Father John A. Hardon, S.J. Archives
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Perpetual Adoration as a Necessary Antidote to Abortion
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
The present title of our meditation can be shortened and simplified. It should read, "Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and the Catholic Prolife Movement."
We have already spoken at length and in detail about the Holy Eucharist. Our focus has been to bring out the role of the Holy Eucharist in obtaining the graces we need to stem the tide of infant homicide and restore moral sanity in the modern world. As we reflected on the power of the Eucharist to achieve miracles, we kept insisting that these miracles will be performed by Our Lord only if we believe. Christ promised that those who believe will be able to move mountains by the divine power which Christ will exercise in their favor. But the condition set down by Christ is always, "If they believe."
What the Savior told His contemporaries He is telling us. The moving of mountains can be done only by God. He will do so provided we believe in His Omnipotence as the man of Nazareth who is our Incarnate God. Our present task will be to see how prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is, by all odds, the most powerful in moving the will of God to exercise His divine power. There is a profound logic to understanding how prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so potent because it is inspired by such faith as no other prayer in human experience depends upon.
What are the depths of faith that underlie prayer before the Blessed Sacrament? They are nothing less than the four most profound mysteries of Christian revelation. When we pray before the Holy Eucharist, we profess our faith in the Incarnation of the Son of God; we profess our faith in the true humanity of Jesus Christ assumed by the Second Person of the Holy Trinity; we profess our faith in Christ's death on Calvary and Resurrection from the dead; and we profess our faith in the continued physical presence of the risen Christ on earth in our midst, ready to exercise the limits of His divine power in our favor, depending on the measure and depth of our faith in this quadrad of mysteries of Christianity.
Faith in the IncarnationWhen we pray before the Blessed Sacrament, we believe that the One to whom we are speaking is not only God but God become man. Absolutely speaking, a person need not even have faith to accept the existence of God. The philosophers of ancient Greece, like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, accepted the existence of God. For that matter the Jews of the Old Testament from Abraham until the last of the prophets also recognized the existence of God. Moreover the Chosen people of the Old Law not only knew there was a God because their native reason could conclude, as the Book of Wisdom tells them, seeing the beauties of nature they could conclude to the existence of a creator who produced His beauty in the world in which we live.
But once God took on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, the most significant event in human history took place. The God who had always been on earth by His almighty, sustaining presence, began to be present as man. The child in Mary's womb had flesh and blood like His Mother. He received a soul which animated His body. He was born at Bethlehem and, as a child, had to be nursed at His Mother's breasts. As Saint Luke tells us, He grew in age and wisdom and in the grace of God. He slept and ate and talked and became tired like the rest of us.
When He spoke to His fellow Nazarenes in their town synagogue, His listeners were dumbfounded with anger at the alleged claim that He was indeed the one predicted by Isaiah, whom the prophet had foretold would be the Emmanuel, that is, God with us.
During His whole public ministry, Christ's most difficult teaching to accept by His contemporaries was that He, though man, was the living God. When some Jews in their livid anger at what they thought were His mad pretensions picked up stones to kill Him; when He asked them, "Why do you want to kill me, is it because of the good works I have done among you?" They retorted, "It is not because of the good works you have done, but because you, though a man, make yourself equal to God." The Greek word in Saint John's Gospel for "equal" is isos. As we know from what we call the isosceles triangle, isos in Greek means mathematical identity. The Jews were scandalized at what they considered the blasphemy of a mere man claiming to be mathematically equal to God.
During His Passion, Christ was charged with a variety of crimes. But the peak of those crimes was Christ's claim to being not only the Messiah but the Messiah whom the ancient prophets foretold would be the God who became man.
All the foregoing was necessary to bring out what is the first reason why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so powerful with God. It is so powerful because it is animated by faith in the divinity of Christ. It is impossible to exaggerate how crucially important this is. I really believe that many, if not most, Catholics do not fully realize that Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament is God become man. It is faith in the humanity of Christ. It is faith in Mary having given her divine Son a share in her own flesh and blood. It is faith in Jesus Christ not only as a historical memory, but faith in a present, geographic, local presence in Our midst no less than He was present to His disciples at the Last Supper or present to them after His resurrection when He told them to see and touch His risen body and even ate in their presence.
All of this is the first reason why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is able to move Omnipotence to work signs and wonders that only believers have a right to expect from Jesus Christ.
Faith in the True Humanity of Jesus ChristNo human language can ever express the full meaning of a divine mystery. Among these mysteries none is deeper or less humanly expressible than the true humanity assumed by the Son of God at the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. What do we believe about Christ's humanity when we pray before the Blessed Sacrament? Do we merely believe that when God became man, He united Himself very, very closely to a human person by the name of Jesus Christ? No, that would be the Nestorian heresy, which claims that Christ is really two persons, one human and the other divine, and therefore Mary is not really the Mother of God. She is, on these terms, only the Mother of the man Jesus.
Do we believe that when God became man He somehow abstractly became united with humanity? Do we believe that God in His love for the human race united Himself in spirit with the human race? No, that would be at most a symbolic or even metaphorical union of the divinity with the humanity.
When we pray before the Blessed Sacrament, do we believe that God became man by taking on the substance of man's human nature: that Christ as man is human, indeed, but that humanity is merely the substance of what makes a man man? No, Christ is not only human in sharing with us the bare essentials of our humanhood, but minus our body and flesh and features and emotions and thoughts and mind and will.
No, among the heresies condemned by the Church was the claim that God never assumed a human will. Called monothelitism, it claimed that Christ did not need a human will. What can a human will add to the divine will, so it was objected.
What must we say, when we pray before the Blessed Sacrament? We must say it because we believe that the Holy Eucharist contains the whole Christ. The Council of Trent which defined that under the external species of what used to be bread and wine is now present the totus Christus. This means everything that makes Christ Christ is present in the Holy Eucharist. This includes His body and soul, His mind and will, His emotions and feelings, His bodily faculties and, with emphasis, His human heart. By the end of the sixteenth century, Saint Robert Bellarmine counted two hundred interpretations among the so-called protestant reformers, on the words of Christ at the Last Supper, "This is my body this is my blood." It is not common knowledge that the main reason for the divisions in Protestantism, over four thousand denominations throughout the world, is their divergent interpretation of what we call the Real Presence. There is no divergence among believing and understanding Catholics. The Real Presence is Jesus Christ. When we speak to Him before the Blessed Sacrament, we must say that He hears us only as the all-wise God but as man who has human ears to hear us and human feelings to experience and sympathize with our emotions.
Faith in Christ's Death and ResurrectionWe go on. Remember our focus in this meditation. We are concentrating on why prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is so powerful in soliciting the graces of God. It is so powerful because it is animated by faith in the deepest mysteries of Christianity. What do we believe when we talk to Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist? We believe that He underwent His Passion and died on the cross by shedding His blood for our redemption. We believe that His sufferings began the moment He was conceived in His Mother's womb; that they were aggravated during His public ministry when so many of His Jewish contemporaries rejected Him. We believe that the peak of His internal sufferings was reached in the Garden of Gethsemane when He shed blood in agony as He anticipated not only His bloody death on Calvary but the rejection by so many human beings in the future centuries of human time. We believe that the Christ whom we are worshipping in the Blessed Sacrament is the One who was nailed to the cross, who had His side pierced with a soldier's lance and who was buried in a stranger's tomb.
All the while, we know that the Jesus to whom we are praying in the Blessed Sacrament is now the risen and glorified Christ. We believe that He truly ascended into heaven forty days after His resurrection and is now seated at the right hand of His heavenly Father. But we also believe that Jesus is not only in heaven in His glorified humanity. We believe that He is also on earth in that same glorified humanity. We dare not say there is any real difference between the Jesus in heaven and the Jesus now on earth. We believe, as Saint Thomas Aquinas reminds us in the Tantum Ergo, what our senses fail to perceive. In this Eucharistic hymn, we sing Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui, which in English translates, "Let our faith supply for the defects of our senses." Our senses perceive only what looks and tastes like bread and wine. But our faith tells us these are not bread and wine; they are Jesus Christ in the fullness of His risen humanity united, of course, with the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
Faith in the Continued Physical Presence of the Risen ChristAny instructed Catholic knows that the Holy Eucharist is the Real Presence. What not everyone understands is what the Real Presence means. The expression "Real Presence" was coined by the Church to answer the heretical charges that Christ is present only symbolically or spiritually or even sacramentally, but not really. All we have said so far should be put into the one word real. In Latin the word res means "the thing," and the corresponding adjective realis is the source of our word real. The Real Presence, therefore, of Christ in the Eucharist is the objective presence of Christ. Jesus in the Holy Eucharist is part of our contemporary history and we may add of our geography. We believe that, by the mysterious power of transubstantiation, Christ becomes simultaneously present on earth even as truly as He is present in heaven. Pope Pius XII, in the keynote address he gave in Budapest at the International Eucharistic Congress, told the assembled audience that the risen Savior never really left the earth. He is both in heaven and on earth. The same identical Jesus whom the angels and saints behold in the beatific vision is with us in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. This is the Real Presence. This we believe whenever we pray to Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist. Every episode of the Gospels in which Christ's contemporaries wished to be near Him, so near they crowded and shoved and pushed, so close did they want to be to Him that as the woman with a hemorrhage knew that she would be cured if she was just able to touch the hem of His garment. She did so, and Christ asked, "Who touched me?" She was instantly cured, and the Savior told her, "It was your faith that healed you."
In the light of all that we have been saying, is it any wonder that prayer before the Holy Eucharist can actually evoke the powers of omnipotence because of the faith of those who engage in Eucharistic prayer. I can say, on personal testimony, that our Holy Father deeply even desperately wants American Catholics to cultivate the practice of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. These were his directives to me through his private secretary on two formal occasions in the offices of the Holy See.
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