May 6, 2022
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, our Gospel is serious business. In it, Jesus reveals the lynchpin of our sacramental faith.
Amen, amen, I say to you,John 6: 53-54
unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
It is a stark and shocking statement. The listening Jews “quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his Flesh to eat?’.”
Down through the ages, struggling believers have grappled with the same question. Or, perhaps less preferable, complacent believers have never even considered it.
I think Jesus wanted us to consider it, absorb it, be changed by it, live within it, because “unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink his Blood, you do not have life within you.”
As Catholics, we believe that Christ is truly and fully present in Eucharist and that, by Communion, becomes fully present in us, the Church.
When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, the memorial of her Lord’s death and resurrection, this central event of salvation becomes really present and “the work of our redemption is carried out”. This sacrifice is so decisive for the salvation of the human race that Jesus Christ offered it and returned to the Father only after he had left us a means of sharing in it as if we had been present there. Each member of the faithful can thus take part in it and inexhaustibly gain its fruits. This is the faith from which generations of Christians down the ages have lived.
(ECCLESIA DE EUCHARISTIA, Encyclical of John Paul II)
For me, it is a truth only appreciated when approached with more than the mind. It must be apprehended with the heart and soul. God so loves us in the person of Jesus Christ that God chooses to be eternally present with us, and in us, through the gift of Eucharist.
Praying with this truth over the years has led me to read authors like Edward Schillebeeckx (Christ the sacrament of the Encounter with God), Diarmuid O’Murchu (Quantum Theology), and Pierre Teilhard De Chardin (Hymn of the Universe).
Still, despite all the Eucharistic theology, every time I receive the Eucharist, I let this simple hymn play in my heart – one I learned for my First Holy Communion. It still unites my heart to my desired faith which is, at once, both cosmic and intimate.
Poetry: “On the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar” by St Robert Southwell
Saint Robert Southwell (1561 – 1595) was an English Roman Catholic priest of the Jesuit Order. He was also a poet, hymnodist, and clandestine missionary in Elizabethan England. After being arrested and imprisoned in 1592, and intermittently tortured and questioned by Richard Topcliffe, Southwell was eventually tried and convicted of high treason for his links to the Holy See. On 21 February 1595, Father Southwell was hanged at Tyburn. In 1970, he was canonized by Pope Paul VI as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales. (Wikipedia)
His poetry, written in Early Modern English, demonstrates deep devotion to the Eucharist. Although most of us can interpret the English of the 16th century, the translation below is modernized for convenience. It’s a long poem, but it is well worth your time.
“On the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar” by St. Robert Southwell
From The Poems of Robert Southwell, S.J. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967),
edited by Fr James H. McDonald and Nancy Pollard Brown
In paschal feast the end of ancient rite
An entrance was to never ending grace,
Tips to the truth, dim glasses to the light,
Performing deed presaging signs did chase,
Christ's final meal was fountain of our good:
For mortal meat he gave immortal food.
That which he gave he was, O peerless gift, Both God and man he was, and both he gave, He in his hands himself did truly live: Far off they see whom in themselves they have. Twelve did he feed, twelve did their feeder eat, He made, he dressed, he gave, he was their meat.
They saw, they heard, they felt him sitting near,
Unseen, unfelt, unheard, they him receiv'd,
No diverse thing though diverse it appear,
Though senses fail, yet faith is not deceiv'd.
And if the wonder of the work be new,
Believe the work because his word is true.
Here truth belief, belief inviteth love,
So sweet a truth love never yet enjoy'd,
What thought can think, what will doth best approve
Is here obtain'd where no desire is void.
The grace, the joy, the treasure here is such
No wit can with nor will embrace so much.
Self-love here cannot crave more than it finds,
Ambition to no higher worth aspire,
The eagerest famine of most hungry minds
May fill, yea far exceed their own desire:
In sum here is all in a sum express'd,
Of much the most, of every good the best.
To ravish eyes here heavenly beauties are,
To win the ear sweet music's sweetest sound,
To lure the taste the angels' heavenly fare,
To soothe the scent divine perfumes abound,
To please the touch he in our hearts doth bed,
Whose touch doth cure the deaf, the dumb, the dead.
Here to delight the wit true wisdom is,
To woo the will of every good the choice,
For memory a mirror shewing bliss,
Here all that can both sense and soul rejoice:
And if to all all this it do not bring,
The fault is in the men, not in the thing.
Though blind men see no light, the Sun doth shine,
Sweet cates are sweet, though fevered tastes deny it,
Pearls precious are, though trodden on by swine,
Each truth is true, though all men do not try it:
The best still to the bad doth work the worst,
Things bred to bliss do make them more accurst.
The angels' eyes whom veils cannot deceive
Might best disclose that best they do discern,
Men must with sound and silent faith receive
More than they can by sense or reason learn:
God's power our proofs, his works our wit exceed,
The doer's might is reason of His deed.
A body is endow'd with ghostly rights,
A nature's work from nature's law is free,
In heavenly Sun lie hidden eternal lights,
Lights clear and near yet them no eye can see,
Dead forms a never-dying life do shroud,
A boundless sea lies in a little cloud.
The God of Hosts in slender host doth dwell,
Yea God and man, with all to either due:
That God that rules the heavens and rifled hell,
That man whose death did us to life renew,
That God and man that is the angels’ bliss,
In form of bread and wine our nurture is.
Whole may his body be in smallest bread,
Whole in the whole, yea whole in every crumb,
With which be one or ten thousand fed
All to each one, to all but one doth come,
And though each one as much as all receive,
Not one too much, nor all too little have.
One soul in man is all in every part,
One face at once in many mirrors shines,
One fearful noise doth make a thousand start,
One eye at once of countless things defines:
If proofs of one in many nature frame,
God may in stranger sort perform the same.
God present is at once in every place,
Yet God in every place is ever one,
So may there be by gifts of ghostly grace
One man in many rooms yet filling none.
Sith angels may effects of bodies shew,
God angels' gifts on bodies may bestow.
What God as auctor made he alter may,
No change so hard as making all of nought:
If Adam framed was of slimy clay,
Bread may to Christ's most sacred flesh be wrought.
He may do this that made with mighty hand
Of water wine, a snake of Moses' wand.