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The Humanity of Christ
(Biography: Father Gerald Fitzgerald)
by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
It is impossible to understand Father Gerald's spirituality without seeing something of his understanding of the humanity of Christ.
Somewhere near the center of this spirituality was the realization that God became man, not only to redeem a sinful race by dying on the Cross, but to show how much He loves us. Father Gerald's apostolate to priests derived from this same concentration. He saw priests as the ones who, like Mary, gave flesh to the Son of God.
When the Word of God came in the Incarnation to His Blessed Mother, He came to her first of all for her own immediate soul. "Christ loves the individual soul. He loved His Mother's soul and He came for her." But not for her alone. "He came to His Mother with intense personal love, but then He said: 'Clothe me, Mother, with your flesh, with your blood, mold me, Mother. I the Creator who fashioned you, want you to fashion me into a man. I am the eternal Son of God; I want to be the Son of Man.' And she fashioned Him." (C-115, 116)
This truth of faith is the foundation of everything else in Christianity. It is emphatically the foundation of everything distinctive in the Catholic Church. The Eucharist, Father Gerald would say, began in the womb of Mary. Unless the Son of God had taken flesh in Mary's womb there would be no Incarnation. Unless there had been an Incarnation there could not have been a Redemption. Without a Redemption no priesthood, of Christ who died on the Cross, or of others to whom Christ would communicate the power to re-enact the mystery of Calvary.
What bears emphasis, and Father Gerald never let go of this concept, is that the eternal High Priest who offers Himself in the Mass is a true human being; that the Christ whom we receive in Holy Communion is a living human being; that the Savior who abides in our midst in the Real Presence is really present as a human being. By "human being", he understood what the Church teaches, that in the Holy Eucharist "is contained the whole Christ," and therefore with the fullness of His divinity and all the qualities of His humanity.
In the early 1940s, before he actually began his special apostolate to priests, Father Fitzgerald already had this clear vision of faith, without which everything else he said and did would have been meaningless. He saw, as few American spiritual writers in his day, that Jesus Christ is still on earth; that although He ascended to the Father and is now seated at His right hand, He did not really leave us; that His promise of not leaving us orphans meant not only that He would return at death to call us to Himself but already in life on earth He would remain in our midst.
It is literally true that, "Outside of Heaven the only place we can find the God-Man in the Sweet Humanity with which He clothed Himself in order to be one of us, is the Blessed Sacrament." (TPOL, 61).
The Eucharist is called the "Blessed Sacrament" precisely because it makes sacred or sanctifies those who receive Christ's humanity. Remove this humanity and you remove sanctity from the face of the earth. Christ's presence, then, "within us" through Communion "is the fruit of His Presence on the altar, and He has told us that only by partaking of the Eucharistic Presence would the Presence by grace be renewed and revivified in us. `Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man you shall not have life in you!' Therefore here as in all else, it is the Sweet Humanity of the Son of God that nourishes the soul with the graces of which His abiding Presence is the summation. Without the Eucharist we could not abide in Jesus." (TPOL, 61).
God is Now Man
It is not an uncommon temptation among spiritual persons to fancy that growth in holiness somehow means a growing independence of Christ's humanity. Nothing could be further from the truth. "Any tendency away from Our Blessed Lord's Humanity it is impossible to consider as a movement into closer union either with him or with His Heavenly Father or Sweet Holy Spirit."
Why do some people think otherwise, as we know some saints admitted? The reason may be that "we are too apt to think of Christ's Humanity as a Bridge over which one would try to pass into the Trinity," a sort of necessary convenience; so that once we cross over the bridge we can dispense with the temporary roadway. "But this concept cannot stand for Jesus has made His Humanity not a bridge," which serves a useful purpose but, once crossed, is no longer needed.
The humanity of Christ is no mere bridge to the Divinity. By the hypostatic union, Christ is permanently God made man "From the moment of the Incarnation, the Eternal Son will never be separated from His Humanity." Indeed, "even in His death on Calvary, Body and Soul were separated, yet both remained in unbroken union with His Divinity, and thus His Body in the tomb was as adorable as His Soul in Limbo." Our faith requires us to affirm that "the Son of God has entered into this ineffable Oneness with His Humanity, and has in pursuance of His Decree of everlasting union thereby lifted Himself as Man to the right hand of the Father and the bosom of the Eternal Trinity."
Given this belief, "how foolish we would be to think that in either time or eternity we could pass beyond the warm living Heart of Christ into a more spiritual intimacy with God!" Why would this be not only foolish but false? Because "there is no intimacy with God for men except per (through) and cum (with) and, note well, in Christo, i.e., in Him Who is everlastingly now not only God but Man."
Geraldian spirituality, if we may so call it, has its bedrock here. It is built on this premise of Christian revelation: that once God became incarnate in the womb of Mary, He has never for a moment separated Himself from this substantial, hypostatic union, to be and remain the one person, Jesus Christ, at once true God and true Man. Everything else follows on this simple mystery of the faith. God not only became man, He is man; at the Last Supper He changed bread and wine into His own Body and Blood, that is, into a living human being who is God in human form; at the same Last Supper, He gave the Apostles and their successors the power to do what He had done; as a result we now have in the Eucharist the self-same Jesus Christ who lived and died on earth, who rose from the dead and ascended into heaven -- but without leaving the earth since He is literally with us in the Blessed Sacrament.
No wonder the priesthood takes on such breathtaking dignity, and priests, with all their human follies and weakness, are so important. They have the power that, by Christ's design alone makes the continual presence of the Incarnate Son of God on earth possible.
Without the priesthood, which means, without the Eucharist, God would of course be present on earth, as He was before the Incarnation. He has to be present in the world, to sustain the world in existence and to make possible every least activity of His creatures. But, before the Incarnation and except for the Incarnation, God was and would be present on earth only as God. He would not, however, be present as Man, which means He would not have begun to exercise His mercy and love and power in human beings with that plenitude of grace that began the moment He took flesh in the body of Mary.
What He began to do at Nazareth, as soon as He took abode in His Mother's womb, God continues to do in every Nazareth in the world, which means in every place where He is now present in the Holy Eucharist.
This is the principal message of Father Gerald Fitzgerald, and whatever value his insights will have in the lives of future generations of priests and people will derive from this simple, but frequently overlooked, article of the Catholic faith.
He is Here
It was this kind of literal understanding of Christ's human presence in the Eucharist, that Father Gerald promoted in all his writings and conferences, not only to priests but to all the faithful. He was fully conscious of the impression he was probably having on others by teaching what must have seemed a one-sided spirituality. But he frankly did not care. "You might say that I am a fanatic," he once told the Handmaids of the Precious Blood. "I hope I am. I hope I will be recognized as a fanatic lover of the Blessed Sacrament." (L-57).
In season and out of season, he advocated greater attention to Christ's Real Presence by telling everyone who was willing to listen to be present to this Presence as often and for as long as possible. It simply made "supernatural sense." Father Gerald's one concern was that priests, religious and the laity would ignore the One who lived among them, and ignoring Him would fail in their love. "It is a grace," he admitted, "that God has given to me since I was a small boy to understand the reality of God's presence in the Blessed Sacrament." (L-55). This grace led him to the priesthood and to his apostolate for wandering shepherds who had gone astray.
Father Gerald was sure that devotion to this Presence was the key to sound Christian living, as neglect of this Presence was the basic reason for the failures in the Christian life. "If there have been great failures among priests and religious," he declared, "it has all come about because even as yet the meaning of the Blessed Sacrament has not been comprehended. 'He comes unto His own and His own received Him not. He was in the world and the world knew Him not!" (L-55). This refers not only to the Jewish people at the beginning of the Christian era. It refers to believing Catholics now. In fact, "what is far sadder, we who comprehend the Blessed Sacrament, leave Our Lord alone. There is something terribly lacking. If Our Lord would be like the ordinary human being and equivalently lose His temper and raise His voice, He would say, 'What are you doing?' Are you forgetting that I am the Lord? Is work so important?' " (L-56). There is something wrong.
Think of the big city parishes. Thousands of souls -- how easy for the fervent pastor to arrange that the door of his church would never be locked, and that night and day this faithful would be there. Always there would be somebody with Our Lord.
I was once the Curate of a little parish. Without any great difficulty we arranged that there should be a parishioner from the end of Mass in the morning until the time of locking up in the evening with Our Lord. The parishioners undertook to take one hour one day a week. And so we arranged that Our Lord should never be alone. Now is there anything more important than that? (L-57).
The same applies to religious communities. Writing in 1956, before the post-conciliar revolution, Father Gerald made some sage, almost prophetic observations.
All communities are crying for vocations. How the vocations would flow in where there would be perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament! How much stronger and finer and holier would be the vocations. Where can our teaching Sisters secure the spiritual energy to carry on their difficult and physically exhausting work, except by a great love for the Master in His Sacrament of Love? If the novice were made to realize the reality of the Blessed Sacrament then there would be fewer who would later fall away. Sisters would be happier because they would understand who It is Who loves them.
Dear Sisters, love the Blessed Sacrament. It is the answer to everything in our lives. For a while we may be in a place where everything is very, very agreeable. But what guarantee have we? Superiors change -- we may have a superior who pleases us completely, but a little telegram from the mother-house may change it all. We must not build our lives around things that can be so quickly changed and lost. Our health, our cell, everything.
What is the one unchanging thing that we can have in our religious life? Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of His Love. (L-58).
The same with priests. Father Gerald makes bold to say that defections from the priesthood are mainly due to neglect of devotion to the Holy Eucharist. He goes still further to claim that, "If a priest does not love the Blessed Sacrament today he will lose his soul, or be saved only by the tremendous mercy of God and the prayers of Our Blessed Mother."
Then speaking of both vocations, it is "No wonder souls lose courage, no wonder priests and sisters fall away and turn back, seeking earthly love. They have not realized that Divine Love was so close to them." (L-57).
In every state of life, the secret of Christian happiness and the one means available for drawing close to God on earth as the precondition for union with Him in heaven is the God-man living and waiting for our affection in the Holy Eucharist.
The easy way to love God is in the Blessed Sacrament. What could be easier? Here is Bethlehem, here is Calvary, here is the glorious Ascension. Here is the little Christ Child climbing up on Joseph's lap to give him his morning kiss. Here is the little Christ-Child coming to His Mother and asking her to take Him into her arms and put Him to bed. Here is the great Virgin-Lover Who is able as only God to give Himself whole and entire to each of us because He loves us.
What is the Blessed Sacrament? The Blessed Sacrament is All Love loving. That makes a beautiful definition of God. He needs to be our All. (Lshy;60).
Addressing himself to women, whose natural affectivity would understand, but speaking through them to believers of both genders, Father Gerald could not have been plainer.
Even if you had the happiest of human homes, even if you had the greatest sense of security, the love of the finest earthly husband and children, it would only be for a few years. Your boy could be sent to war and you never see him again. Even in all your happiness could you ever have perfect happiness? Sooner or later you would know that your husband has made an appointment with a heart specialist and that he was hiding something from you. Finally you discover that he knew that he only had a certain number of years to live. The shadow of the cross lies over every life. It can't be otherwise because only by the cross can we be redeemed. And the cross is terribly hard unless we love the Corpus on it.
The Blessed Sacrament is for us the Corpus on the Cross. It is for us Mother and Father, and brother and sister, and Bridegroom and Bride. It's All. Here is all the tenderness of the Eternal Father. Here is the source of that little mysterious throbbing of your heart which means that you are living.
"0 Lord Jesus, like a child who only knows that the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus, teach us that which is the supreme wisdom of all the Catholic philosophies. St. Augustine was a lover. That is the secret of sanctity, to be a lover of God. Here in the Blessed Sacrament is everything. Here is All Love, loving. (L-61,62).
In the presence of the Real Presence, we should hold nothing back. "Bring your troubles. Bring Him your joys. Bring Him your sorrows." (Lshy;62). Why? Because from Him we can receive the grace to suffer in patience and to accept His gifts in peace.
Power Goes Out From Him
In his encyclical, The Redeemer of Man, Pope John Paul II speaks of the Eucharist as a sacrament on each of its three levels of conferring grace. "It is at one and the same time," the Pope says, "a sacrifice-sacrament, a communion-sacrament, and a presence-sacrament" (Redemptor Hominis, 20). This means that the Eucharist is a source of supernatural enlightenment for the mind, of strength for the will when the Sacrifice of the Mass is offered, when Holy Communion is received, but also whenever the Eucharistic Lord is worshipped in His Real Presence on the altar.
This third dimension of the Eucharist as presence-sacrament was especially stressed by Father Gerald. He recognized that our first responsibility to Christ's humanity in the Eucharist should be adoration and love, as expressions of a lively faith. But the Eucharist, as Presence, is also a sacrament. It confers the grace it signifies, here the grace of power to live up to the hard demands that the Savior makes on those whom He loves. And it is the "Blessed" Sacrament because, while giving the light and strength a person needs to serve the Master, it makes this service blessed by enabling the believer to be happy in serving the One Who is obeyed out of love.
But what Father Gerald never lost sight of is the power that Christ, now on earth, gives to those who in faith worship Him present in the Eucharist. Familiar passages in the Gospels about the Savior's capacity to teach and to heal are applied without apology to His continued capacity, now in the Eucharist, to do the same. When Christ said, "Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world," He meant it. "Let us put our problems away in the realization that He Who is all powerful is holding us in His arms." (K-26). And He is here, really here in the Eucharist. "On a second occasion, He said, 'Ask the Father anything in my name, because He knows that you love me.' That's enough. When a soul goes to God that loves Jesus, it has a wide-open door into the Presence of the Adorable Trinity." Why? Because, thanks to the Eucharist, "it is already there in the Heart of Jesus Christ." (K-26). Consequently, "realization of the Divine Presence" in the Blessed Sacrament, "cannot be overestimated." God is here with His infinite power, as Man, ready to help us in every way. "What have we to fear?"
All of this, however, presumes what Father Gerald never tired of repeating, that the believer believes that Jesus, Who is God, is present on earth and ready to work if need be, the same miracles He worked during His visible stay in Palestine.
The capstone of this faith in the sacramental energy that emanates from Christ's humanity was clearly revealed in the miraculous healing of the woman suffering from hemorrhage for twelve years. She touched the fringe of the Savior's cloak and the bleeding stopped at that instant. Jesus asked, "Who touched me?" When everyone around the Master denied touching Him, He insisted, "Somebody touched me. I feel that power had gone out from me." After the woman admitted having touched Jesus, He praised her, saying, "My daughter, your faith has restored you to health. Go in peace."
Provided we believe that the same Jesus is now among us, and present with the same almighty power, why should we not expect Him to work similar wonders today? "If we know how to touch the hem of Our Lord's garment in a spirit of simple faith, like the poor woman who was afflicted with an ailment, how swiftly we would be cured. This is what Our Lord invites us to do. Nolite timere. 'Don't be afraid.' " (K-26).
Faith generates trust, and trust is the foundation of peace. When Christ said, "Peace be with you," He meant it.
If we do not have peace, it is because we are refusing to listen to Our Lord and translate our faith into a reaction which should be as simple as this, "If I had a thousand problems when I came into this church, now I haven't any because I find You here, the God Who loves me and will take care of every problem of those who love You.' Have complete, absolute confidence.
God requires that we believe that He is what He declares Himself to be and what we know Him to be, the Son of the Living God. 'All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth.' So I would recommend to you to cash in on your faith, to cash in on personal peace of soul. No harm can come to you. You belong to Jesus Christ, and how He takes care of you!
So out of the depths of your heart, just have the gratitude that should come to our heart in saying, 'Well, here I am and here's my God. But since He is the physician, philosopher and the source of all healing and the beginning and end of all peace and of my journey, so if I am here, like a tired little child, I can drop my head down on the knees of Jesus Christ and say when He asks, 'Have you anything bothering you?' `No, Lord, how could I have anything bothering me when I am with You?'
This is what leads to comprehension of Divine Truth, of the realization of the living Presence of Jesus Christ in our midst. Out of this there should flow a depth of tranquillity, an impenetrable stronghold of serenity of mind to outer senses and the exterior part of the soul, which is in contact with the changing and fickle and unreasonable world of emptiness and the crucifying physical universe, which is simply working out God's rationality and the purifying processes of our souls for eternity.
There should be in our souls one supreme point of peace in the realization that though high winds come, winter or summer, storm or flood, fire or war, nothing shall separate us individually from the peace of God which is in Christ Jesus Who is with me, on earth, only a few feet away. (Kshy;26, 27).
Not many masters of the spiritual life have been as unqualifyingly clear about Christ's human presence on earth in the Eucharist as Father Gerald. What he says about the supreme point of peace from realizing that Jesus is "with me on earth, only a few feet away" is no pious exaggeration. It is the experience of everyone whose faith in the Real Presence has become a living reality.
Handmaids of the Precious Blood
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