Monday, April 06, 2009

Lenten Reflection-The Presence of Christ

"This is my body...this is my blood." St. Matthew, 26:27,28.

In the not so distant days of persecution in old Mexico, it was against the law to meet and conduct any kind of religious service without permission. Despite this devilish regulation, many groups of Catholics met se­cretly to hear Mass and receive Holy Communion. A spy betrayed one of these groups to the police. An officer with several soldiers surprised them one night at their place of prayer. The officer was angry; he was deter­mined to punish everyone present. He ordered a soldier to count all present and write down their names.

"Thirty men and women, sir," reported the officer.

At that an old man held up his hand and declared:
"Officer, there is One whom you have missed. There is One more here."

"What do you mean?" shouted the officer. "We counted all carefully. There are only thirty."

"No," insisted the old man, "there is One you have missed."

"Very well," growled the officer, "we will count them again."

Again the count was made and again the count was thirty. The officer sneered at the old gentleman: "There you are. Just as I told you. Thirty-thirty miserable breakers of the law."

"Yes," the venerable old fellow said slowly, "but there is One more here, One whom you missed - and that is our Lord Jesus Christ on the altar."

What that old man stated about this secret meeting, that there was Another present whom they could not see, can be stated of the Eucharistic presence of Christ in the Catholic Church. Our Lord is ever present with those who love Him. He is present in the Eucharist - body and blood, soul and divinity - just as really and truly present in every Catholic tabernacle as He was when He walked about His native Palestine. Christ wanted to be with us - everywhere and at all times. He is with us in the Blessed Sacrament.

The passion and death of our Lord have brought to us many fruits and blessings. The sweetest and greatest and most precious fruit of His suffering is His presence in the Eucharist, a legacy He left us on the night He was betrayed.

At the very moment when wicked men were reaching out to seize and crush Christ's innocent body in the winepress of suffering, our Lord was generously planning how He would stay with men forever. At the very moment when their hate was getting rid of His presence, Christ's love was finding a way to be present for all time to come. He saw the sadness of His mother and His apostles and His followers of all time, at the thought of His departure. In merciful sympathy He would give them Himself for all time. The same generous love that prompted Christ to undergo the bitter tor­ments and degrading humiliations of His passion and death, prompted Him also to give us Himself in the Eucharist forever.

Read again the Gospel story of the Last Supper and the touching, tender farewell of our Lord. Doesn't your heart throb deeply at its notes of over­flowing love? Christ was about to give Himself to His apostles, as He had promised. But love could not be content with that. Not just once would He work this miracle of changing bread and wine into His very own Body and Blood. Christ saw not only those in the supper room; He also saw the millions through the centuries who would want to have Him present.

Close on the heels of the one miracle of giving His Body and His Blood to His apostles, Christ worked another wonder which would continue that loving sacrament to the end of time. To the apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests of the Catholic Church, Christ gave the power of multiplying His presence throughout the earth and throughout all time, when He commanded them:
"Do this in remembrance of me." St. Luke, 22:19.

Love was not satisfied with giving Himself once long ago in faroff Pal­estine. Love wanted to give Himself everywhere for all time to all men. He wanted us always to remember that Thursday and that Friday. He wanted the merits of His death to be shared by all. Dying for one we love is the greatest proof of love. The sacrament of the altar, instituted the night before He died, is not merely a remembrance of His sacrifice, it is the bring­ing to us of the fruits of that sacrifice.

The Holy Eucharist is the most fitting memorial of the passion of Christ. In and through the Sacrifice of the Mass especially, Christ recalls for all men of all times His sufferings and death for them. On this altar, by the wonder-working words of consecration the priest calls down from the heights of heaven the true and living Christ, calls Him down to live in the apparently lifeless form of the sacred species of bread and wine. Though alive, Christ is present as if He were dead - as if without the power to move, as if without the power to speak.

Our faith tells us that since the resur­rection our Lord can die no more, yet here in the Eucharist Jesus chooses to live a hidden and helpless life. To have life and not to use it, not to per­form any visible act, not to give any proof of life - is not such a life very much like death? In this way the Eucharist is a constant reminder of the death of Christ.

Living under the veils of the Blessed Sacrament Christ gives no sign of life. He allows Himself no freedom to move from place to place, no power to flee from His enemies, no speech to talk with His friends, or to call for help when He is insulted or attacked. He even takes a form that in no way reminds us of a human being. How like His passion is this life on our altar!

Christ could have wiped out His enemies with a word; He chose to suffer in silence. The same takes place on the altar. He could do away with everyone who insults or attacks Him, but He chooses to live a silent life, that we might be constantly reminded of His sufferings and death.

In recalling the pains of Christ's passion, the Holy Eucharist also re­minds us of the limitless love that led Him to undergo such sufferings for us. It recalls the heroic patience with which He bore those pains, and the divine pardon He granted to those who crucified Him, the priceless pardon He grants to all sinners of all time.

The love that drove Christ to submit to suffering for us stands out more beautifully when we realize that He could have chosen anyone of a thousand other ways of satisfying the justice of His Father. That love shines out in the Eucharist.

Christ did not have to give Himself to us, but in the generosity of His love He gave us Himself completely, forever, and everywhere. Day and night His sacramental presence reminds us of His love, reminds us how He healed hearts and inspired minds. In the Eucharist Christ again pardons those who betray Him. Judas and Peter and Pilate and the heartless soldiers and the crowd, all live today in the persons of Catholics who betray and neglect and deny their Eucharistic Savior. But Christ still forgives, Christ still speaks:
"Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing."

In the Blessed Sacrament Christ suffers the same treacherous betrayals, the same cruel violence, the same bitter humiliations as He endured during His passion. On the first Good Friday He wanted to win the compassion­ating love of men. Today in the Eucharist He is looking for the same love, the same sympathy. We scorn the traitor Judas. Yet, how much worse than Judas is the Catholic who receives his Eucharistic Master into a soul stained with mortal sin?

The cowardly denial of St. Peter strikes us as very sinful. Yet, Catholics deny their Savior by putting off Holy Communion, by misbehavior in church, by coming late to Mass, by passing a church without a thought or greeting for the loved One who lives there.

Think of the insults inflicted by those who know and love Him not. Tabernacles are torn down, Hosts are stepped on and fed to animals, Hosts are pierced and cut and covered with filth, by those who in their devilish hatred give unwitting testimony that they think this Host might really be Christ.

Christ was humiliated during Holy Week. He is humiliated today by the sneers of the godless, the blameworthy ignorance and unpardonable negligence of so many of His followers. Carelessness and discourtesy are shown Him constantly, perfect imitations of Caiphas, Herod and Pilate. Every one of Christ's sufferings is repeated in the Eucharist. The suffering Savior is present with us today.

But the picture is not entirely dark. There were bright spots even in the black story of the passion. There are bright spots in our Lord's life in the Eucharist. Pious women wept for the suffering Savior; you and I can weep in reparation for the insults and neglect shown Him on the altar. Veronica offered her veil to wipe His bloody face; we can offer words of worship. Simon of Cyrene helped Him carry His cross; you and I can promote devo­tion to Him in the Eucharist. Like St. John we will stand faithfully at the foot of the altar. With the heart of our Blessed Mother, our hearts will go out to Jesus hidden here in the Host.

Thoughtful - and punctual - attendance at Mass, devout and frequent receiving of Holy Communion, loving visits to Him here in His home, support and service of His Church are means we have of showing our love for Him. Are you doing these things during Lent?

Before the Last Supper Christ, as Man, was but in one place in all the earth. After that Supper Jesus began to dwell in the Eucharist in every town and city and hamlet. The tabernacles of Christ dot the globe. Whereever men will have Him, He is present. Christ is present right here upon the altar of our church. He wants to be here for your sake. He is here. He is keeping His promise:
"I will not leave you orphans." St. John, 14:18.

"Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consum­mation of the world." St. Matthew, 28:20.

For months before the grand Eucharistic Congress held in New Orleans in 1938 the faithful prayed for the success of this gathering in. honor of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. In that prayer were the words:

"O Jesus, Thou art truly, really, and substantially present."

That is official language taken from the Council of Trent. Even though the three words seem to mean practically the same thing, each word has some definite meaning, and was chosen to answer and correct some mistake regarding the Eucharist.

The word "truly" is directed against the heretic Zwingli who falsely maintained that our Lord did not mean to actually give us His Body at the Last Supper. Zwingli said Christ meant something like this:

"When the father of a family is about to leave on a long journey, he gives to his wife, the mother of the family, his most precious ring. On the ring the father's face has been painted. As he gives the ring to his wife he says: "Behold, your husband, whom you can love though he is absent, and who loves you though he is far away."

"Our Lord, Jesus Christ is like that father. As Christ was about to leave the earth, He gave to His bride, the Church, His image painted on the sacrament of the altar."

This false idea of the Eucharist would not be worthy of our attention, were it not the idea of many mistaken people today. The Catholic Church, divinely guided, teaches that when we say Christ is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament, He is not present as a father in the picture on the ring he leaves to his family. Christ is present here on our altar just as truly as the father is present when he hands the ring to his wife.

When we say that Christ is "really" present we are answering a fellow named Oecolampadius, whose false idea is as strange as his name. He said Christ was present in the Eucharist in a figure or comparison. The Blessed Sacrament is not really Christ but something like Christ. For example, the paschal lamb of the Old Testament was a figure of the true Lamb of God, namely, Christ. This heretic mistakenly insisted that the Eucharist is still just the Old Testament paschal lamb, it is still just a figure of Christ. The Catholic Church, God's Church, teaches that the presence of Christ is real. It is not a mere figure.

Another heretic, John Calvin, thought the Body and Blood of Christ are present on the altar, just as the sun is present on the earth by its power or by its heat. He said that Christ is present only by His virtue or power, but not as He is in Himself.

But we Catholics know that Christ is present Himself, that it is not only the rays of His love which we have here on the altar, that it is not only the warmth of His love we have here, while He Himself, like the sun, is millions of miles away. No, here we have the Sun Himself, Christ in His very substance, just as substantially as if we had the sun itself locked up in our tabernacle.

A nun one day explained to her fifth grade class the reason for our belief in the Eucharist. She mentioned the words of Jesus - His promise, His last Supper - carrying out of that promise, and the belief of the Catholic Church through all the centuries since. She emphasized the words of Christ, "This is my body." Hoping that one of her charges would give a reason or two of those she had mentioned, she asked the class:

"And now-how do we know that Jesus is present on the altar?"

One little fellow put up his hand. When called, he gave this answer: "We know that Jesus is present, because Jesus said so."

No answer could be more simple and more to the point. It was the belief of all Christians for fifteen hundred years, until Luther decided that we can explain and understand the Bible as each man wishes. What was the result? About seventy years after Luther's revolt a book, was published with the title: TWO HUNDRED INTERPRETATIONS OF THE WORDS: THIS IS MY BODY. It was written in 1577 by a fellow named Rasberger. Since his time there are about two hundred more attempts to explain away the simple, clear and definite words of Jesus, "This is my body." We Catholics take Christ at His word. We believe in the Blessed Sacrament because Jesus said so.

That Jesus said so is clear from the Bible which tells us three things about the Holy Eucharist:

1. Christ promised to give us His flesh and blood.
2. Christ kept that promise at the Last Supper.
3. St. Paul and the early Christians understood Christ to mean that He would actually give Himself.

On the occasion when our Lord miraculously fed five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, He gave the promise of His flesh and blood in these certain words:

"I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."

When the Jews wondered how a man could give his flesh to eat, Jesus emphasized His statement:

"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." St. John, 6:52-55.

Then the night before He died, when men do not ordinarily use double­ meaning words or speak in jest, our Lord took bread and said, "This is my body." He took the chalice of wine and said: "This is my blood."

We would expect St. Paul to know what Christ really meant. St. Paul tells us:

"For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes. Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord." I Cor., 11 :26-27.

What does the early Christian Church say about Christ's words at the Last Supper? For fifteen hundred years those words were taken literally, that is, for what they actually said. The early Christian writers, the pic­tures and inscriptions in the catacombs, the discipline of the early Church, all make it unmistakably clear that Christ meant exactly what He said.

We Catholics believe that Christ is here present. We believe He is pres­ent in every tabernacle of the world. Just how that can be, we do not know, just as there are many things we cannot understand. But that He is here we know - on His own words. Yes, Christ is with us. Only the goodness and love of a God could have thought of that, and could have arranged to be with us right here in our church. Amen.
Adapted from With Christ Through Lent
by Fr. Arthur Tonne, OFM (©1951)

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