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Christmas and the Eucharist

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

There are so many subjects that we could talk about on Christmas day, but I thought the most appropriate would be to speak on Christmas and the Eucharist. There are many aspects to their relationship, but I believe that they are mainly three: both Christmas and the Eucharist are facts; both reveal a mystery; and both are meant to teach us a profound and not easily learned lesson.

Christmas, first of all, is a fact of history. In a point of time and at a definable place the God of heaven and earth was born of a woman, and came to live among us as man. It is a fact that the infinite God became, unexplainably, a finite creature. It is a fact to which historians attest but which we know is no mere statistic of history; it is, rather, a fact planned by God from all eternity. That is the fact of Christmas: the Word actually became flesh.

What is the fact of the Eucharist? It is that the same Jesus who was born on earth not only became man but remains man. He not only came into the world, He is in the world. In a word, He came to stay. The Eucharist is Christmas prolonged, because faith tells us that once God became man, He decided to remain man. From all the reaches of past eternity, God had only been God. But having once taken on human flesh, into now the future reaches of eternity, God will always remain man. And this God-man is here; Bethlehem is wherever there is a Catholic Church or chapel in which Christ is present. Those are the two facts that we commemorate on Christmas day.

But Christmas and the Eucharist are not only facts, they are also mysteries. What is the mystery of Christmas? The mystery is the humanly incredible reality of why God did what He did. Why did He do it? He didn’t have to, if He did not even have to make the world, and within the world, did not have to make us. We are all the empty unoccupied spaces on earth, except for the love of God. But, having decided to make the world and to make us, He decided also that once man had sinned, He would redeem man. He might have redeemed man by an act of His divine Will; He chose not to do so. He chose, rather, to become man, so that a man He might not only, by some fiat of His human freedom redeem us, but might have a mortal flesh and a soul capable of suffering. In a word, the mystery of Christmas is the mystery of God’s love that chose to take on our human form in order to show His love for us by suffering.

The only ultimate reason for Bethlehem is Jerusalem; the only final reason in God’s mind for becoming a child is that He might as man die on the cross. In a word, the mystery of Christmas is the mystery of God’s unfathomable love that wants to suffer. God wants to suffer, and because as God He could not, He took on Himself mortal, passable, human flesh, that He might be able to endure pain. That’s the mystery of Christmas, the mystery of God’s love, in order that loving, He might endure the cross.

What is the mystery of the Eucharist? It is the same. Why did He do it? You would think that His love would have been satisfied: He became man; as man He lived, suffered, and died for our sins; having died, He could rise from the dead and return as man to the Father from whom He came. But no, the mystery of God’s love is that He invented a way of showing His love for us not only by being with us and near us, but—would you believe it?—God even invented a way of being inside of us. All of this tells us a lot about what love means.

Love wants to show that it loves. It is not satisfied with sentiments or words. Love wants to prove its love in deeds; better, it wants to show its love in pain. Love wants to be near the one it loves, to be united with the one it loves. All of this is hidden behind the mystery of the Eucharist, made possible by the mystery of Christmas, because these two mysteries are really one. The Eucharist is merely an extension, a continuation, of what happened two-thousand years ago in Bethlehem. We now have the flesh of the Son of God near us, with us, and when we receive Him, within us only because Mary gave Him that flesh.

Finally, what is the lesson? The lesson of Christmas, as it is of the Eucharist, must be obvious by now. If God does nothing in vain, surely He did not become man and, more still, does not remain man in our midst except that He wants to evoke from us something of the same kind of love that He showed and still shows us in having become man; He gives us His flesh and blood to adore and worship and nourish our souls on, so that we might live with His life. What He wants us to do, therefore—and that’s the lesson—is to love Him as He has been loving us.

How has He been loving us? He wants us first of all to love Him in simplicity. Is there anything more simple than a child, or anything more simple than the round wafer of the Eucharist? Above all, we must have no duplicity with God. He wants our whole heart, not just part of it. We are to love Him, therefore, simply, unqualifyingly, totally.

He wants us to love Him humbly. Is there anything more lowly than a baby? They are speechless, helpless; they must be fed and carried from place to place. And is there anything more unpretentious than what seems to be a piece of bread and a sip of wine? Yet, as we know, real humility is always greatness hiding itself out of love. What a hard lesson for us to learn, to love this God of ours humbly.

We are to love God and, allowing Him to do with us as He pleases; we are to love God obediently. When God came into the world, He came as Scripture tells us, obedient first of all to His Father’s Will; then, as a child and through His growing manhood, He was obedient to His mother, Mary, and to Joseph. In the Eucharist, too, He is totally submissive. The moment a duly ordained priest pronounces the words of consecration, Jesus Christ comes down on the altar, He obeys. This is not make-believe, not poetry. It is our faith. This, perhaps, is the hardest lesson to learn, to love God obediently. And it means, as we know, obeying God not only interiorly or according to our own understanding or interpretation of God’s Will. This is what makes obedience so hard. It is obeying God as that divine Will is explained and interpreted for us by His very fallible and weak human creatures.

Those are the lessons that God wants us to learn from Christmas as a historical event and from Christmas as a perennial reality, because you see, the Eucharist is Christmas—no qualification. And we who have the privilege of having Jesus, the Son of Mary, in our own home so that our home is His home; we who live, if you wish, in a lifelong Bethlehem, have a grave responsibility. Believing in His presence here in the fullness of His divine and human natures, we have the responsibility of invoking this Jesus, begging Him, pleading with Him that He might grant those graces—if need be, miraculous graces—that the sinful world He came to redeem so desperately needs.

We have reason to be scared. As I speak on Christmas day about that Christmas long ago, yet see so much crime, massive cruelty, the murder of one-million two-hundred thousand unborn children in America since last Christmas—I ask, “Dear God, have you really become man? Did you really redeem the world? If you did where, dear Lord, is the grace that you’ve won for a sinful human race? What happened? What is wrong?

And here is the terror. The awful thought comes to me, “It can’t be because God did not do His part; it can only be that we have not done ours: that we have not loved enough, that we have not suffered enough, that we have not prayed enough to this infinite God in human flesh in our midst.” He redeemed the world, but it is not redeemed unless we cooperate with His grace. And we must cooperate with His grace not only for ourselves, but for the whole wide world that so needs people who in humble, sincere, and loving faith will beg the dear Jesus to be a “Jesus” indeed—so that His coming into the world will not have been for any souls in vain.

Transcription of the Homily
by Father John A. Hardon, S.J. to the:
Handmaids of the Precious Blood

Copyright © 1998 Inter Mirifica

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