Mary, the ideal of the communicant

This tabernacle sits in a side chapel of St. Sulpice in Paris. Here, St. John gives Holy Communion to the Blessed Mother. Think of all that’s going on here. The young priest whom Jesus loved is given God’s mother to be his own at the foot of the Cross, and now he gives Jesus back to her. The sorrowing mother who had received Jesus on behalf of the entire world at the Annunciation in a little embryo and seen Him taken up to Heaven receives Him again in the guise of bread – and still for the salvation of the world. The hands that give her Jesus are Jesus’ own through the priesthood of St. John. The connection between Annunciation and Holy Communion is not lost on us, much less on her. She repeatedly gives her Fiat over and over again. She becomes again and again the perfect tabernacle of God.

And though she has passed through her great trial of suffering at Calvary, it is in union with the Eucharist that she suffers afresh for love of her Son. Whenever her Son in the Blessed Sacrament is desecrated or abandoned, she feels the pain of seeing her Son crucified, and her communion becomes a reparation of love.

So we can ask Mary to help us, and to acquire her spirit of total submission and reparation when we take Holy Communion. For my part, when I go up to receive, it’s still difficult to get my mind around it all, and being in a state of grace does not remove the sense of unworthiness. All I can really do is entrust the communion to the Blessed Mother, give my thanks, and then stop worrying, because she knows best how to receive Him.

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Christ the Holy Innocent

Our Lady of Walsingham in the Chapel of St George and the English Martyrs, Westminster Cathedral, London.

In different Eucharistic miracles Christ has shown different aspects of his Paschal Mystery to us. Some that I first found strange were of the Child Jesus. I read of them in the book “The Eucharistic Miracles of the World”, published in 2009. At Skete in the Egyptian desert a priest bent to break the Host, and in place of the Host a Child appeared there, who was then pierced by the sword of an angel. His blood ran into the chalice and pieces were cut from Him by the sword when the priest broke the Bread. At Douai in France a Host dropped at the distribution of Communion. A priest bent to pick up the Eucharist but it flew up, landed on the purificator, and changed into a Child. When the Bishop came to see, he then saw on the same Host the Face of Christ crowned with thorns and bleeding. At Veroli, Italy, during a Forty Hours’ devotion the Child Jesus appeared in the Host and granted blessings. At Eten in Peru, during solemn exposition, the face of a Child appeared, radiant, in the Host. In Moncada, Spain, a little girl – St. Ines de Moncada – saw a priest lifting the Host after the consecration and saw him cradling a Child in his hands. In Saragossa, Spain, a woman hid the Eucharist in a box to use for a potion, and when she opened it she saw an Infant. She burned the box with the Child inside, but the Child was unscathed.

What does it all mean?

We are taught in Hebrews that the first act of Christ when he was incarnated into the world was to consecrate His will to the Father in total obedience: “Behold, I come to do Thy will, O God.” In fact we are taught that the very act of obedience in humbling himself to become man was sufficient for the salvation of the world. The Word became flesh (we kneel) and the victory is won.

So too with the blood of Christ shed at his Circumcision, which was enough to merit our Heavenly reward. Also with the offering of Christ in the Presentation, where Christ became in the Temple a greater offering than all the sacrifices of the Old Covenant put together and sufficient to save Israel and all nations in every time.

Now we know that these were sufficient and infinitely meritorious and superabundantly worthy. Each individual act of Christ in His earthly life – every obedience to His parents, for example – done as it was in perfect accord with the will of the Father, could also be said to have the same infinite value. Every prayer He offered up to God would have secured us salvation. Every time the Holy Ghost descends upon an altar and incarnates Christ at Mass, this, too, is enough to save us all. One Mass can save the entire world.

Christ once suffered a narrow escape from death as a child. The Holy Innocents of Bethlehem, murdered in Herod’s diabolical plan to assassinate the Christ, were the infant-martyrs of Christ, foreshadowed by the killing of the firstborn in Egypt, themselves foreshadowing the violent death of their little King, and today prefiguring the horror of abortion. Had St. Joseph not been obedient to God’s warning to flee to Egypt, Jesus could have been murdered with them. He would have been one killed among many, victim of the base and power-hungry, dying by the side of His Blessed Mother, His Sacred Heart speared, His Body anointed with the myrrh brought just recently by the Magi, His swaddling cloths used for burial cloths, His cross a cradle.

It would have been our iniquities that pierced His tiny Heart. It would have been His infant sacrifice that won us Heaven. It would have been enough to save us all.

God planned it differently, of course. But Christ’s whole life forms one perfect act of obedience and oblation and one Passion. So the infant Jesus is truly sacrificed. His Heart is unchanging with the selfsame innocence and tenderness in childhood as in manhood. He rules all the world from the lap of Mary his mother. The priest truly cradles the newborn King in His hands at Mass. It is a reality that shines through in these Eucharistic miracles.

The sacrifice of the Holy Innocents themselves is united with Christ and becomes His martyrdom, too, for the salvation of the world. Every one of those tiny faces passing into death is Christ’s face cradled by the Sorrowful Mother below the Cross.

Christ is the Holy Innocent. Only by fixing our eyes on Him, in His Eucharist, will we be raised to holiness, restored to innocence, and prepared for martyrdom.

It is Thy Eucharistic Face, O Lord, that I seek

It is Thy Face, O Lord, that I seek;
hide not Thy Face from me.

Thus says the Psalmist. Now the Face of Christ has appeared among us: the icon of the invisible God, the figure of His substance, and the brightness of His glory. His human Face, hypostatically united to His Godhead, remains with us after His Ascension in a sacramental and hidden way – namely in the Blessed Sacrament. Thus in the chaplet of the Eucharistic Face of Christ we say:

It is Thy Eucharistic Face, O Lord, that I seek;
hide not Thy Face from me.

But what are we asking for as we repeat this prayer on our rosary beads? Not for an apparition, though the truth of the Eucharistic Face has appeared in a special way for adorers at times, such as in St. Andre de la Reunion in 1904 –

– but rather, one might say, we are asking for the theological virtues. First of all we are asking for faith. The Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is the Sacrament of faith. God hides Himself within the veil. The reality is that we do see Him whenever we look on the Host, but without this virtue we would be blind to what is in front of us. Faith pierces through to Heaven – the Heaven of the Blessed Sacrament. In faith we have a foretaste of it.

Hide not Thy Face from me. Help my unbelief for without Your gift of faith I cannot see You.

Next we are asking for hope. We hope for the Beatific Vision, in which we will find all our joy in the Vision of the Face of God unveiled. On that day the promise of faith will be fulfilled.

Hide not Thy Face from me. Save my soul from the clutches of hell that I may live to see Your Face when I die.

Finally we are asking for charity. The human face shows forth the human heart. In the Sacred Humanity of Christ, His Holy Face shows forth His Sacred Heart. Beholding Jesus we desire that our faces be transfigured into His likeness – and thus that our hearts become His, full of the radiant fire of love. In the Beatific Vision, there will be no need of faith and hope. All that will be left is pure charity, the pure Love of the Holy Trinity.

Hide not Thy Face from me. Help me to love Your countenance wherever I find it: in the Eucharist, in my neighbour, in Your starry sky. Make me Yours.

The little red light

I enter a church and look for the Lord.  It’s what one does.  In the Basilica of Sacre-Coeur, it is easy: He is radiant in His Eucharistic glory, as a large Host, above the high altar, visible from far back outside the open front door.  Not that I recognized him even then when I visited that church before I was Catholic.  I lacked the eyes of faith to see – and I didn’t even know what the Catholics believed about the Eucharist.

Nowadays, I need to know where the Lord is.  Where do I tell my heart to go and silently dwell?  Where do I turn my gaze?  The little red light points Him out.  How privileged it is, to constantly act as a lighthouse for the safe harbour of the Blessed Sacrament!  It invites us to make the act of Eucharistic faith which should itself be constantly burning inside our souls.  It bids us be silent.  It casts light, as it were, on the Eucharistic Face.  Oh Lord, let me be like that red lamp quietly burning in the night before Your tabernacle!  Let me be like You, Whose Heart constantly burns with love for us and bids us adore!

Make me more like the Host

For most of the time the Host lies in an empty church. The faithful leave for the day, the passersby pass on, the priest locks up. The lights go out save for the little red candle, and the church falls asleep, with the flesh in the tabernacle as its beating heart.

It lies there in a wilderness.  The desert of the church is bereft of adorers.  The disciples are sleeping. Each night, from one generation to the next, the desolation of the cross continues.

It is Jesus tempted in the wilderness. It is Jesus abandoned in the garden, weeping tears of water and tears of blood. It is Jesus agonized by the indifferent heart in every age.

I want to be more like Jesus. I want to imitate Him just as he manifests Himself among us – in the Eucharist. And how?

How do I wait for God as He waits for me? How do I keep watch with Mary? How do I withdraw, in my heart, into the silence of the desert when each day and night brings its own worries and distractions? How do I keep a constant flame of faith and charity alive in me? How do I let indifference to God affect me more deeply? How do I abandon myself to Him? How do I take all of my hours – ordinary, delightful, and sad – and fold them up, somehow, into the Hour at Gethsemane?

God, help me do these things. Make me more like the Host.

Wounds

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Yesterday the sun kissed the new grass and the fresh-budding tree branches and the pages of my book in a gentle glory of warmth.  Moving air fluttered the pages occasionally, just enough to remove any sense of mugginess.  It was the first truly perfect day of the year.  Yet as I passed through my neighborhood and recalled other walks, past spring days in which the darkness I had felt inside equaled the brightness outside (much like Emily Dickinson’s “certain Slant of light”), it still seemed now so beautiful that it hurt.

At Mass, from the book of John, we heard how the resurrected Jesus showed his wounds to the disciples.  What heavenly solicitude for our comfort and our healing!  And Thomas, who touched his hands to the Lord’s side … of him I am envious.  With him I exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

Recently I had to wait to receive the Eucharist until after Mass due to an oversight.  I knelt at the rail as the priest, holding the Host, said some extra prayers, and for a few moments, I could gaze at Jesus from a mere inches away, inwardly repeating, “My Lord and my God!”  Looking at the Sun of all existence was somehow heart-wrenching.  Perhaps it was the tears of the beloved at the lover’s self-sacrifice, or the recognition of my sinfulness and lukewarmness in the face of the blazing heat of Christ’s love, or that Jesus in the Host was so beautiful that it hurt.  The ache of Love – perhaps I’ve only felt the tiniest twinge of it – what else does it truly mean than to gladly bear with Christ the selfsame Five Wounds in a world where lonely souls, wounded deeply, walk under the beautiful sun and feel that it is not cheering but rather that this light

‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air

Disfiguration

Recently I have thought a little on how sin has disfigured my nature.  I know it in my mind – that we are wounded by original sin and by our personal sins – but its reality has hit hard recently as I have experienced abhorrence and frustration at the same old sinful habits wrenching my life apart and grieving the Heart of Jesus.  It feels like even the patterns of my mind have been corrupted, disoriented, self-serving.  If you could see the face of my soul, you might ask me where the two black eyes, broken and bloody nose, cut lips, and bruised cheeks came from, and I would tell you that no, I didn’t get in a fight, I merely fell – and that’s actually true, and it happens a lot.

From an ancient homily for Holy Saturday, a few days hence, comes this line: “See the blows on my cheeks, which I accepted in order to refashion your distorted form to my own image.”

Dare I hope that Jesus can heal me?  Yes.  The proof is in his Face, which bears the marks that I have given it through my sins, lovingly accepted and offered by him to the Father.  Through the disfiguration of the Passion he refigures us – indeed, transfigures us – into his own image.  I consider the gaze of the Holy Face of Manoppello (above) – is that not a look of Love?  It is captivating to my soul.  I trust in that gaze and in those bruises.  I have nowhere else to go, nowhere else to look.

May I learn to walk with Jesus the way of suffering and love.

The opposite of remembering

There are times I have forgotten God, when I have failed to make anything but the barest space for Him in my daily activities and in my conduct and thus in my heart.  I act as if God were not constantly upholding my existence and calling out for me with the voice of Love.  I have already said yes to Him; now I pass by Him as if He were a stranger on the wayside.

During these times I teach my habits and emotions to forget God, to be – God help me – satisfied with the way things are.  Jesus did indeed suffer the hatred of the crowd, but does He not also suffer greatly from indifference?  One of His very own drifts away, slowly but furtively.

My heart has not yet learned to ache with the ache of Jesus’ own heart.  I have spent too much time away from it.  Yet is not that very distance one source of His pain?

I must keep on saying yes to God.  Oh Mary, Undoer of Knots, Refuge for Sinners, pray for me.

The secret of the Church

Next to the pierced heart of Jesus lies another also pierced.  It aches with His and burns with love like His.  It accompanies the divine Heart in the many silences of desolation and abandonment.  It does not speak but chooses simply to remain beside.

Only God knows what graces Mary has obtained out of her silent adoration.  The world turns its face away from what makes things beautiful – but she turns her face forwards to the Eucharistic Jesus and shines with unmatched beauty like the moon.  And then she turns to her children and embraces them with the gentlest tenderness.

I want to be like one of those little angels in the old medieval Marian paintings, entirely concerned with a single fold of Our Lady’s flowing blue garment, gingerly lifting it with both hands and looking to see that nothing is disturbed.  Or perhaps I would forget my duties and wrap myself up in the folds of her robe.

Christ crucified before our eyes

The crucifix places us at the foot of the cross.  As we pass in front of it, we assume the position of Mary and John, or perhaps the Roman soldiers, or perhaps both.  We are compelled to witness the great act of Love in spite of our inconstancy.  The crucifix is also a gift of memory from those faithful who stayed with Jesus to those disciples who fled, and to me, who would have fled.

I took this photograph as a blithe tourist once.  I took it because I thought it a pretty sight, and how quaint these Bavarian Catholics were, setting up crucifixes around the mountains!  With a half-pint of good German beer in me, I looked at the outspread arms of Jesus with neither devotion nor compunction of heart, concerned with framing the shot and not at all with the lesson that this crucifix could teach me.  And yet I called myself a Christ-follower.  “I have spread forth my hands all the day to an unbelieving people, who walk in a way that is not good after their own thoughts. ”

Now it is different.  Now, at the very least, I know that I have my mother Mary to teach me how to love Christ on the crucifix.  Now I have St. Alphonsus and St. John and St. Aloysius and many others to help me and pray for me that I might turn my eyes more frequently and with greater devotion to this figure of the greatest love.  And then might I wish to be crucified too, in whatever state of life God will have me.

Indeed the best place to be is at the foot of the Cross.