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St. Peter Julian Eymard
Apostle of the Real Presence

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Great Catholic Books Newsletter
Volume I, Number 7

In the providence of God, different saints are raised up by Him in different periods of history to provide the world with solutions to the deepest problems of their age. The deepest problem of the modern age is alienation from God. Call it separation from God or indifference to God; call it unawareness of God or disinterest in God. By whatever name, in so-called developed countries of the Western world, God has been replaced by Self as the focus of attention and, I would not hesitate to say, adoration.

That is why an unlikely saint like St. Peter Julian Eymard should have arisen to alert the world that the Incarnate God is in our midst in what we may casually call the Blessed Sacrament.

God With Us

To appreciate the Eucharistic teaching of Eymard, we must begin in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of the Messiah by predicting that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son, and His name would be Emmanuel, which means "God with us." The significance of this title rests in the words, "with us." The forthcoming Savior would be God, indeed, but God who is

  • one of us

  • like us

  • close to us

  • among us

  • near us

  • in the midst of us, or in biblical terms, "with us."

One of the reasons for the Incarnation, St. Peter Julian makes clear, is that God who was and would have been everywhere in His creation, took on flesh from the Virgin Mary so that He might become our Emmanuel. During His thirty years in Palestine, Jesus, the Son of God and equal to the Father, could be seen and touched and heard by His contemporaries. Why? Because the Second Person of the Trinity had assumed our humanity. Wherever the Man Jesus was, there was the fullness of His Divinity in tangible and visible and audible form.

Certainly God became Man that He might suffer and die on the Cross for our Redemption. Certainly God became incarnate that He might have a human body and soul that could separate, and thus He could die on Calvary. Certainly God assumed a human will so that He could voluntarily offer Himself to the Heavenly Father for our sins.

The Blessed Sacrament

But that was only the beginning. On the night before He died, Christ instituted two sacraments: the sacrament of the Eucharist in order to perpetuate His real bodily presence on earth and the sacrament of the Priesthood in order to make the Eucharist possible until the end of time.

Given these premises, the prophecy of Isaiah not only was fulfilled at Nazareth and Bethlehem. It is being continually fulfilled by Christ's abiding presence among us in the Blessed Sacrament.

What must be kept in mind, however, is that Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus. He is here, geographically, in our midst. He is here, corporally, among us. He is here, the same identical Jesus that Mary carried in her womb for nine months and held in her arms on Christmas Day.

He is Emmanuel, because He is our God who took on our human nature, that He could be physically present to us and we to Him. He invented the Eucharist, we may say, in order to be wherever we are whether in Europe or Africa or Asia, Australia or the Americas; whether surrounded by the noise and smoke of an industrial city or in the quiet of a suburb or a farming town.

Not only is Jesus multiplied with the Sacred Particles, but by a wonder that follows from that of the multiplication, He is present at one and the same time in an infinite number of places.
During the days of His mortal life, Jesus was present in one place only. He dwelt in one house only. Few persons were privileged enough to enjoy His presence and listen to His words.
But today in the Blessed Sacrament, He is, we may say, everywhere at one and the same time. In a way, His humanity shares the prerogative of His divine immensity which fills all things. Jesus is present in His entirety in an infinite number of temples and in each one of them. Since all the Christians scattered throughout the world are members of His Mystical Body, it does seem necessary that He, as the soul of it, should be everywhere present throughout the whole body, giving it life, and sustaining it in each one of His members.

This is the first lesson that Peter Julian teaches us: that Jesus the God-made-man dwells among us. And He multiplies His presence, so that wherever we His followers may be, there He also, as Love incarnate, can be.

Calvary Continued

St. Peter Julian is so commonly associated with the Eucharist as Real Presence that we are liable to overlook his corresponding emphasis on the Eucharist as Christ's continuing sacrifice.

There are critics of Eucharistic Adoration who claim that devotion to the Real Presence detracts from the Eucharistic Liturgy. Worship of Our Lord apart from Mass, it is said, distracts from the liturgical celebration.

This attitude is nothing new. In fact, it was one reason that Julian Eymard met such violent opposition in his day. A deeper understanding, however, shows how these two aspects of the Eucharist are not competitive. They are fully compatible. Indeed they are complementary. We would not have the Mass without the Real Presence, nor the Real Presence without the Mass.

The core issue at stake here is what St. Peter never tired insisting on: that the Holy Eucharist is Jesus Christ. Once this is recognized, then a flood of consequences follow.

  • It is uniquely through the consecration at Mass that Our Lord becomes physically present in the world. No Mass, no Real Presence!

  • It is through the double, and separate, consecration at Mass that Jesus continues to sacrifice Himself to His heavenly Father. What Christ did at the Last Supper was to make the voluntary offering of his bodily life for the salvation of a sinful world. The Last Supper was a real Mass. On the next day, Jesus fulfilled what He had offered the evening before. He actually died on Calvary by the literal separation of His Body and Blood, which caused His death on the Cross.

  • In every Mass, Jesus re-enacts what He did on Good Friday. Being now immortal He can no longer die in His own person physically. But He can, and does, die mystically in two ways: in His willingness to die if He could, and in us members of His Mystical Body who are to die daily in the surrender of our wills to the will of our heavenly Father.

  • Christ's sacrifice of Himself is symbolized not only in the double consecration at Mass. It is also manifest in His continued presence among us under the Eucharistic species. Here especially Julian Eymard is eloquent in explaining what this means. As this champion of devotion to the Real Presence would have it, every feature of Christ's Passion is being re-united by His Eucharistic Presence.

During His Passion in Palestine, Christ endured the agony of betrayal by His enemies and of abandonment by His friends.

By instituting His Sacrament, Jesus perpetuated the sacrifices of His Passion. He condemned Himself to undergo desertions as heartbreaking as the one He suffered in the Garden of Olives; the treachery of His friends and disciples who would become schismatics, heretics and renegades.

Mysteriously, but really, Christ is reliving, or shall we say re-dying, the experiences He went through on Holy Thursday night and Good Friday morning.

He perpetuated the denials that distressed Him in the house of Annas, the sacrilegious fury of Caiphas, the scorn of Herod, the cravenness of Pilate; the shame of seeing a passion, an idol of flesh, preferred to Him, as He had seen Barabbas; the sacrilegious crucifixion in the body and in the soul of the sacrilegious communicant.

Once we recognize that the Christ in the Eucharist is the Christ of the Passion, it is not poetry but stark reality to see Him undergoing in anticipation the sufferings He endured during the longest Mass in history, from the cenacle of the Last Supper to His expiring on Calvary.

Our Lord knew all this beforehand. He was acquainted with all the new Judases. He counted them among His own, among His well-beloved children. But nothing of all this could stop Him. He wanted His love to go further than the ingratitude and malice of men. He wanted to outlive man's sacrilegious malice.

Mystical Suffering

St. Peter Julian is not finished yet. He wants to bring out the incomprehensible truth that Christ, even now, is undergoing His Passion. He not only became Man to suffer for our salvation in the past. In ways we cannot fathom but still believe, He became Man in order to suffer for our redemption in the present. That is why He is in the Holy Eucharist, our God become Man, living in His humanity in our midst.

Is there anything else? But is it nothing to have adopted this state of death when He has the fullness of life, a glorified supernatural life? Is it nothing to be treated and considered as one dead? In this state of death, Jesus is without beauty, motion or defense; He is wrapped in the Sacred Species as in a shroud and laid in the tabernacle as in a tomb. He is there, however; He sees everything and He hears everything. He submits to everything as though He were dead. His love casts a veil over His power, His glory, His hands, His feet, His beautiful face and His sacred lips; it has hidden everything. It has left Him only His Heart to love us and His state of victim to intercede in our behalf.

As we read these words we are struck as by a thunderbolt. "Where have I been," we ask ourselves, "all these years and not realized what is going on?" Why, the Passion of Christ, from Gethsemane to Calvary, is a present-day reality! As the God-Man during His mortal life on earth, Christ foresaw all the infidelity and hypocrisy of His nominal followers until the end of time. He suffered the experience of this rejection and treachery. During those agonizing hours of Holy Week, He submitted meekly and silently to the injustices of His enemies. Now in the Holy Eucharist, He can no longer suffer in His own human nature. But He can, and wants to suffer in our pathetically mortal humanity. More still, He wants to show us how we are to endure, like Him, what He went through in those closing days of the first Holy Week of history. Silence and patience, peaceful acceptance of opposition from those whom we love; this is the lesson of the silent presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist today.

Indifference to the Real Presence

All that we know about St. Peter Julian Eymard tells us he was a mild personality. He was not abrasive or aggressive or self-opinionated. Yet as we read some of his conferences on the Holy Eucharist, we wonder. He is outspoken in the extreme when he talks about the coldness and indifference of so many professed Catholics toward the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.

He has only one explanation for this phenomenon. It must be the work of the evil spirit. In one dramatic passage, he has the devil mocking Jesus. "I give man nothing that is true, good or beautiful," he tells the Savior. "I have not suffered for his sake, and I am more loved, more obeyed, and better served than you." To which Eymard adds the comment, "Alas! It is too true, our coldness, our ingratitude are Satan's triumph over God!"

Peter Julian wrote these observations in the nineteenth century. They could just as well have been written today.

But there is a solution. The absolute number of strong believers in Christ's Eucharistic Presence has never been large. This is a fair comparison with the number of believers in His divine presence in Palestine in the first century. Yet we know what happened: that a relatively small number of dedicated followers shook the Roman Empire to its foundations. We can expect the very same. With St. Peter Julian Eymard, we can pray, "Lord Jesus, we adore Thy power which has multiplied wonderful works." The miracles that He performed in Galilee and Judea, He continues performing in our country in our day. He is the same almighty God in human form. The only precondition is that we believe.

Copyright © 2003 by Inter Mirifica

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