Ask Father Hardon
Vol. 2 - #1, Jan / Feb 1996
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Q. Our Lord said that unless we eat His flesh and drink
His blood we will not have eternal life. Is it possible to become holy without receiving
the Holy Eucharist? E.G.C., New Hampshire
A. This question is one of the most important in Christian spirituality.
In order to answer the question we must correlate two occasions in which
our Lord used the strongest language possible to express His mind. The first
occasion is described in the third chapter of St. Johns Gospel; the second
is in the sixth chapter of the same evangelist.
In His dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus tells him, Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. When Nicodemus
objected whether this meant entering our mothers womb a second time and being
born again, Jesus reaffirmed what He had just said, Amen, amen, I say to
you, unless a man be born again of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into
the kingdom of God (John 3:3,5).
Three chapters later, the evangelist describes Christs discourse on the
Eucharist. He had just told the people that I am the living bread that has
come down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever;
and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. This
was too much. The Jews began to argue among themselves, How can this man
give us His flesh to eat?
It was at this point that Christ repeated the same universal negative that
He had expressed in declaring the necessity of baptism for salvation. This
time, Jesus said, Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the
Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you (John 6:51-52, 54).
We return to the original question, whether it is
possible to become holy without receiving the Holy Eucharist. The key word
in both the third and sixth chapters of Johns Gospel is the word life.
In the third chapter, Christ is telling His followers that they must be
baptized in order to receive the supernatural life which the human race had
lost by the sin of our first parents. Baptism is necessary to regain this
share in the life of God which we need to reach heaven.
However, the Church recognizes there is such a thing as baptism of desire.
As explained by the Second Vatican Council, Those who through no fault of
their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless
seek God with a sincere heart, and, who by grace, try in their actions to
do His will as they know it to the dictates of their conscience
those too may achieve eternal salvation (Constitution on the Church, no.16).
We return to the original question. The same principle that we have just
explained regarding baptism of desire applies to the Eucharist of desire.
Most of the human race does not have the Christian faith, and therefore does
not have access to the graces which Christ gives to those believers who receive
His body and blood in Holy Communion.
Can these millions of non-Christians, or even non-Catholics, nevertheless
benefit from Christs Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament? Yes, on the
same conditions spelled out by the Second Vatican Council for baptism of desire.
But immediately we must add an important proviso. Certainly those who in
good faith do not receive our Lord in Holy Communion can receive grace from
Jesus Christ. What we cannot say is that they receive the same measure of
grace that only receiving the Holy Eucharist can confer.
One last word. Absolutely speaking it is possible to be pleasing to God
even without being nourished by the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.
But we should not say that a person can become holy, as Christianity understands
holiness, without receiving the Holy Eucharist.
Q. What is the Churchs position regarding the
role of mothers in staying home to take care of their children? S.K.M., California
A. The Churchs position is uncompromising. There is nothing which
should take precedence over the mother being free, in every sense of the word, to mother
the children she has brought into the world.
Pope John Paul II issued a memorable document, Letter to Families, for
the International Year of the Family which began on the Feast of Christs
Presentation, February 2, 1994.
In this document, the Holy Father addressed himself to the two issues of
unemployment and mothers working outside the home.
Regarding the first issue, the Pope writes, Unemployment is today one of
the most serious threats to family rights and a rightful concern to every
society. In countries like the United States, where the majority of employees
are women, unemployment for men poses a serious threat to families. The Churchs
tradition of a just wage is the wage that the father of a family needs to
support himself, his wife and his children. Even in a country like America,
thousands of families are suffering either because they lack adequate financial
support or because the mother is working and cannot adequately care for the
In the same document, the Pope makes an urgent plea for giving mothers the
freedom to remain at home with their children.
While speaking about employment in reference to the family, it is appropriate
to emphasize how important and burdensome is the work women do within the
family unit: that work should be acknowledged and deeply appreciated. The
toil of a woman who, having given birth to a child, nourishes and cares for
that child and devotes herself to its upbringing, particularly in the early
years, is so great as to be comparable to any professional work. This ought
to be clearly stated and upheld, no less than any other labor right. Motherhood,
because of all the hard work it entails, should be recognized as giving the
right to financial benefits, at least equal to those of other kinds of work
undertaken in order to support the family during such a delicate phase of
In the light of this teaching of the Vicar of Christ, the Churchs position
is clear regarding the role of mothers staying home to take care of their
children. On moral grounds, I would say the obligation of mothers to remain
at home with their children is very grave. Nothing, humanly speaking, should
be allowed to interfere with this most serious duty.
In materially developed countries, there are many temptations for mothers
to work outside the home. So-called day care centers in America, which lure
mothers from their homes and their children, are reminiscent of Communist
Russia where women were emancipated from the drudgery of caring for their
children in order to serve the interests of an atheistic State.
Vol. 2 - #1, Jan / Feb 1996
Copyright © 1996 by Inter Mirifica
No reproductions shall be made without prior written permission