Monday, 24 January 2011

Preparation for Death - Consideration XXXIV

Holy Communion.
“Take ye, and eat: this is my body.” – Matt. xxvi. 26.
The Eucharist is a Precious Gift.
Let us consider the great gift which Jesus Christ has bestowed on us in the institution of the Most Holy Sacrament; the great love he has shown to us in this gift; and his great desire that we should receive this gift. Let us, in the first place, consider the great gift which Jesus Christ has bestowed upon us in giving us himself entirely for our food in the Holy Communion. St. Augustine says that Jesus Christ, though an omnipotent God, has nothing more to give us.1 And what greater treasure, adds St. Bernardine of Sienna, can a soul receive or desire, than the sacred body of Jesus Christ?2 The prophet Isaias exclaims: Make His works known among the people.3 O men! proclaim aloud the loving inventions of our good God. And if our Redeemer had not bestowed this gift upon us, who among us could have asked it? Who could have dared to say to him: Lord, if Thou wishest to make us understand Thy love, remain under the species of bread, and permit us to make Thee our food? Even to think of it would be considered folly. “Does it not,” says St. Augustine, “appear foolishness to say, eat my flesh – drink my blood?”4 When Jesus Christ made known to his disciples this great gift of the Most Holy Sacrament which he wished to leave us, they could not bring themselves to believe it; and, therefore, they departed from him, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat? . . . This saying is hard, and who can hear it?5 But, what men could never imagine, the great love of Jesus Christ has invented and executed.
St. Bernard me says that the Lord has left us this sacrament as a memorial of the love he has shown us in his Passion.6 And this accords with what Jesus Christ himself has said: Do this for a commemoration of Me.7 The love of our Saviour, adds St. Bernardine, was not content with sacrificing his life for our salvation: before his death this love constrained him to bequeath to us the greatest gift which he had ever bestowed upon us, by giving us himself for our food.8 The Abbot Guerric says that, in this sacrament, Jesus made the last effort of love.9 This was better expressed by the Council of Trent, which declared that, in the Eucharist, Jesus poured out all the riches of his love for men.10
How great, says St. Francis de Sales, the tenderness of love which a prince would show to a beggar by sending him a part of what he had on his own plate! How much greater would it be if he sent him the entire of his own dinner! But what would it be, if he sent him, for his food, a part of his own arm! In Holy Communion, Jesus gives us not only a portion of his own dinner, not only a part, but the entire of his body. Take ye, and eat: this is My body.11 And with his body he gives us his soul and his divinity. In a word, St. Chrysostom says that in giving you himself in Holy Communion, he gives you all that he has, and reserves nothing for himself.12 And the angelic Doctor says that, “in the Eucharist, God has given us all that he is and has.”13 Behold! exclaims St. Bonaventure, that God whom the world cannot contain makes himself our prisoner in the Most Holy Sacrament.14 And since the Lord gives himself entirely to us in the Eucharist, how can we fear that he will refuse us any grace which we ask of him? How, says St. Paul, hath He not also, with Him, given us all things.15
Affections and Prayers.
O my Jesus! what has induced Thee to give Thyself entirely to us for our food? After this gift, what more remains for Thee to give us in order to oblige us to love Thee? Ah, Lord! give us light, make us understand the excess of Thy love in becoming food in order to unite Thyself to poor sinners! But, if Thou givest Thyself entirely to us, it is just that we too give our whole being to Thee. O my Redeemer! how have I been able to offend Thee, who hast loved me so tenderly, and who hast done so much to gain my love? Thou hast become man for my sake, Thou hast died for me, Thou hast become my food; tell me, what more couldst Thou have done? I love Thee, O infinite Goodness! I love Thee, O infinite Love! Lord, come often to my soul; inflame my whole heart with Thy holy love; grant that I may forget all things in order to think only of Thee, and to love nothing but Thee. Most Holy Mary, pray for me, and, by thy intercession, make me worthy to receive thy Son frequently in the Holy Sacrament.
The Eucharist is a Gift of Love.
Let us consider, in the second place, the great love which Jesus Christ has shown us in giving us himself in the Holy Eucharist. The Most Holy Sacrament is a gift which has proceeded from pure love. For our salvation it was necessary, according to the decree of God, that the Redeemer should die, and, by the sacrifice of his life, satisfy the divine justice for our sins; but what necessity was there that Jesus Christ, after having died for our redemption, should leave himself to us for our food? But this his love wished to do. He, says St. Laurence Justinian, instituted the Eucharist for no other purpose than to show his great charity, for no other purpose than to make us understand the immense love which he bears us.16 This is precisely what St. John has written: Jesus, knowing that His hour was come that He should pass out of this world to the Father: having loved His own, He loved them to the end.17 Knowing that the time of his departure from this earth had arrived, he wished to give us the greatest proof of his love, by bequeathing to us this gift of the Most Holy Sacrament. This is the precise meaning of the words, He loved them to the end; that is, according to Theophilactus and St. Chrysostom, “he loved them with an extreme love.”18
And mark what the apostle has observed – that the time at which Jesus Christ wished to bequeath this gift was the time of his death. The Lord Jesus, the same night on which He was betrayed, took bread, and, giving thanks, broke, and said “Take ye, and eat: this is My body.”19 At the very time that men prepared for him scourges, thorns, and a cross to crucify him, the loving Saviour wished to leave us this the last proof of his love. And why at death, and not before that time, did he institute this sacrament? Because, says St. Bernardine, the marks of love given by friends at death make a greater impression on the memory, and are preserved with greater affection.20 Jesus Christ, says the saint, had already given himself to us in many ways: he had given himself to us for a companion, a master, a father; for our light and our victim. The last degree of love remained; and this was, to give himself to us for our food in order to unite himself entirely to us, as food is united with him who eats it.21 This he has done by giving himself to us in the Most Holy Sacrament. Thus, our Redeemer was not content with uniting himself only to our human nature: he wished by this sacrament to find a means of also uniting himself to each of us in particular.
St. Francis de Sales says “that in no other action can the Saviour be considered more tender or more loving than in the institution of the Holy Eucharist; in which he, as it were, annihilates himself, and becomes food, in order to penetrate our souls, and to unite himself to the hearts of his faithful servants.” Thus, says St. Chrysostom, with that Lord on whom the angels dare not fix their eyes, we are united, and are made one body and one flesh.22 What shepherd, adds the saint, has ever fed his sheep with his own blood? Even mothers intrust their children to the care of nurses. But Jesus, in the sacrament, nourishes us with his own blood, and unites us to himself.23 And why become our food? Because, says the saint, he loved us ardently, and by making himself our food, he wished to unite himself entirely to us, and to make himself one thing with us.24 Then Jesus Christ wished to perform the greatest of his miracles (He hath made a remembrance of His wonderful works; He hath given food to them that fear Him25) in order to satisfy his desire of remaining with us, and of uniting in one, our heart and his own most holy heart. “O wonderful is Thy love, O Lord Jesus!” exclaims St. Laurence Justinian, “who wished to incorporate us in such a manner with Thyself, that we should have one heart and one soul inseparably united with Thee.”26
That great servant of God, Father de la Colombière, used to say: If anything could shake my faith in the mystery of the Eucharist, I would not doubt of the power, but rather of the love, which God displays in this sacrament. If you ask me how bread becomes the body of Jesus – how Jesus is found in many places, I answer that God can do all things. But if you ask me how it is that God loves men so as to make himself their food, I can only say that I do not understand it, and that the love of Jesus cannot be comprehended. But, O Lord! to reduce Thyself to the condition of food, appears to be an excess of love not suited to Thy majesty. But St. Bernard’s answer is, that love makes lovers forget their own dignity.27 St. Chrysostom also answers that love seeks not what is convenient when there is question of making itself known to the beloved; it goes not where it ought, but where it is carried by the ardor of its desire.28 Justly, then, has the angelic Doctor called this sacrament “a sacrament of love – a pledge of love.”29 And St. Bernard calls it love of loves. St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi used to call Holy Thursday, the day on which this sacrament was instituted, the day of love.
Affections and Prayers.
O infinite love of Jesus, worthy of infinite love! Ah! my Jesus, when shall I love Thee as Thou hast loved me? Thou couldst do nothing more to make me love Thee; and I have forsaken Thee, O infinite Good! for the sake of vile and miserable goods! Ah! enlighten me, O my God! discover to me always more and more the greatness of Thy goodness, that my whole soul may be enamoured of Thee, and that I may labor to please Thee. I love Thee, O my Jesus! my love, my all; and I wish to unite myself frequently to Thee in this sacrament, in order to detach myself from all things, and to love Thee alone, who art my life. Through the merits of Thy Passion, assist me, O my Redeemer! O Mother of Jesus, and my Mother! do thou, too, assist me; beg of him to inflame my whole heart with his holy love.
How much Jesus Christ desires to Unite Himself to us.
Let us, in the third place, consider the great ardor with which Jesus Christ desires that we should receive him in Holy Communion. Jesus knowing that His hour was come.30 But how could Jesus call the night on which his bitter Passion should commence, His hour? He calls it His hour, because on that night he was to institute this divine sacrament in order to unite himself entirely to his beloved souls. This desire made him say: With desire I have desired to eat this pasch with you.31 Words by which the Redeemer wished to show us the great ardor with which he desired to unite himself to each of us in this sacrament. With desire I have desired. Words which, according to St. Laurence Justinian, proceeded from his immense love for us. This is the language of the most burning love.32 The Redeemer wished to give himself to us under the appearance of bread, that all might be able to receive him. Had he given himself to us under the appearance of costly food, the poor would not be able to receive him, and had he instituted the Holy Sacrament under the appearance of any other cheap food, this perhaps would not be found in all parts of the world. Jesus wished to leave himself under the species of bread, because it costs but little, and is found in every country: so that all persons in all places may find him and receive him.
Through his great desire that we should receive him, the Redeemer not only presses us to receive him by so many invitations: Come, eat My bread, and drink the wine which I have mingled for you.33 Eat, O friends, and drink, and be inebriated, My dearly beloved,34 but he also commands us to receive him. Take ye, and eat: this is My body.35 Moreover, he endeavors to allure us to the holy table by promises of eternal life. He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, hath life everlasting. He that eateth this bread shall live forever.36 He also threatens to exclude from paradise all who neglect to receive him in the holy sacrament. Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.37 These invitations, promises, and threats all proceed from the ardent desire of Jesus Christ to unite himself to us in this sacrament. And this desire springs from the great love which he bears us: for, as St. Francis de Sales says, the end of love is nothing else than to be united with the object of love. And because in this sacrament Jesus unites himself entirely to the soul – He that eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me and I in him.38 Therefore he desires so ardently that we should receive him. Our Lord said one day to St. Mechtilde: “The bee does not cast itself on the flower from which it sucks the honey, with as much ardor as I come to the soul that desires to receive me.”
Oh! If the faithful understood the great blessing which Holy Communion brings to the soul! Jesus is the Lord of all riches; for his Father has made him master of all things. Knowing that the Father had given Him all things into His hands.39 Hence, when Jesus Christ comes to a soul in Holy Communion, he brings with him immense treasures of graces. Now all good things, says Solomon, speaking of the eternal wisdom, came to me together with her.40
St. Denis says that the Most Holy Sacrament has the greatest efficacy in sanctifying the soul.41 And St. Vincent Ferrer asserts that the soul derives greater profit from one Communion, than from fasting for a week on bread and water. The Communion, as the Council of Trent teaches, is that great remedy which delivers us from venial, and preserves us from mortal sins.42 Hence St. Ignatius, martyr, has called the Most Holy Sacrament the medicine of immortality.43 Innocent III has said that, by his Passion, Jesus Christ has delivered us from the punishment of sin; but, by the Eucharist, he preserves us from the commission of sin.44
Moreover, this sacrament kindles the fire of divine love. He brought me into the cellar of wine; he set in order charity in me. Stay me up with flowers, compass me about with apples; because I languish with love.45 St. Gregory of Nyssa says that Holy Communion is this cellar of wine, in which the soul is so inebriated with divine love, that she forgets the earth and all creatures: it is thus the soul languishes with holy charity. The Venerable Father Francis Olimpio, of the Order of Theatines, used to say that there is nothing that so powerfully inflames the soul with divine love, as Holy Communion. God is love and a fire of love. God is charity.46 My God is a consuming fire.47 And this fire of love the Eternal Word came to light upon the earth. I am come to cast fire on the earth; and what will I but that it be kindled?48 Oh! what burning flames of holy love does Jesus kindle in the souls who receive him in this sacrament with a desire of being inflamed with his love. St. Catharine of Sienna saw, one day, in the hands of a priest, Jesus, in the Holy Sacrament, like a furnace of love; and wondered that the hearts of all men were not set on fire and reduced to ashes by the flames which issued from the Holy Eucharist. St. Rose of Lima used to say that, in receiving Jesus Christ, she felt as if she received the sun. Hence she sent forth from her countenance rays which dazzled the sight, and the heat emitted from her mouth after Communion was so intense, that the person who reached her a drink felt her hand scorched as if she approached a furnace. In visiting the Most Holy Sacrament, St. Wenceslaus, king and martyr, was inflamed, even externally, with such a degree of heat that the servant who accompanied him, when obliged to walk on the snow, trod in the footsteps of the saint, and thus felt no cold. “The Eucharist,” says St. John Chrysostom, “is a fire which inflames us, that, like lions breathing fire, we may retire from the altar being made terrible to the devil.”49 The Holy Sacrament is a fire which inflames the soul to such a degree, that we ought to depart from the altar breathing such flames of love that the devil will no longer dare to tempt us.
But some will say: I do not communicate often because I am cold in divine love. But, says Gerson, he who acts in this manner is like the man who refuses to approach the fire because he feels cold. The greater, then, our tepidity, the more frequently we ought to receive the Most Holy Sacrament, provided we have a desire to love God. “If,” says St. Francis de Sales (in his Devout Life, chap. xxi.), “you are asked why you communicate so frequently, say that two sorts of persons ought to communicate often – the perfect and the imperfect: the perfect to preserve perfection, and the imperfect to acquire perfection.” St. Bonaventure says: “Though you feel tepid, approach, trusting in the mercy of God. The more a person feels sick, the more he stands in need of a physician.”50 And Jesus Christ says to St. Mechtilde: “When you are to communicate, desire to have all the love which any soul has ever had for me, and I will accept your love in proportion to the ardor with which you wish for it.51
Affections and Prayers.
O enamoured of souls, O my Jesus! it is not in Thy power to give us greater proofs of love in order to show us that Thou lovest us. And what more couldst Thou invent to induce us to love Thee? Ah! grant, O infinite Goodness! that I may love Thee tenderly and with all my strength! And who is there that has greater claims on the affections of my heart, than Thou, my Redeemer, who, after having given Thy life for my salvation, hast given me Thyself entirely in this sacrament? Ah! Lord, that I always remembered Thy love in order to forget all things, and to love Thee alone without interruption and without reserve! I love Thee, O my Jesus above all things, and I wish to love Thee alone. Banish from my heart, I entreat Thee, all affections which are not for Thee. I thank Thee for giving me time to love Thee and to weep over the offences I have offered to Thee. My Jesus, I desire that Thou mayst be the only object of my affections. Assist me, save me, and let my salvation consist in loving Thee with my whole heart, and in loving Thee always in this life and in the next. Mary, my Mother, obtain for me the grace to love Jesus Christ; pray to him for me.

1“Cum esset omnipotens, plus dare non potuit.” – Lohner Bibli. tit. 52, § 3.
2“Quis melior thesaurus in corde hominis esse potest, quam corpus Christi?” – T. iv. s. 12, a. 1. c. 4.
3“Notas facite adinventiones ejus.” – Isa. xii. 4.
4“Nonne videtur insania: Manducate meam carnem, bibite meum sanguinem?” – In Ps. xxxiii. en. 1.
5“Durus est hic sermo, et quis potest eum audire?” – John. vi. 61.
6Hoc sacramentum est memoriale suæ dilectionis.
7“Hoc facite in meam commemorationem.” – Luke, xxii. 19.
8“In illo fervoris excessu, quando paratus erat pro nobis mori, ab excessu amoris majus opus agere coactus est, quam unquam operatus fuit: dare nobis corpus in cibum.” – T. II. s. 54, a. 1, c. 1.
9“Omnem vim amoris effudit amicis.” – Serm. de Ascen. Dom.
10“Divitias divini sui erga homines amoris velut effudit.” – Sess. 13, c. 2.
11“Accipite et comedite; hoc,est corpus meum.” – Matt. xxvi. 26.
12Totum tibi dedit, nihil sibi reliquit.
13“Deus in Eucharistia totum quod ipse est et habet in summo dedit.” – De Beat. c. 3.
14“Ecce, quem mundus capere non potest, captivus noster est.” – Exp. Miss. c. 4.
15“Quomodo non etiam cum illo omnia nobis donavit?” – Rom. viii. 32.
16“Hoc ardentissimæ charitatis indicium.” – De Tr. Chr. Ag. c. 2.
17“Sciens Jesus quia venit hora ejus, ut transeat ex hoc mundo ad Patrem, cum dilexisset suos. . . . in finem dilexit eos,” – John, xiii. 1.
18Extremo amore, summe dilexit eos.
19“In qua nocte tradebatur, accepit panem, et gratias agens fregit, et dixit: Accipite et manducate; hoc est corpus meum.” – I Cor. xi. 23.
20Quæ in fine in signum amicitiæ celebrantur, firmius memoriæ imprimuntur et chariora tenentur.
21“Ultimus gradus amoris est, cum se dedit nobis in cibum; quia dedit se nobis ad omnimodam unionem, sicut cibus et cibans invicem uniuntur.” – T. II. s. 54, a. 1, c. 1; a. 4, c. 1.
22Huic nos unimur, et facti sumus unum corpus et una caro.
23“Quis pastor oves proprio pascit cruore? Et quid dico, pastor? Matres multæ sunt, quæ filios aliis tradunt nutricibus; hoc autem ipse non est passus, sed nos proprio sanguine pascit.” – Ad pop. Ant. hom. 60.
24“Semetipsum nobis immiscuit, ut unum quid simus; ardenter enim amantium hoc est.” – Ad op. Ant. hom. 61.
25“Memoriam fecit mirabilium suorum misericors et miserator Dominus, escam dedit timentibus se.” – Ps. cx. 4.
26“O quam mirabilis est dilectio tua, Domine Jesu, qui tuo corpori taliter nos incorporari voluisti, ut tecum unum cor et animam haberemus inseparabiliter colligatam.” – De Inc. div. am. c. 5.
27“Amor dignitatis nescius.” – In Cant. s. 64.
28“Amor ratione caret, et vadit quo ducitur, non quo debeat.” – Serm. 147.
29Sacramentum charitatis, charitatis pignus.
30“Sciens Jesus quia venit hora ejus.” – John, xiii. 1.
31“Desiderio desideravi hoc pascha manducare vobiscum.” – Luke, xxii. 15.
32“Flagrantissimæ charitatis est vox hæc.” – De Tr. Chr. Ag. c. 2.
33“Venite, comedite panem meum, et bibite vinum quod miscui vobis.” – Prov. ix. 5.
34“Comedite, amid, et bibite, et inebriamini, charissimi.” – Cant. v. 1.
35“Accipite et comedite; hoc est corpus meum.” – Mati. xxvi. 26.
36“Qui manducat meam carnem, et bibit meum sanguinem, habet vitam æternam. . . . Qui manducat hunc panem, vivet in æternum.” – John, vi. 55.
37“Nisi manducaveritis carnem Filii hominis, et biberitis ejus sanguinem, non habebitis vitam in vobis.” – John, vi. 54.
38“Qui manducat meam carnem, et bibit meum sanguinem, in me manet et ego in illo.” – John, vi. 57.
39“Omnia dedit ei Pater in manus.” – John, xiii. 3.
40“Venerunt autem mihi omnia bona pariter cum illa.” – Wis. vii. 11.
41Eucharistia maximam vim habet perficiendæ sanctitatis.
42“Antidotum, quo liberemur a culpis quotidianis, et a peccatis mortalibus præservemur.” – Sess. 13, cap. 2.
43“Pharmacum immortalitatis.” – Ep. ad Eph. c. 20.
44“Per crucis mysterium, eripuit nos a potestate peccati; per Eucharistiæ sacramentum, liberat nos a voluntate peccandi.” – De Alt. Myst. l. 4, c. 44.
45“Introduxit me in cellam vinariam, ordinavit in me charitatem. Fulcite me floribus, stipate me malis; quia amore langueo.” – Cant. ii. 4.
46“Deus charitas est.” – John, iv. 8.
47“Ignis consumens est.” – Deut. iv. 24.
48“Ignem veni mittere in terram; et quid volo, nisi ut accendatur?” – Luke, xii. 49.
49“Carbo est Eucharistia, quæ nos inflammat, ut tamquam leones ignem spirantes ab illa mensa recedamus, facti diabolo terribiles.” – Ad pop. Ant. hom. 61.
50“Licet tepide, tamen confidens de misericordia Dei accedat; tanto magis æger necesse habet requirere medicum, quanto magis senserit se ægrotum.” – De Prof. re1. l. 2, c. 77.
51Spir. grat. l. 3, c. 22.

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