By Rev. Henry Brinkmeyer
THE BREAD OF LIFE.
IT is an axiom admitted by all that love ever tends to union. This springs from the very nature of love; for love is nothing else than an effusion and an impulse of the heart by which it tends to the being loved. We naturally desire to be with those who are dear to us, and when we are obliged to separate from them, our inmost being seems, as it were, torn asunder, and tears involuntarily spring to our eyes. And when again we meet dear friends from whom we have been long parted,—when a mother, for example, meets her child who has been far away, does she not eagerly fly to clasp him to her bosom? Love, then, essentially tends to union, first of all to a spiritual union, though of actual presence. Consequently, since the Sacred Heart is consuming itself with love for man, it has devised a means to be united to man. Oh! how admirable are the artifices of Christ's love! Behold that union marvellously and sweetly effected in the Blessed Sacrament.
In receiving the Holy Eucharist, Jesus is united to us. That is the first effect and the first aim of Holy Communion. And that union is of the closest possible nature. No earthly alliance is comparable to it. Men may love one another on earth, but their souls are ever separated. Heart cannot melt into heart. But in the Holy Eucharist there is nothing, absolutely nothing between the soul of Jesus and our own: our soul rests on His. The most intimate material connection known to us is that existing between us and our food. It becomes our flesh, our blood, our bone. It becomes part of the heart with which we love, and part of the brain with which we think. Similarly, in Holy Communion Jesus unites Himself so intimately to us, that He lives in us and we in Him: "He who eateth My flesh and drinketh My blood, abideth in Me, and I in him." But there is a vast difference: we absorb our food, it changes into us. The reverse takes place in Holy Communion; here the stronger life absorbs the weaker,—our being is transformed into His, not His into ours. I do not mean to say, however, that the substance of our soul is changed into His, but His life, His spirit, His virtues, His divine inclinations enter into our souls. "I live by the Father: he that eateth Me, the same shall also live by Me." Mark these words, "The same shall live by Me"; and these others, "He who eateth My flesh. . . abideth, remaineth in Me." These utterances indicate something more than a transitory, temporal union with Jesus,—they point out a permanent union, a continued indwelling of our Lord in the soul that has eaten His flesh. How can this be, since it is certain that the Body and Blood of Jesus leave in a few moments after our reception of Holy Communion? Some theologians explain this by saying that even after the Body of our Lord disappears, which takes place as soon as the outward appearances of the bread undergo a change,—that even then, though the Body is gone, His adorable soul remains and continues the real union which was contracted when we received the flesh and blood, the soul and the divinity of Jesus. Try to understand this,— it is a most beautiful explanation of the words of our Lord: "He that eateth My flesh . . . abideth In Me and I in him"; and these others, "He that eateth Me, the same shall live by Me." And again,—when we receive Holy Communion we receive the living flesh and blood, the human soul and the divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, His flesh and blood are with us but a short time, a few minutes; for as soon as the species, that is, the appearances of bread are changed,— the flesh and blood are no longer there. Yet, according to this teaching the human soul of Jesus remains, and remains united to our soul in all reality. It penetrates into the depth of our being, it penetrates the deeper, the more fervent our Communion is, and it will not leave us entirely unless we fall into mortal sin. Our Divine Lord's blessed soul takes possession more and more of our whole nature, speaks with our lips, thinks with our brain, and moves in all our actions. In proportion as our old human life disappears before His influence, human views and feelings grow less, and the thoughts and desires of Jesus are substituted for them. Instead of the love of ease comes the thirst for suffering; instead of selfishness, a devoted zeal, instead of indifference, a tender piety like that of Jesus, who lives more and more completely within us, because our old self is dying beneath the Sacramental touch, and the word of Scripture is realized in us,—"I live; no, not I, but Christ liveth in me." This truth is beautifully illustrated by that old legend of the monk who, while our Lord was entertaining him with a gracious vision of Himself, heard the bell ring that called him to his appointed task. Duty's claim fulfilled, he returned to find his God awaiting him, not as the Holy Child, but as grown to man's estate. Thus had Jesus developed in the heart of the faithful monk, while he was performing the duty of the hour, and thus does He grow in us, and become, as it were, another Christ in our lives by His intimacy with our souls in the Holy Eucharist.
But even if the created soul of our Lord does not continue its actual presence, His graces do remain. How could he come and go without leaving a benediction on our lives? Even though He remain but a little while, He assuredly confers signal gifts upon the soul. And such is the doctrine of the Church:—she teaches us, that besides the wonderful union of Jesus with our soul which Holy Communion effects, it moreover bestows special graces of its own. The Blessed Sacrament is indeed the chief fountain of grace. Other sacraments infuse grace into our souls, but in the Blessed Sacrament we possess Him who contains in Himself the source and the plenitude of all grace. I will not speak of the increase of sanctifying grace which Holy Communion, like every other sacrament, produces; that, I fear, would occupy too much time. But Holy Communion, like every other sacrament, has also a grace peculiar to itself, and which the other sacraments are not intended to confer. What is this special grace of the Blessed Sacrament? It is difficult to express it in a few words, yet a brief explanation may not prove useless.
We are supposed when receiving Holy Communion to be in the state of sanctifying grace,— and Holy Communion augments this grace. But sanctifying grace is not enough; the soul must utilize it. A power is of no avail, if allowed to remain inactive. A man may have great talents, a talent for painting, for music, for philosophy, for science, but of what profit are these gifts if not exercised because of his negligence, sloth, or other passions? He must stimulate himself to action, then he will derive benefit from them. In like manner, sanctifying grace may reach immense heights in our souls, but if it remain dormant, it will prove almost fruitless; and indeed we incur imminent risk of losing it forever. Hence, sanctifying grace with its attendant virtues must be stimulated to exercise by actual grace. What then is the actual grace given us in Holy Communion? The actual grace given us in Holy Communion is precisely the causing of habitual charity to break out into actual charity; like a fire fallen from heaven it kindles into a bright flame the sanctifying grace which lies, as it were, like unconsumed fuel in the bottom of our souls. It makes our cold hearts burn with an unwonted fervor, which may be very brief, yet none the less real. We are able to surmount obstacles that before we could not overcome; sometimes things appear easy which but lately seemed impossible to our sluggish, cowardly nature; occasionally even a sudden gush of feeling may spring up in our hearts so as to cause us to break out into acts of love, and to impel us to generous resolutions. All this does not come from ourselves, it comes from Jesus within us, it is the actual grace of Holy Communion. At times we feel spiritually refreshed, a kind of sweetness and holy joy embalms our souls; we experience anew a relish for heavenly things, we arm ourselves once more for the stern battle of life. What is all this but the unction of actual grace ? The poor sinner who commits deeds for which he hates himself,— who has so keen a sense of the beauty of virtue and of the degradation of guilt, yet ever follows a course that fills him with bitterest remorse,— who painfully feels the shame of sin, until he is driven to the verge of despair,—that poor sinner kneels again and again at the altar to receive his God. This perseverance in drinking at the fountain of grace will gradually but surely cool down the blighting fever of sin; evil images and tendencies will depart from his mind, slowly his falls become less frequent and less weakening; in the most awful temptations he will sometimes be victorious. Spiritual joy, so long a stranger, at last dawns upon his soul, habits of vice are uprooted, contrary habits of virtue are established,—and, thank God, that sinner falls no more! Again, what is all this but the actual grace conferred by Jesus in Holy Communion?
Oh, how wrong are they who deprecate the frequent reception of Holy Communion! How many sinners groping in darkness would turn to paths of virtue if they were encouraged to kneel often at the table of the Lord! How many souls there are who ought to communicate frequently, yet who refrain from approaching our Lord because they do not understand the nature of love, and have erroneous ideas concerning the effects of this Sacrament! Oh, the Sacred Heart of Jesus is burning with love, it is intensely longing to enter the hearts of creatures. "With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you." Why then refuse to give Him entrance into our hearts and the hearts of others?
Absolutely speaking, no creature is worthy to receive Him. Even the angels are not pure in His sight. But He is willing to come to every one whose soul is not dead in mortal sin, and whose heart makes fitting preparation to receive Him. The confessor, of course, will judge how often it is expedient for us to eat the Bread of Life; he will discern whether our preparation be reasonably sufficient to justify our approach to the Lord's banquet table. All should, however, remember that weekly communion is not frequent communion. Every adult Christian who is sincerely desirous of avoiding mortal sin or who is laboring to correct the criminal habits he has contracted, may once a week, partake of the food of the strong and drink the wine that germinates virgins. "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you." Let the sinner, the worldling, the imperfect, the child approach Him,—He loves them unutterably! Let them receive Him often, the oftener the better, if they have but the approbation of the guides of their souls. The road they have to traverse is so difficult, their daily occupations so absorbing, their temptations so intense, their faults so numerous, how shall they ever reach the goal except in the strength of a Bread Divine? "Arise and eat: for thou hast yet a great way to go." "As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father, so he that eateth Me, the same shall also live by Me"
"Living Bread! thy life supply; Strengthen us, or else we die; Fill us with celestial grace; Thou, who feedest us below! Source of all we have or know! Grant that with thy saints above, Sitting at the feast of love, We may see Thee face to face. Amen."