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Retreat - The Essentials of the Religious Life
Religious Life and the Holy Eucharist
December 30, 1983 Homily
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
We should expect that the New Code of Canon Law would be very specific in directing religious to be very devoted to the Holy Eucharist. Why? Because the Church has already told us that the Holy Eucharist is the center of every religious community. If the Eucharistic Christ is objectively the center, evidently we should respond by making Christ central in the Eucharist in our lives. Among many passages on the Holy Eucharist in the Code, to be exact pages and pages, the following Canon bears directly on us:
"Each day the members of religious communities are to make every effort to participate in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, to receive the most Holy Body of Christ and to adore the Lord Himself present in the Sacrament."
Three verbs, therefore, the Church's mind and will for us religious regarding the Eucharist. To participate, to receive and to adore. To participate in the sacrifice of the Mass, to receive Holy Communion and to adore the Lord Himself ever in the Blessed Sacrament.
I would like to cover two large aspects of a cosmic subject. Briefly to ask ourselves and briefly answer, what is the Holy Eucharist and at greater length to draw out some very practical and imperative spiritual implications.
What is the Holy Eucharist? No words, surely no human words, can adequately describe what the Catholic Church believes about the Holy Eucharist and no words can explain. Why not? Because over the centuries the Church has taught the Eucharist is The mystery of faith. This mystery implies faith in all the mysteries of Christianity. It implies we believe in the Holy Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit. It implies we believe the Second Person of the Holy Trinity became man, took flesh of His Mother Mary and was born a child at Bethlehem. It implies we believe in Christ's power as God to change the common elements of bread and wine into His Own living Self. It implies that we believe in the power of the Priesthood because we believe that the night before He died, Christ gave the astounding power that He as God has to frail human beings; to do what He had done and ordain them to ordain others to exercise this power until the end of time. Catholicism is priestly Christianity, all other forms are priestless Christianity.
Believing in the mystery of the Eucharist, we believe in Christ's redemption of the world on the cross, that on the cross He merited, gained all the graces that a myriad world would need to be saved. And we finally believe that every time, what Christ did on the Last Supper, is re-enacted; what happened on Calvary, words fail us, but we must say, mysteriously is repeated.
What is the Holy Eucharist? The Holy Eucharist is at once mystery and Sacrament. How is the Eucharist a mystery?
It is a mystery because it is the object of our faith which we believe. It is a sacrament because it is the object of our hope. What we trust that through the Eucharist we obtain from God. Immediately, however, and here following the clear lines of thinkingour present Holy Father more clearly I would say than ever before the Vicar of Christ happily reigning, bids us "look upon the Eucharist from three aspects or if you wish on three levels on the Eucharist as the Real Presence, on the Eucharist as a Real Sacrifice, and on the Eucharist as Real Communion."
We are still answering the question, what is the Holy Eucharist? We rephrase the question - what is the Holy Eucharist as the Mystery of the Real Presence, the object of our faith. We believe that in the Real Presence without qualification is Jesus Christ, the Son of God Who became the Son of Mary; the same one who was born and Who died, Who rose from the dead and is now at the right hand of His Heavenly Father. We believe when we believe in the Real Presence that it is the identical, mathematically, metaphysically, numerically, then we run out of adverbs, the same Jesus Who is in Heaven and is on earth in the Eucharist. This is the object of our faith in the object of the Real Presence.
What is the Eucharist as the Sacrament of the Real Presence? This bears more reflection than I'm afraid many Catholics including sadly many Priests give it. Just because Christ is really present on our altars, His being really on earth, is, we trust, a source of untold grace to all mankind and with emphasis to all believers. When as we read in the Gospels, on one occasion a women is hemorrhaging dares to touch the hem of His garment, Christ wheeled around and asked "Who touched Me?" and His disciples told Him, "Master, Who touched You, everybody is shoving You", 'No' He said, "I know someone touched Me, touched Me not only physically but in faith" listen to this and memorize it, "because I felt power going out from Me", that's it. It's, then, the same Jesus from Whom power goes out because He's here, on those who touch Him by their faith.
How is the Holy Eucharist the Mystery of the Eucharist as Sacrifice? It is that because we believe in this mystery, that through the Mass, Christ channels to all mankind, and again with special emphasis to all believers, the graces He merited by His death on the Cross. Be sure those two verbs are clearly distinguished in your mind; they identify Catholicism with profound accuracy. Of course, we believe that Christ redeemed the world on the cross; He died only once; ah yes, but it is mainly through the Mass in which the Sacrifice of Calvary is re-enacted, that the graces He won, the graces He gained, the graces He obtained, the graces He merited on Calvary, that's finished, that's done, are now being communicated, being channeled, being conferred, being given to a sinful world that now receives what Christ on the cross had gained.
The Eucharist as Sacrament, strange words, is also a sacrament. That's right, the Mass is a sacrament. It is the language of the Church and with emphasis, the language of our present Holy Father. Every Sacrifice of the Mass is a powerful sacrament that confers grace on all who assist, on the language of the Code, who participate, on all the faithful, in fact, on all mankind, mysteriously, still on earth, in the Church struggling, and mankind in the Church suffering in Purgatory.
What is the Holy Eucharist as Holy Communion? It is at once a mystery and a sacrament. As a mystery we believe, we ascent with our minds without comprehending that when we receive Holy Communion, Christ Himself enters into our being; His Body enters our body; His Soul enters our soul; His Mind enters our mind; His Will enters our will and most satisfyingly His Emotions enter ours. Talk about a communion of which all unions between any human beings are only either a reflection or a consequence. Finally, as we have from childhood learned, Holy Communion, needless to say, is a sacrament; but by now let's be sure we remember it is already a sacrament as the Real Presence, it is already a sacrament as the Sacrifice of the Mass, it is now finally a sacrament as Communion. Provided we receive Christ in faith, and let's add in the state of grace, Christ does wonders in all of us, transforming us unlike the bodily food we eat which somehow becomes part of us, this-what the Church calls super-substantial food of the Eucharist transforms us into the One we receive.
What are the implications of the Real Presence, the Mass and Holy Communion in our Religious Life? There are profound implications on both levels as mystery and sacrament. And before I go on let me first stress what I think needs emphasis; yes the Eucharist is both mystery of which we believe and sacrament which gives us hope of the grace we need; but its value as a sacrament is benefit in giving us grace, and God knows we need all the help we can get, depends absolutely on the strength of our faith. The Eucharist as sacrament does indeed confer breathtaking grace but it is up to us, hence implications, it is up to us how much of this grace we receive. In my own home-made definition of religious life, religious life is a life-time effort to grow in faith in order to obtain more and more grace from the Holy Eucharist as Real Presence and Sacrifice and as Holy Communion. If we are to grow in our faith in the mystery of the Real Presence, this means we should reflect on the Real Presence, meditate on the Holy Eucharist, and above all put our faith into practice.
The Real Presence we said is the presence-sacrament. What does this mean? It means that we as religious, I don't hesitate saying this is one of the main reasons for religious life in the Church, that there might be believers who will spend whatever time they can before the Blessed Sacrament. Our presence is to meet the Real Presence of Christ and let me tell you as one who often had to shake himself and remind himself, you so and so do you know where you are, wake up. Christ is really present here, that we might be really present here. I've seen too many people, I want to be kind, dozing off in Chapel which to me is only the external symbol of which we've got to constantly watch, that even though our bodily eyes keep awake, that the eyes of our spirit see in Whose Presence we are.
In the degree to which we are really present before Christ's Real Presence, He will bless us with an awareness of His intimacy that no one on earth has a claim to except the devotee of the Blessed Sacrament. That's the great sacramental grace that Christ confers on those who put their faith in the Real Presence into practice, an ever deepening and sharpening and sweetening of their sense of their constant presence of Christ as a foretaste of that eternal blissful awareness of His Presence in Heaven.
The Eucharist we believe is the Sacrifice-Sacrament. It is then a mystery of faith it is again a source of grace; but if we want to sharpen our faith, pardon the expression, we have got to use the sword of the spirit in cutting, cutting off, in a word by sacrificing ourselves to God's Will; what we naturally like, that's what sacrifice is, the surrender of something precious out of love for God. Everyone, but everyone, we believe receives sacramental grace from all the four thousand some Masses that are daily offered on Catholic altars throughout the world, but as with benefiting from the Eucharist as Present-Sacrament so we as religious obtain grace from the Eucharist as Sacrifice-Sacrament in the measure of our own sincere effort to live lives, of honest to God, sacrifice. Our chastity is nothing if not sacrifice; our poverty, our obedience; our community life, living among what we might think as strange characters; I beg God to enlighten me to use the right words, either religious life is a life of sacrifice or it is sheer hypocrisy and we don't have to go around inventing or spending hours of meditation - gosh I wonder what sacrifices I'll be able to make tomorrow, leave it to the Lord; you sit down to a meal, say you're a good cook yourself, it might be the last meal you would offer to someone else or order if you were in a restaurant yourself. St. Ignatius wanted to make sure that every Jesuit community had at least one sick person in the house and he told the provincial, if there are some houses without sick members; get some.
The Holy Eucharist is at once a mystery and a sacrament of Communion. We believe that the moment we receive Christ in Holy Communion, the living Son of God Who became man, enters us. This is not poetry it is a fact of our faith, the moment we receive Jesus, He is just as truly, because He is the same Jesus, He is just as truly in our bodies as He was in the body of Mary during the nine months she carried Him before His birth. But here is the crowning truth of our faith in the Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist has distinct and unique sacramental grace to confer as presence, it gives us the grace of growing intimacy, an awareness of the nearness and the love of Jesus Christ; as the Sacrament of sacrifice, it enables us to sacrifice more, to be more self-surrendering, self- giving, self-denying as religious; and as Holy Communion; the Church tells us, the distinctive grace of the Eucharist as Communion-Sacrament is to increase our love. Love for Whom? Love for God; shown how, you guessed it - by loving others. Remove Holy Communion from religious life and living in a religious community would be an unendurable agony. The love that Christ tells us as religious we are to show one another in community life, the love that would inspire us to spend ourselves, wear ourselves out for others is made possible only because of Holy Communion.
If all that we've said is true; we believe it is, why is it that after all these years which means perhaps thousands of hours we may have spent before the Real Presence, after the by now again thousands of Sacrifices of the Mass in which we have participated, and the corresponding thousands of Holy Communions we've received where, pray tell, is this marvelous transformation that Christ and His Church promise us from the Holy Eucharist? Two answers and both I ask you to remember. None of us knows, only God does, what we would be now, where we would be, how holy or unholy we'd be, and I can say how unholy we would be except for the Eucharist so far in our lives. But secondly, if the Eucharist has not been more effective, if these phenomenal graces that are assured from the Eucharist as the sacrament of Christ's Presence, sacrifice and communion, if we have not received as much of Christ's blessings as we had hoped, whatever else you gain from this retreat, it's our fault.
Dear Jesus, you became man in order to die on the cross for our salvation, but You have given us the Holy Eucharist in order that from the Eucharist and through the Eucharist we might experience on earth something of the joy of sacrifice and the love of You by loving the unlovable people you put into our lives as a prelude to that ever-lasting Eucharist for which we were made. Help us dear Jesus, to not just believe in the Eucharist, but live it, if need be at the cost of our blood as the Eucharist cost You Your Blood so that when You call us into eternity we will be Eucharistically prepared. Amen.
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