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A Eucharistic Retreat
Imitating Christs Charity in the Real Presence
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
In this Eucharistic Retreat, we have already reflected on the love of Christ in the Real Presence from two perspectives: the manifestation of Christs divine love in instituting the Blessed Sacrament and the profession of our love for Him in our adoration of the Holy Eucharist. Our purpose in this meditation is more distinctive. We will look at our imitation of Christs charity in the Real Presence.
What do we wish to see? We want to see what is not only distinctive but unique in Christ' practice of charity in the Real Presence we are privileged to imitate. Following the lead of the great saintly devotees of the Holy Eucharist, we will see the charity of Christ in the Real Presence is patient to a divine degree. We will ask two questions in this conference: how does Christ practice patient charity in the Real Presence and how are we to imitate His patient charity in our own lives?
Patient charity in the Real Presence
Charity is not just love, it is supernatural love. It is supernatural several times over: Charity is Love Incarnate. God who is Love became man to reveal to a selfish human race this divine love. Without Christ, we might still use the word charity. But unless God had become man in the person of the Incarnate Jesus Christ, the depth of meaning of what charity is would never be known to the human race. Love had to become Incarnate to make charity even conceivable.
Charity is the love we cannot begin to practice except through the illumination and inspiration of grace which comes from God. Charity is supernatural love which only God in human form can practice or which those whom the Incarnate God gives the light and strength to practice.
Patient charity may also be called mercy. As we have discussed in a previous meditation, mercy is love which suffers and endures. Certainly, Christ practiced mercy when He instituted the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, the Holy Eucharist cost Our Lord the shedding of His blood on Calvary as He said at the Last Supper. This is my Body which will be given up for you. And This is my Blood which will be shed for you. Notice that the body given up for you and the shedding of Christs blood was necessary for the Eucharist even to come into existence. But our concentration here is on Christs practice of mercy as patient charity in the Real Presence.
We must note that this patient charity in the Real Presence is a distinctive kind of mercy. It is not only that Christ paid (past tense) dearly to institute the Holy Eucharist. We may also say He is presently paying dearly in the Real Presence in the Eucharist. How so? In many ways, but in none more evidently than in the neglect of His presence on earth by so many of the human race, and not only those who have never had the Gospel preached to them. Christs patient charity is seen in the fact that after almost 2,000 years, the human race does not even believe Hes on earth.
Once more I will quote from the great apostle of the Real Presence, St. Peter Julian Eymard, who paid so dearly during his own lifetime for telling people, in his own words, The Most Blessed Sacrament is not loved.
Alas, it is but too true: Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is not loved!
He is not loved by millions of pagans, by millions of infidels, by the millions of schismatics and heretics who either dont know anything of the Eucharist or have no notions about it.
Among so many thousands of creatures in whom God has placed a heart capable of loving, how many would love the Blessed Sacrament if only they knew it as I do!
Must I not at least try to love it for them in their stead?
Even among Catholics, few, very few love Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament. How many think of Him frequently, speak of Him, come to adore Him ?
What is the reason for this forgetfulness and coldness? Oh! They have never experienced the Eucharist, its sweetness, the delights of His love.
They have never known the goodness of Jesus!
They have no idea of the extent of His love in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Some of them have faith in Jesus Christ, but a faith so lifeless and superficial that it does not reach the heart, that it contents itself with what is strictly required by conscience for their salvation. And besides these last are but a handful among so many other Catholics who live like moral Pagans as if they had never heard of the Eucharist.
From all biographical accounts, Peter Eymard was a very gently man, but these are hard hitting words! You do not talk this way and get away with it. Peter Eymard was plagued with opposition from his own clergy for the outrageous criticism, which, as we know, was animated by his deep love of Our Lord in the Eucharist. There is no one so courageous, so absolutely fearless as the one who is in love to defend what the one loves. Yet this is the kind of language Catholics need desperately to hear today. Why? Because in so many parts of the Catholic world, the Real Presence in the Eucharist is paid little attention to, ignored, treated as though it did not exist, being demeaned and even denied. Someone, somewhere better have the courage of a Julian Eymard and speak up to defend it to defend Divine Love who became man and is in our presence in the Holy Eucharist!
The least we can do is try to make up, call it expiate, for the widespread neglect of Christs presence in a world which does not even recognize that God became Incarnate and less still that this Incarnate God is on earth in every Catholic Church and Chapel of the universe. So how does Christ practice patient charity in the Real Presence? I hope Peter Eymard helped answer our first question. We all know that there is nothing on earth more painful than love given and not returned.
Imitating Christs Patient Charity
We come now to what is our principle reason for this meditation. How are we to imitate Christs patient charity made manifest in the Holy Eucharist in our daily lives? Let us begin this reflection by quoting from the Collect at Mass, which scholars say dates back to the ninth century. The prayer reads:
O God, who by the patience of Thine only begotten Son didst Thou crush the pride of the ancient enemy. Grant us, we beseech Thee, to have a worthy recollection of the things which He devoutly endured on our behalf and thus, by His example, patiently to bear our adversities.
Thats the spirit with which we are to examine Christs patient charity. Note that we are to imitate His patient charity not only as He practiced it in Palestine, but as He practices it now under the sacramental veils.
To realistically come to grips with this crucial element in our following Christ, we must first ask: what is Christian patience? Patience in general is a form of the moral virtue of fortitude (also know as courage). Patience enables one to endure present evils without sadness or resentment in conformity with the will of God. But Christian patience is far more. Indeed, Christian patience includes the fortitude in bearing present evils without sadness or resentment, but not only in conformity with the will of God, but in the imitation of the Son of God who became man to teach us by word and example how to endure suffering and pain out of love of God. This is much more than generic patience! Christian patience is the imitation of Christs patience for a definite purpose. Whats the purpose? The salvation and sanctification of souls. What are we saying? We are saying that in Gods mysterious providence, it is mainly by our patient charity with others that we cooperate with Christ the Redeemer as channels of His grace. Patient people are apostolic people; nobody else is. That is why Christ places people into our lives who cause us pain. Remember, patience comes from the Latin patientia, which is simply the noun for the verb pati, which means to suffer. You can talk about patience, write about it, give lectures on it, but you dont have any patience unless you have some pain. So Lord, how about some pain!
Here we touch the rock bottom of our Christian faith. We are saying that God providentially places painful people into our lives. Let us say He provides such people in our lives, and these people cause us suffering, irritation or discomfort because of their neglect, oversight, indifference or even just by not realizing were here. Remember, we cannot comprehend the mysteries of our faith. We can only begin to see the divinely ordained reason for this from Christs passion and death on the cross and His divinely permitted practice of patience in the Holy Eucharist. There is a divine logic in the practice of patience:
The first level is to bear difficulties, especially those caused by others. And we should do so without interior complaint. Avoiding exterior complaining may be good business, but it is far from real patience. True patience bears its difficulties without interior complaining as well.
The second level is to use hardships to make progress in virtue. We all want to grow in sanctity. What Christian doesnt? But then we look at the price tag and say, Oh no! The price of sanctity is patience, and the ground of patience is pain, and the principle cause of pain is people. But we can endure our hardships and pain in order to grow in sanctity.
The third level of Christian patience is not only to patiently bear the pain others cause us without complaint because faith tells us this is the price of growing in sanctity. The highest degree of patience for which we should all pray is to actually desire the cross and the afflictions out of love of God. To accept with spiritual joy these pains and these crosses which especially come from other people. Yes, with joy! The rest of the body may be trembling and as far as the soul can shiver, I may be shivering in all my feelings. But spiritual joy is joy in the will, joy that comes from the mind and knowing that I am doing the will of God.
Why? Just as we pray while making The Way of the Cross: We adore Thee, O Christ and we praise Thee, because by thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world, so we believe by joining our sufferings in patient charity with those of Christ, we are cooperating with Him in saving a sinful world. Amen.
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