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A Eucharistic Retreat
Imitation of Christ in the Real Presence in His Humility
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
After having seen something of the rule of the Real Presence and the pattern for our imitation of Jesus Christ, we are now in the position to look at three of Christs virtues which we are invited to imitate in our Eucharistic Lord: the humility of Christ, the poverty of Christ and the chastity of Christ. For our first meditation on Christs humility, we will ask three prayerful questions:
What is Christian Humility?
As a moral virtue, humility keeps a person from reaching beyond himself. It is the virtue that restrains our natural desire for personal greatness and instead, leads us to an orderly, justified love for ourselves based on a true appreciation of our position with respect to God and neighbor. Humility is not only opposed to pride, but is also opposed to inordinate self-abjection. In other words, we are to be humble, but not humble in a sense that we fail to recognize Gods gifts and use them according to His will.
The word humility comes from the Latin, humus, which literally means dirt good black dirt. But Christian humility rises far above natural humility in several ways. Christian humility is based on divine faith as revealed in the New Testament and is modeled on the humility of Christ. Without His humility, we would not have what we call Christian humility. Moreover, Christian humility is supernatural; it cannot be possessed as a virtue or practiced by anyone without the grace of God.
So what is Christian humility? The foundation of Christian humility is the Incarnation, which we may call the self-humiliation of God. In the words of St. Paul writing to the Philippians:
Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus, who although He was by nature God, did not consider being equal to God a thing to be clinged to, but emptied Himself, taking the nature of a slave and being made like unto man. And appearing in the form of a man, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even to death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
God humiliated Himself by becoming man. He could not have become less, because the lowest rational creatures are human beings. We should also see that following Christs example of Christian humility includes Christian obedience. Why? Because the God-man was so humble, He practiced obedience to His Heavenly Father. To know that is to begin to understand what we mean by Christian humility.
Manifestation of Humility in the Real Presence
As we enter this subject, we are entering the field of revealed mystery. We cannot explain or even comprehend the meaning of Christian humility. We have to believe God wants us to be humble simply because God became man to practice humility. Our guides for seeing how Christ manifests His humility in the Real Presence are the saintly men and women whom the Church has raised to the honors of the altar. Therefore, we are secure in following their teaching and even using their vocabulary.
So let us begin. How does Christ manifest His humility in the Real Presence? By His self-abasement in the Holy Eucharist. Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament not only without manifesting His divinity, but even hiding His humanity. Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament without pomp or majesty. The Lord of nations and King of kings is in the Holy Eucharist totally unseen beyond the Eucharistic species. Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament by abasing Himself through the performance of a stupendous miracle, the miracle of transubstantiation. Being God, He maintains the accidents (the physical properties) of bread and wine by surpassing the laws of nature. As the saints ask: Who could hide the sun in a cloud thick enough to interrupt the suns light and heat? That would surely be a great miracle. Yet that is exactly what Christ does in the holier, more stupendous miracle of hiding Himself behind the Eucharistic veils. The all-great and Almighty God, who became man in His divinity during His visible stay on earth, surpasses Himself in the Eucharist by hiding Himself even from sight as a human being.
Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament with none of the resplendent glory He possesses as the Incarnate God. He has no angels announcing His presence and no protection from the coldness and indifference to which He is exposed, even from those who profess to believe in Him. In fact, Christ deprives Himself of appreciation even from many too many of those who are ordained or consecrated in His name in religious life. Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament and allows Himself to be ignored by those who call themselves Christians. The greatest tragedy of the rise of what we call Protestantism is the loss of faith among millions in Christs Real, Corporeal Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
We can see Christs humility as He makes Himself present in the Blessed Sacrament at the words of one of His own creatures at the words of consecration, even if the consecrating priest is himself unholy and perhaps estranged from God by grave sin. Christ allows Himself to be obedient and comes down on the altar the moment a priest pronounces the words of transubstantiation. This is humility! But with this, we find the one crisis in the priesthood in the Western world. Every other crisis is a corollary or consequence. This crisis among priests is a weakening and loss of faith in their own priesthood a loss of faith in being able to pronounce the words of consecration and having God obey their words and having what had been bread and wine become Jesus Christ. We go on.
We also see Christs humility when we recognize He is present in the Blessed Sacrament in total silence. The Word of God which brought the world into existence out of nothing is silent in the Holy Eucharist. Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament in such a hidden and humble way because He wants to make Himself approachable and available even to the lowliest child who believes in the Real Presence. Over the years, I have given first Communion too many young children, and this has strengthened my faith immensely. Those children really believe, with no doubt in their minds that Jesus is here in the Blessed Sacrament. And they believe they really receive Jesus into their hearts! We must remember how Our Lord calls us to come to Him as children.
One more sentence. Christ, we may say, is in the Blessed Sacrament without defense. He restrains His own divine power as the all-powerful Divine Majesty.
Imitating Christs Humility in the Real Presence
Imitation of Christs humility in the Real Presence must be based on deep, divine faith. Naturally speaking, we are all proud all of us. We sometimes might actually think we are humble, but we all tend to want to have other people think well of us. We all want people to speak well of us. We want people to recognize whatever talent we may have. We even want people to recognize our humility! We dread being ignored. We dread being criticized. We tremble at being corrected or reprimanded, and then we panic at the very thought of being ridiculed or despised. But as we look more closely in Our Lords self-abasement in the Eucharist, we start to realize how much work we have to do. The key word in imitating Christs Eucharistic humility is self-effacement. This self-effacement must begin in the mind. Only a humble mind can produce a humble heart.
How do we cultivate a humble mind? By not allowing our thoughts for even a moment to dwell in self-complacency. Humility begins in our minds as pride begins in the mind. And when we see we are naturally proud, we realize that we often naturally, spontaneously admire ourselves. Self-admiration, self-adulation, self-adoration is the cardinal sin of which all other sins are based. Therefore, we shall become more and more like Christ in His humility if we fully recognize that without God, we human beings would not even exist.
Moreover, we are so constantly prone to live by other peoples estimate of ourselves. But we can become more and more like the humble Christ if, like Him, we accept not being recognized or appreciated by others. We shall become more Christ-like in humility if, like the Master, we not only accept, but actually cherish humiliations. In this conviction, I like the teaching of St. Bernard, a great lover of the Eucharistic Lord who abases Himself in the Real Presence:
Humility, which humiliation teaches us to practice is the foundation of the entire spiritual fabric. Thus humiliation is the way to humility; as patience is to peace or as reading is to knowledge. If you long for the virtue of humility, you must not flee from the way of humiliation. For if you do not allow yourself to be humbled, you cannot attain to humility. (Letters)
Dear Lord, need I tell You that we have an awful lot of work to do? If humiliation is a normal road to humility, so obedience is the hallmark of a humble follower of Christ. St. Paul left us that memorable description of the Incarnation: Christ was obedient unto death, even to death on the cross. But Christ did not have to die. He allowed Himself to be crucified, indeed murdered, in obedience to His Heavenly Father. But He also practiced obedience to human beings, beginning with Jesus obeying Mary and Joseph and ending with Christ obeying the Jewish Sanhedrin and submitting in obedience to the cowardly decree of Pontius Pilate ordering Christ to be crucified. Christ practices obedience. And thats why Hes on earth in the Eucharist. Talk about God obeying a creature! As I never tire telling priests when I give retreats, In humble obedience to your word, God comes down on the altar and you dare to be proud?
If we are going to imitate Christs Eucharistic humility, we must imitate His Eucharistic obedience. We too must be obedient according to our position and state in life to human beings who are vested with authority from God. A letter published by Pope Clement I before the close of the first century tells Christians the importance of being obedient:
The head without the feet is nothing, and so the feet without the head are nothing. The smallest members of our body are necessary and useful for the whole body. But all conspire together and unite in a single obedience so that the whole body may be saved. Therefore let the whole body be sound in Christ Jesus and let each be subject to his neighbor according to the position which grace bestows on each one.
How then, are we to imitate Our Lords humility in the Real Presence? We do so by our self-abasement and by our humble obedience following Christs example.
Lord Jesus, we know that without Your grace we are all very proud. We ask You, Dear Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, to give us the grace to be humble in our own eyes so that humble here on earth, we may be exalted in the world to come, because, Dear Jesus, Heaven is reserved only for the meek and humble of heart. Make our hearts, Dear Lord, as meek and humble as Thine. Amen.
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