"The bread which I will give, is my flesh for the life of the world." John vi. 52.
SYNOPSIS.Abyss of love of God shown in Holy Communion. When the Redeemer clothed Himself in our flesh, He hid His divinity. In Holy Communion His great love for us induces Him to hide also His humanity. The Holy Eucharist the greatest of the Sacraments. How few there are who appreciate the magnificence of God's grace in this Sacrament.
I. Christ's presence productive of grace. St. Elizabeth, Simeon, Zacheus, St. Peter, Lazarus. In Holy Communion Our Lord not only enters our house, but our hearts. Little appreciation shown by many Christians. The command of the Church.
II. Effects of Holy Communion. 1. Intimate union with Jesus Christ. 2. Receiving the source of all grace. 3. Weakening of our inclination to sin. 4. Holy Communion a pledge of our salvation.
Who among us, dear brethren, could think it possible that Jesus Christ, out of love for His creatures, would have gone so far as to nourish our souls with His adorable body and His precious blood unless He Himself had not assured us of this fact? A soul may receive its Creator, and as often as it desires! O abyss of goodness and love of God for His creatures! When the Redeemer clothed Himself in our flesh, says St. Paul, He hid His divinity and carried His abasement even unto an ignominious death. But in the adorable Sacrament of the Eucharist He, in His boundless love and mercy, hides His humanity also.
Behold, dear brethren, of what the love of a God for His creatures is capable! Of all the Sacraments there is not one that can be compared to the Holy Eucharist. It is true we receive in Baptism the adoption of God, and attain a title to the eternal kingdom of heaven; in the Sacrament of Penance the wounds of our soul are healed, and the friendship of God is restored to us; in the adorable Sacrament of the Eucharist, however, His most precious blood is not only applied us, but we are permitted to receive in reality the divine author of all grace.
But, alas, how few there are who know how to value the magnificence of God's grace! If we properly appreciated the great blessing of our privilege in receiving Jesus Christ we should unceasingly endeavor to deserve it. To give you an idea of the greatness of this blessing, let us consider:
I will not undertake, dear brethren, to describe to you the whole sublimity of this Sacrament, because that is not possible to mortal man; one would be like God Himself to describe the magnitude of this miracle. We shall never cease wondering in the other life and through all eternity, that we miserable men have been allowed to receive so great a God. But in order to give you some idea of the great blessings of this great Sacrament, dear brethren, let us remember that Jesus Christ, during His earthly life, never went anywhere without distributing His richest blessings, and haw great, therefore, and precious must be the gifts received in Holy Communion! In fact, the greatest good of man in this world consists in receiving Jesus Christ in Holy Communion, because Holy Communion is not only profitable and a food for our souls, but also, as we shall see, profitable for our bodies.
We read in the Gospel that Jesus Christ, at His entry into the house of Elizabeth, although He was still enclosed in His Mother's womb, filled Elizabeth and her child with the Holy Ghost; so that John was purified from original sin, and the mother cried out: "Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me." I will leave it to you, dear brethren, to consider how much greater is the good fortune of those who, in Holy Communion, entertain Jesus Christ, not only in their house, but in their hearts; who may retain Him not only for six months, as Elizabeth did, but for the whole time of their lives. If the holy and venerable Simeon, having for so many years ardently desired to behold the Redeemer, and at last, holding Jesus in his arms, was so carried away by joy, and so enraptured, that he cried out, in an ecstasy of love: "O Lord, what more can I wish for upon earth after having with my very eyes beheld the Redeemer of the world? I will now die in peace!" And again, dear brethren, what a difference between holding Him in arms for only a moment, and receiving Him into our hearts at Holy Communion? How little we appreciate our good fortune! When Zacheus heard about Jesus Christ, he had a great desire to see Him, and the great crowd preventing him from seeing, he climbed a tree, and the Lord saw him, and said to him: "Zacheus, come down, for to-day I will enter into thy house." He descended at once, and made the best preparation that he possibly could for the reception of the Redeemer. On entering into his house, the Lord said: "This day is salvation come to this house." Moved by the kindness of Jesus Christ, Zacheus cried out: "Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have wronged any man of anything, I restore him fourfold." And thus the visit of Jesus Christ made a great saint of a great sinner. As Jesus, the Gospel informs us, entered into the house of St. Peter, the latter begged Him to cure his mother-in-law, who was suffering from a violent fever. Jesus Christ commanded the fever to leave her, and she was cured immediately and waited upon the guests at table. What was it that moved the Saviour to raise Lazarus out of death, after he had been dead for four days? It was because Lazarus had so often entertained Him in his house; therefore, our Lord showed such an attachment for him that He shed tears. On other occasions Jesus was implored by people to save their lives, other asked Him to heal their bodies, and no one went away without having obtained what he wanted. Is not this proof that He is always ready to grant all things which we ask of Him? What graces will He not shower upon us when He comes into our hearts, there to take up His abode? Who can understand the happiness of a Christian who, well prepared, receives Jesus Christ into his heart, which thereby becomes part of heaven?
But, you will ask, why is it that the greater number of Christians show so little appreciation for this happiness? How is it that many of them think little of it, and even mock those who often partake of it? These poor unfortunate people have simply never known nor enjoyed this great happiness. What happiness it is for a believing Christian to arise from the sacred banquet, and go forth with heaven in his heart! Fortunate is the house in which such Christians dwell! To possess in one's own house a tabernacle in which God is enthroned!
You will want to know, perhaps, if this happiness is so great, why the Church only commands us to receive Communion once a year? This command is not given for good Christians, but for the lax and indifferent Christians, for the good of their poor souls.
In the early Church it was the greatest punishment for a Christian to be deprived of Holy Communion. The early Christians were allowed to receive every time they assisted at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. When the Church saw that many Christians neglected the salvation of their poor souls, she gave them the command to communicate three times a year, at Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, hoping that the fear of sinning against this command would open their eyes. But when, in the course of time, Christians became even less zealous of the salvation of their souls, she made it their duty to receive Holy Communion at least once a year. How unhappy and blind is the Christian who must be compelled by law to partake of this great happiness! If, my dear brethren, you had no other sins upon your conscience but the neglect of your Easter duty, you would be eternally lost. Now tell me what inducement is there for your letting your soul fall into such a sad state? You say you are happy and contented. If I could only believe you! But where do you find your peace and contentment? Is it found in the thought that the soul awaits the moment of death only to be cast into hell? or, perhaps, because the devil is your master? How blind and unhappy is man when he has lost the faith!
All the Fathers teach us that by the reception of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion we receive thousandfold blessings for time and eternity; in fact, this is such a fundamental truth that even a child, to the question, "Should we desire ardently to receive Holy Communion?" would answer, "Yes, indeed." "And why?" "On account of the excellent effects which it produces within us." "And what are these effects?" "Holy Communion unites us most intimately with Jesus Christ, weakens our inclinations to do evil, strengthens the life of grace within us, and is for us the foundation and the pledge of eternal life."
I said: 1. Holy Communion unites us most intimately with Jesus Christ. This union is so intimate, dear brethren, that Jesus Christ Himself says: "He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him, for my flesh is meat indeed; and my blood is drink indeed." Consequently, dear brethren, upon receiving Holy Communion, the adorable blood of Jesus Christ really flows in our veins, His flesh is really blended with ours; and for this reason St. Paul says: "It is not I who acts and thinks, but Jesus Christ acts and thinks in me. I do not live," he says, "but Christ liveth in me."
2. By receiving Jesus Christ in Holy Communion we receive an abundance of graces; by receiving Jesus Christ we receive the source of every blessing. Those who receive Jesus Christ feel their faith strengthened, and they are more thoroughly impregnated with the truths of their holy religion; they realize more clearly the enormity and the danger of sin; the thought of judgment frightens them more; the misfortune of the loss of God is more perceptible to them. In Holy Communion our courage is fortified; we are strong to combat, our actions are guided by purer motives, our charity increases more and more. The thought that we carry Jesus in our hearts, the rapture which we experience at that blissful moment, unites and binds us so much with God that our heart thinks of and desires but God alone. This, dear brethren, is one of the effects which Holy Communion produces in us, if we are so happy as to receive Jesus Christ worthily.
3. Holy Communion weakens our inclination to evil. It is very easy to perceive this. The most precious blood of Jesus which flows in our veins, and His adorable body which is blended with ours, must necessarily destroy, or at least weaken greatly, our inclination to evil, produced in us by Adam's sin. It is certain, dear brethren, that after receiving Holy Communion we feel a new desire for heavenly and a fresh contempt for material things. How can pride enter into a heart which has just received a God who, by His entrance into this heart, has abased Himself unto self-privation? Would not a heart having received a God so pure, indeed holiness Himself, feel the greatest horror of the sin of impurity? Would a Christian having received Jesus Christ, who died for his enemies, wish harm to those who have offended him? Certainly not: it would give him pleasure to do good to them as much as lay in his power. Therefore, St. Bernard said to his monks: "My sons, when you feel less inclined to evil and more inclined to good, thank Jesus Christ who has granted you this grace in Holy Communion."
4. Holy Communion is a pledge to us of eternal life; that is to say, Holy Communion endows us with the expectation of heaven, with an assurance that heaven will one day be our abode. Moreover, Jesus Christ will cause our bodies at the resurrection to appear the more glorious the oftener we have received Him worthily.
Yes, dear brethren, if we really knew how to appreciate the greatness of this happiness, we should not care to live unless we were allowed to receive Jesus Christ as our daily food. We should consider all created things as not worth having; we should despise them, and give ourselves to God alone, and our aim would be to become daily more worthy to receive Him.
If such are the happiness and blessings, resulting from the worthy reception of this Sacrament, should we not strive to make ourselves worthy of receiving it frequently? The effects explained to you in this discourse we would all wish to have produced within us; therefore, I exhort you, venerate this great Sacrament and live so as to be able to receive your Lord and God, and to partake of His grace and blessing, so that at the end of time you shall, according to His own words, be raised from death to life everlasting, which I wish you all. Amen.