Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The Eucharist - the earthly Heaven

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

Let the Eucharist shape your spiritual life completely and you will know a hope and joy that no one and no thing can take from you.  In this land of exile, this valley of tears, the Eucharist is a "possession that is eternal and can never be lost." Christ's love suffered at the thought of having to delay to give you the total gift of Himself.  In order that you might taste now purity, happiness, and  consolation and that His desire to give you His eternal love might be satisfied, our Lord created an earthly heaven - the Eucharist! There hidden in the host your Beloved is personally present. Remain at the altar, dear Daughters, for your Lord cries out: "Come to the foot of my tabernacle and, far from the impure and degraded world, breathe in an atmosphere of purity.  Come and eat my Body and drink my Blood, and I shall live within your heart, and my arms shall enfold you in an embrace which it depends on your free will to make last till the eternal embrace of heaven.  "He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him."  Can you desire more on earth?"

God has created us for heaven.  Hence earth is to us no more than a place of exile, where we feel like strangers and pilgrims.  Like nomads, who today pitch their tents in one place only to move them to another place tomorrow, with never a permanent home, we, too, "exiled children of Eve," are always wandering toward heaven, along the pathways of the "valley of tears."

On earth we have no abiding place, because heaven is our true fatherland, our "home sweet home."  The good God awaits us there, who is our Father, and whose tender love infinitely surpasses that of all mothers together.  There Mary waits for us, enfolding heaven and earth in the incomparable sweetness of her glance and in the tenderness of her most loving heart.  There all the dear ones whom death has torn away from our sides are waiting too.  There we shall enjoy again and forever the sweet affections and holy friendships born on earth.  In truth, heaven is our home and fatherland.

Earth is a place of sin and misery.  How it pains a soul, not yet debased by evil's contact, to see sin reign everywhere, soiling everything, and flooding the earth like a second deluge!  What suffering to thirst for purity and to have to live in the midst of moral filth, to be consumed by the desire of perfection, and yet to feel, at every step, the power of human weakness!

But heaven is the mansion of purity.  O ardently longed for happiness!  There we shall remain free from every stain of sin.  We shall enter there with stainless souls whose brightness shall never more be dimmed.

The earth is a place of punishment, a prison.  Cursed by God after the first sin, it offers man only briars and brambles.  We have to water it with the sweat of our brows and the tears of our eyes, and sometimes, when life holds to our lips its bitterest chalice, with the blood of our hearts.

But heaven is the place of eternal rewards.  There shall be no strife or separation or mourning.  God Himself will dry up the wellspring of our tears.  In heaven every desire will be satisfied; happiness will be perfect and peace unalterable.

Heaven is all that, because it is vision of God, love of God, and possession of God; but a vision without veils, a love without deficiencies, a possession that is eternal and never to be lost.

What wonder, then, as the years roll by, if only one of all our desires survives in the end, namely, the immense, profound, and irresistible desire of heaven and the possession of God?

Jesus who knew the human heart so well, could not bear to see us pine till the end of life, without at least a foretaste of heaven.  His love for us suffered at the thought of having to delay so long the full and total gift of Himself to us.

And so, in order that our exile might be more endurable, that we might enjoy already on earth the inebriating perfume of the purity of paradise, that we might begin even in this place of trial to taste the happiness to be found in the possession of God, to satisfy His love and be our consolation.  He created an earthly heaven: the Eucharist.

It is a veiled heaven, because we still are walking in the obscurities of faith; a transient heaven, like a flash of lightning in the night, or like the echo of a far off harmony; yet, even so, a true heaven.  There, hidden beneath the white appearance of the Sacred Host, Jesus is truly and personally present, the lovely child of Bethlehem, the humble Carpenter of Nazareth, the gentle Wonder-Worker of Galilee, the Victim of Calvary.  There is Jesus, the Man-God, in whom is the fullness of the Godhead, because He is the Word of God, and with the Word are always the Father and the Holy Spirit.  What more shall we possess in heaven?  The manner of the possession will be different, but its object is essentially the same.  The Eucharist is the essence of heaven on earth.

When we receive the Sacred Host, therefore, heaven really comes to us and fills our hearts for all too short a time.  Holy Communion is not only a remembrance and a hope, but a divine reality: it is heaven anticipated!  With good reason, then, the priest says, while placing the Sacred Host on our tongue: "May the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy soul unto life everlasting" - as if to say: "May the power of the transient earthly heaven you receive from my hand lead you safely, through the obscurities and dangers of this land of exile, to the full enjoyment of the eternal heaven of your fatherland."

Lord Jesus, my Beloved, I hunger for heaven.  The obstinate persistence of my miseries wearies me.  It breaks my heart to see everything enslaved by sin!  The atmosphere of corruption I breathe in the world asphyxiates me!

I hunger for heaven!  Oh, when shall I finally possess Thee, my soul's only love?  When wilt Thou be mine forever?  When shall I be allowed to press Thee to my heart, and be enfolded by Thy divine arms in an eternal embrace?  O beloved Christ, I hunger for heaven!

I hear Thy answer: "Dear soul, I understand you.  I, too, was in exile and trod the ways of life, seeking heaven, the bosom of my Father.  For this reason did I sweeten the words of my farewell to mine own:  "If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father . . . "  Yes, "I return to the Father . . . " to my Father, who is also your Father.

"Yet, to relieve my exile, I carried heaven in the innermost recesses of my soul.  There I contemplated the face of my Father and remained united to Him by the fire of love, which is the Holy Spirit.

"For you, too, I wanted to leave an intimate heaven; it is my Eucharist.  Come to the foot of my tabernacle and, far from the impure and degraded world, breathe in an atmosphere of purity.  Come and eat my Body and drink my Blood, and I shall live within your heart, and my arms shall enfold you in an embrace which it depends on your free will to make last till the eternal embrace of heaven.  "He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him."  Can you desire more on earth?

Thanks, my beloved Lord.  Thanks for Thy tabernacle, that little corner of paradise, to which I can flee away from the world.  Thanks for Thy Eucharist, that parcel of heaven Thou hast left us, to gladden our hearts on earth.  Well didst Thou say: "Blessed are they who hunger and thirst . . . for they shall be satisfied."

This too is how the Eucharist contains a taste which sweetens life's bitterness.  It affords us the joy of possession and, at least for a little while, encloses heaven within our heart.  It is, in very truth, the bread "containing in itself all sweetness."

Jose Guadalupe Trevino
The Holy Eucharist

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Eucharist - Hope of the hopeless

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri,

Hope is often the neglected virtue.  Yet, life would be unbearable without it.  Hope is "the virtue of suffering."  Without hope endurance of suffering is impossible; because it is impossible to endure suffering without any consolation, and at the bottom of every consolation there is a ray of hope.  It might be said also that hope is a natural trait of love on earth.  In heaven love means eternal possession, perfect fruition, and perpetual repose; but on earth love is an aspiration which spurs on the soul, a desire which is never fully satisfied, the confidence of a heart believing and surrendering itself; it is hope which makes us advance always toward the goal of our happiness.  

Earth is the land of hope, because Jesus brought it to her.  Without Him, what hope could there be? In the following reflection, Jose Guadalupe Trevino once again shows us the beauty of the Eucharist - most especially as the "surest guarantee of Christian hope." Daughters, recognize that the Eucharist is God's pledge of enduring love - "such a pledge that we ought not only to hope, but to live in a holy inebriation of hope . . .  ."

Worldlings hope for earthly goods.  "They have set their eyes bowing down to the earth, " says the Psalmist.  We, on the contrary, should always keep our eyes and hearts set on the things of heaven, like the pious king Ezechias, who could write of himself: "My eyes are weakened looking upward."

If only we availed ourselves more assiduously of the power hidden in hope!  If we lived in hope!   With what renewed strength and courage, day by day, would we take up our cross and follow Christ!  When temptation strikes with growing fierceness, when duty becomes intolerable, and the sorrows of life oppress us, the hope of heaven would sustain, encourage, and console us.

Precisely because hope is so necessary to life, our Lord wanted to build it on the most solid foundations.  In a certain manner, we may say: He was eve more intent on strengthening our hope than on confirming our faith.  Faith rests on the divine veracity, hope on God's promises.  Not satisfied with found them on His fidelity to His spoken pledge, God has backed them, so to speak, with the surest guaranties. The most excellent of these sureties, the most satisfactory is the one containing all the others in itself, is Jesus.

St. Paul asserts that  God gave us "the promise of life in Christ Jesus," and he calls our Lord "Christ Jesus our hope."  This clearly means that the Father gave us Jesus that we might have hope.  Hence the same Apostle exclaims: "He who has not spared even his own son but has delivered him for us all, how can he fail to grant us all things with him?"  And, as if His love were not yet satisfied, after giving His Son through the mystery of the Incarnation to all mankind in a general way, God gives Him to each individual in the most real manner, through the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.  The Eucharist is indeed the surest guarantee of Christian hope.  When we possess it within our souls, who will set bounds to our confidence?  To better understand this, consider the Eucharist under itself twofold aspect of sacrifice and Communion.

Holy Mass, substantial, universal, and unceasing irradiation of the bloody sacrifice of Calvary, is an always living trophy of the invasion which immolated love made into the world, subjecting to its will, and fashioning as it pleased, the three circumstances which more necessarily impose themselves on every creature: namely, number, time, and place.

Holy Mass, indeed, places before our eyes that same Victim which disappeared from earth nearly twenty centuries ago.  It reproduces at each moment, in all ages, underneath all skies, and simultaneously, not only death of that Victim, but its whole life, both divine and human, in all its states, under all its aspects, with all its perfections and all its prodigious efficacy.  It reproduces all that for God, who it glorifies, satisfies, charms, and subjugates; it reproduces it for us, to whom it communicates - if our free will is not opposed - the substance of all it has obtained from the God whom it has bribed into its chains.  Holy Mass, finally, comes alone the centuries crying in every language and to ever man without exception, to lowly and great, to saint and sinner: "Behold how much God has loved you, since for you Jesus still immolates Himself."

Ah, let us recognize that the holy Mass is such a pledge that we ought not only to hope, but to live in a holy inebriation of hope, all the more because this pledge is given us anew each time Mass is offered, hence every day, perhaps even every minute.

As Communion the Eucharist is perhaps a still surer guarantee of our hope, if such a thing is possible.  At least, it impresses us as a more personal one.  On the altar Jesus sacrifices Himself for all the faithful, though particularly for those who assist at Mass, and still more particularly for those for whom it is applied.  But in Holy Communion He comes to me, for myself alone.  It is not a pledge given to all, but to me alone; and it comes to establish unshakable hope, not in the others, but in me alone.  This gives a personal application to the words of the Apostle: "What can God fail to grant me, after giving me His own son, and, in Him, all that I can desire?"

Each Communion deposits in us a germ of immortality, not just for the soul, but also for the body.  Hence that body shall be more glorious and endowed with a greater fullness of life on resurrection day, which has been nourished more frequently and with better dispositions on the body and blood of Christ.  It was especially for this reason that Jesus said: "I am the bread of life.  Your fathers ate the manna in the desert and have died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that if anyone eat of it he will not die.  I am the living bread that has come down from heaven.  If anyone eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the great I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."  And in what he said thereafter, He repeated the same affirmation in all possible forms.

Hence the Church sings on the Feast of Corpus Christi: "O Sacred Banquet, wherein Christ is received; the memorial of His passion is celebrated; the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given unto us."

How fortunate we are, we who hope for another life!  To us the agony of someone dear is an hour of farewell, full of sadness, but of sadness mellowed by the sweetness of hope.  In that hour we never say "Good-bye forever" - words as bitter as the gall of despair, sickening as the thud of the clods of earth thrown on the coffin's lid.  In that farewell we say: "Soon we shall meet again! - words sweet as the holy of hope.  They have a charm of their own, like the charm of a child's face, when smiles illumine his pearling tears.

More than ever before, we feel that the dying person was like a part of our own life, because a growing darkness falls on ours as that life ebbs away.  With terror, pain, and something akin to spite for not being able to defend it against death, we follow the deepening of death's pallor, advancing like the shadows of night on that dear face . . . the slow glazing of the eyes, which soon will have the awesome fixedness of a statue's unexpressive glance . . . the breast heaving and falling with a weary rale, as if endeavoring to shake off a heavily oppressing hand.  Could death's triumph be more complete?  Yet, in that very moment, the true life challenges death, conquers it, and breaks its sting, if the dying one has the happiness of receiving the Eucharist in that final battle.

Oh what a moment!  Jesus Christ, the true Life, is there, in the consecrated Host, face to face with death.  And on the parched, thickened, almost paralyzed tongue, no longer able to form the words "O Lord, I am not worthy," the Host, the Victim which is pure, "the Victim which is holy, the Victim which is stainless," is deposited by the priest's hand, and slides down till close to the heart which throbs in the breast like a bird wounded unto death.  I think that, if we could perceive what Jesus says at the moment the Host buries itself in that soul, we would hear Him whisper to the departing one: "Fear not!  I am the resurrection and the life."  How sublime and great, how divine is that effect of the Eucharist, which plants the seed of immortality in the very throes of death!  The Holy Eucharist is there; and, because it is there, those eyes some day will see again, those cheeks will again show forth the bloom of life, those lips will smile anew, those arms will again enfold us, and that tongue will have again the power of speech and tell us: "Weep no more!  Here I am!  If the Eucharist is there, how could death triumph?"

The Eucharist is in truth the "Bread from heaven, containing in itself all sweetness," - the sweetness of hope.

Jose Guadalupe Trevino
The Holy Eucharist