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Catholic Faith
Vol. 2 - #1, Jan / Feb 1996

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

Q.  Our Lord said that unless we eat His flesh and drink His blood we will not have eternal life. Is it possible to become holy without receiving the Holy Eucharist? —E.G.C., New Hampshire

A.  This question is one of the most important in Christian spirituality. In order to answer the question we must correlate two occasions in which our Lord used the strongest language possible to express His mind. The first occasion is described in the third chapter of St. John’s Gospel; the second is in the sixth chapter of the same evangelist.

In His dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus tells him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” When Nicodemus objected whether this meant entering our mother’s womb a second time and being born again, Jesus reaffirmed what He had just said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a man be born again of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:3,5).

Three chapters later, the evangelist describes Christ’s discourse on the Eucharist. He had just told the people that “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” This was too much. The Jews began to argue among themselves, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”

It was at this point that Christ repeated the same universal negative that He had expressed in declaring the necessity of baptism for salvation. This time, Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you” (John 6:51-52, 54).

We return to the original question, whether it is possible to become holy without receiving the Holy Eucharist. The key word in both the third and sixth chapters of John’s Gospel is the word “life.”

In the third chapter, Christ is telling His followers that they must be baptized in order to receive the supernatural life which the human race had lost by the sin of our first parents. Baptism is necessary to regain this share in the life of God which we need to reach heaven.

However, the Church recognizes there is such a thing as baptism of desire. As explained by the Second Vatican Council, “Those who through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, who by grace, try in their actions to do His will as they know it to the dictates of their conscience — those too may achieve eternal salvation” (Constitution on the Church, no.16).

We return to the original question. The same principle that we have just explained regarding baptism of desire applies to the Eucharist of desire. Most of the human race does not have the Christian faith, and therefore does not have access to the graces which Christ gives to those believers who receive His body and blood in Holy Communion.

Can these millions of non-Christians, or even non-Catholics, nevertheless benefit from Christ’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament? Yes, on the same conditions spelled out by the Second Vatican Council for baptism of desire.

But immediately we must add an important proviso. Certainly those who in good faith do not receive our Lord in Holy Communion can receive grace from Jesus Christ. What we cannot say is that they receive the same measure of grace that only receiving the Holy Eucharist can confer.

One last word. Absolutely speaking it is possible to be pleasing to God even without being nourished by the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. But we should not say that a person can become holy, as Christianity understands holiness, without receiving the Holy Eucharist.

Q.  What is the Church’s position regarding the role of mothers in staying home to take care of their children?  —S.K.M., California

A.  The Church’s position is uncompromising. There is nothing which should take precedence over the mother being free, in every sense of the word, to mother the children she has brought into the world.

Pope John Paul II issued a memorable document, Letter to Families, for the International Year of the Family which began on the Feast of Christ’s Presentation, February 2, 1994.

In this document, the Holy Father addressed himself to the two issues of unemployment and mothers working outside the home.

Regarding the first issue, the Pope writes, “Unemployment is today one of the most serious threats to family rights and a rightful concern to every society.” In countries like the United States, where the majority of employees are women, unemployment for men poses a serious threat to families. The Church’s tradition of a just wage is the wage that the father of a family needs to support himself, his wife and his children. Even in a country like America, thousands of families are suffering either because they lack adequate financial support or because the mother is working and cannot adequately care for the children.

In the same document, the Pope makes an urgent plea for giving mothers the freedom to remain at home with their children.

While speaking about employment in reference to the family, it is appropriate to emphasize how important and burdensome is the work women do within the family unit: that work should be acknowledged and deeply appreciated. The toil of a woman who, having given birth to a child, nourishes and cares for that child and devotes herself to its upbringing, particularly in the early years, is so great as to be comparable to any professional work. This ought to be clearly stated and upheld, no less than any other labor right. Motherhood, because of all the hard work it entails, should be recognized as giving the right to financial benefits, at least equal to those of other kinds of work undertaken in order to support the family during such a delicate phase of its life.

In the light of this teaching of the Vicar of Christ, the Church’s position is clear regarding the role of mothers staying home to take care of their children. On moral grounds, I would say the obligation of mothers to remain at home with their children is very grave. Nothing, humanly speaking, should be allowed to interfere with this most serious duty.

In materially developed countries, there are many temptations for mothers to work outside the home. So-called day care centers in America, which lure mothers from their homes and their children, are reminiscent of Communist Russia where women were “emancipated” from the “drudgery” of caring for their children in order to serve the interests of an atheistic State.

Catholic Faith
Vol. 2 - #1, Jan / Feb 1996

Copyright © 1996 by Inter Mirifica
No reproductions shall be made without prior written permission

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