their presence.
All of this is the first reason why prayer before the Blessed
Sacrament is able to move omnipotence to work signs and wonders that only believers
have a right to expect from Jesus Christ.
Faith in the True Humanity of Jesus Christ
No human language can ever express the full meaning
of a divine mystery. Among these mysteries none is deeper or less humanly expressible
than the true humanity assumed by the Son of God at the Annunciation to the
Virgin Mary. What do we believe about Christ's humanity when we pray before
the Blessed Sacrament? Do we merely believe that when God became man, He united
Himself very, very closely to a human person by the name of Jesus Christ? No,
that would be the Nestorian heresy, which claims that Christ is really two persons,
one human and the other divine, and therefore Mary is not really the Mother
of God. She is, on these terms, only the Mother of the man Jesus.
Do we believe that when God became man He somehow abstractly
became united with humanity? Do we believe that God in His love for the human
race united Himself in spirit with the human race? No, that would be at most
a symbolic or even metaphorical union of the divinity with the humanity.
When we pray before the Blessed Sacrament, do we believe
that God became man by taking on the substance of man's human nature; that Christ
as man is human, indeed, but that humanity is merely the substance of what makes
a man man? No, Christ is not only human in sharing with us the bare essentials
of our humanhood, but minus our body and flesh and features and emotions and
thoughts and mind and will. No, among the heresies condemned by the Church was
the claim that God never assumed a human will. Called monotheletism, it claimed
that Christ did not need a human will. What can a human will add to the divine
will, so it was objected.
What must we say, when we pray before the Blessed
Sacrament? We must say it because we believe that the Holy Eucharist contains
the whole Christ. The Council of Trent which defined that under the external
species of what used to be bread and wine is now present the totus Christus.
This means everything that makes Christ Christ is present in the Holy Eucharist.
This includes His body and soul, His mind and will, His emotions and feelings,
His bodily faculties and, with emphasis, His human heart. By the end of the
sixteenth century, Saint Robert Bellarmine counted two hundred interpretations
among the so called protestant reformers, on the words of Christ at the Last
Supper, "This is my body... this is my blood." It is not common knowledge
that the main reason for the divisions in protestantism, over four thousand
denominations throughout the world, is their divergent interpretation of what
we call the Real Presence. There is no divergence among believing and understanding
Catholics. The Real Presence is Jesus Christ. When we speak to Him before the
Blessed Sacrament, we must say that He hears us not only as the all-wise God
but as man who has human ears to hear us and human feelings to experience and
sympathize with our emotions.
Faith in Christ's Death and Resurrection
We go on. Remember our focus in this meditation. We are
concentrating on why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so powerful in soliciting
the graces of God. It is so powerful because it is animated by faith in the
deepest mysteries of Christianity. What do we believe when we talk to Our Lord
in the Holy Eucharist? We believe that He underwent His Passion and died on
the cross by shedding His blood for our redemption. We believe that His sufferings
began the moment He was conceived in His Mother's womb; that they were aggravated
during His public ministry when so many of His Jewish contemporaries rejected
Him. We believe that the peak of His internal sufferings was reached in the
Garden of Gethsemane when He shed blood in agony as He anticipated not only
His bloody death on Calvary but the rejection by so many human beings in the
future centuries of human time. We believe that the Christ whom we are worshipping
in the Blessed Sacrament is the One who was nailed to the cross, who had His
side pierced with a soldier's lance, and who was buried in a stranger's tomb.
All the while, we know that the Jesus to whom we are praying in the Blessed
Sacrament is now the risen and glorified Christ. We believe that He truly ascended
into heaven forty days after His resurrection and is now seated at the right
hand of His heavenly Father. But we also believe that Jesus is not only in heaven
in His glorified humanity. We believe that He is also on earth in that same
glorified humanity. We dare not say there is any real difference between the
Jesus in heaven and the Jesus now on earth. We believe, as Saint Thomas Aquinas
reminds us in the Tantum Ergo, what our senses fail to perceive. In this
Eucharistic hymn, we sing Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui,
which in English translates, "Let our faith supply for the defects of our
senses." Our senses perceive only what looks and tastes like bread and
wine. But our faith tells us these are not bread and wine; they are Jesus Christ
in the fullness of His risen humanity united, of course, with the Second Person
of the Blessed Trinity.
Faith in the Continued Physical Presence of the Risen Christ
Any instructed Catholic knows that the Holy Eucharist is
the Real Presence. What not everyone understands is what the Real Presence means.
The expression "Real Presence" was coined by the Church to answer
the heretical charges that Christ is present only symbolically or spiritually
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