"The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it."

R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP

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"God commands not impossibilities, but by commanding he suggests to you to do what you can, to ask for what is beyond your strength; and he helps you, that you may be able."

St Augustine

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"Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise. "

Thomas ŕ Kempis

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PART 3 - The Illuminative Way of Proficients

Ch 25 : The Communion of Proficients
 

Earlier in this work (1) we discussed the Communion of those who begin to give themselves seriously to the interior life. We explained how Holy Communion sustains, restores, and increases spiritual life, and why it demands as a condition an upright and pious intention. A fervent Communion, we said, presupposes hunger for the Eucharist or the keen desire to receive it in order to be more closely united to our Lord and to grow in love of God and neighbor. Each of our Communions, we pointed out, should be substantially more fervent than the preceding one, with a fervor of will if not of feeling; each should, in fact, increase charity in us and consequently prepare us to receive our Lord better and more fruitfully the following day. This is the case in the lives of the saints, whose ascent toward God is increasingly rapid; the nearer they approach Him, the more they are drawn by Him, as the stone falls more rap­idly as it approaches the earth which attracts it.(2) This acceleration in the journey toward God should, therefore, be realized in the Communion of proficients far more than in that of beginners. For the child, his first Communion is certainly a great grace, but the following Communions should always be more fruitful.

That we may see what the Communion of proficients should be, we should remember that the principal effect of Holy Communion is the increase of charity. Proficients should grow in this virtue particularly, remembering that fraternal charity is one of the great signs of the progress of the love of God.(3) This will be more readily understood by reflecting that Communion, through union with our Lord, assures the unity and growth of His mystical body.(4)

THE HOLY TABLE AND THE UNITY OF THE MYSTICAL BODY

St. Paul writes: "The chalice of benediction which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body: all that partake of one bread." (5) At this common table of the faithful, every dissension should disappear.

As St. John Chrysostom (6) and St. Augustine (7) explain, the Communion of the faithful united at the Holy Table to nourish their souls with the body of our Lord and to be increasingly incorporated in Him, is the sign of the unity of the Church and the bond of charity. All the faithful who communicate show, in fact, that they have the same faith in the Eucharist, which supposes all the other mysteries of Christianity; they show that they have the same hope of heaven and the same love of God and of souls in God, the same worship. This it is which makes St. Augustine say: "O sacrament of true piety, sign of unity, bond of charity! . . . The Lord has given us His body and blood under the species of bread and wine, and as the bread is made out of many grains of wheat and the wine from many grapes, so the Church of Christ is made out of the multitude of the faithful united by charity." (8)

Moreover, Pope Pius X, when inviting the faithful to frequent and daily Communion, recalled this great principle: "The Holy Table is the symbol, the root, and the principle of Catholic unity." In the light of this principle, we should, before receiving Communion, think of the obstacles that we ourselves may oppose to the supernatural union of charity with Christ Jesus and His members, and should ask Him for light to see these obstacles more clearly and generosity to remove them. If we are negligent in doing so ourselves, we should ask the Lord Himself to remove them, even though we suffer greatly thereby. The Christian who communicates with these profoundly sincere dispositions certainly receives a notable increase of charity, which unites him more closely to our Lord and to souls in Him.

In this sense the author of The Imitation invites us to say as a preparation for Holy Communion: "I offer to Thee all my good works, though very few and imperfect, that Thou mayest amend and sanctify them; that Thou mayest have a pleasurable regard to them, and make them acceptable to Thee and always make them tend to better. . . . I offer to Thee also all the pious desires of devout persons; the necessities of my parents, friends, brothers, sisters, and all those that are dear to me . . . and who have desired and besought me to offer up prayers and Masses for themselves and all theirs. . . . I offer up also to Thee prayers and this sacrifice of propitiation for them in particular who have in any way injured me, grieved me, or abused me, or have inflicted upon me any hurt or injury. And for all those likewise whom I have at any time grieved, troubled, oppressed, or scandalized by words or deeds, knowingly or unknowingly; that it may please Thee to forgive us all our sins and mutual offenses. Take, O Lord, from our hearts all suspicion, indignation, anger, and contention, and whatever else may wound charity and lessen brotherly love." (9)

Communion received with these dispositions effectively assures in a concrete and experiential manner the unity of the mystical body, union with our Savior and with all souls vivified by Him. It is thus a powerful help in the midst of so many causes of dissensions among individuals, classes, and peoples. It should contribute greatly to assure the reign of Christ through the peace of Christ, above all the inconsistent dreams of those who seek a principle of union, not in God but in the passions that divide men.

COMMUNION AND THE GROWTH OF THE MYSTlCAL BODY OF CHRIST

Holy Communion should contribute to assure not only the unity, but the growth of the mystical body of our Savior. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians that we are all called by God to attain "unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ; that henceforth we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. . . . But doing the truth in charity, we may in all things grow up in Him who is the head, even Christ; from whom the whole body, being compacted and fitly joined together, . . . maketh increase of the body, unto the edifying of itself in charity." (10) This influence of the Savior on His members is exercised particularly by Eucharistic Communion. Christians who are nourished by the bread of life reach the perfection which God destines for them.

St. Thomas even says: "Baptism is the beginning of the spiritual life, and the door of the sacraments; whereas the Eucharist is, as it were, the consummation of the spiritual life, and the end of all the sacraments, . . . for by the hallowings of all the sacraments preparation is made for receiving or consecrating the Eucharist. . . . Therefore, from the act of children being baptized, they are destined by the Church to the Eucharist," (11) somewhat as, in the natural order, childhood is ordered to the full development of adult
age. In this sense, at least the implicit desire of the effect of the Eucharist is necessary for salvation.(12) Therefore it is impossible to reach the perfection of Christian life without preparing oneself to receive each Communion with increased fervor of will and greater fruit.

In addition, not only each Christian, but each parish, each diocese, the entire Church in each generation, reaches maturity, the fruitfulness of "the perfect age," that it may propagate the faith which it has received and transmit it to the following generation like a sacred seed. Each epoch has its difficulties, and, with the return of the masses to unbelief, the difficulties of our day might before long resemble those which the early Church encountered during the centuries of persecution. The Christian should find his strength in the Eucharist today as in the days of the catacombs. He should hunger for the Eucharist, that is, have an ardent desire to be united to Christ by a profound union of the will, which, by the persevering practice of the virtues, will resist all temptations and enable him to cope with the difficult circumstances in which he lives.

With the author of The Imitation we should say: "Lord God, when shall I be wholly united to Thee and absorbed in Thee, and altogether unmindful of myself? Thou in me, and I in Thee; and thus grant us both equally to continue in one. Verily, Thou art my Beloved, the choicest among thousands,(13) in whom my soul is well pleased to dwell all the days of this life. Verily, Thou art my Peace­maker:, in whom is sovereign peace and true rest; and out of whom is labor and sorrow and infinite misery. Thou art in truth a hidden God,(14) and Thy counsel is not with the wicked, but Thy conversation is with the humble and the simple. Oh, how sweet, O Lord, is Thy spirit,(15) who, to show Thy sweetness toward Thy children, vouchsafest to refresh them with that most delicious bread which cometh down from heaven!" (16)

The Psalmist had already exclaimed: "O how great is the multitude of Thy sweetness, O Lord, which Thou hast hidden for them that fear Thee!" (17) Since the institution of the Eucharist, how well these words are verified by a fervent Communion! We read in The Imitation: "For they truly know their Lord in the breaking of bread, whose heart burneth so mightily within them, from Jesus walking with them. Alas, far from me too often is such affection and devotion, such vehement love and ardor. Be Thou merciful to me, O good Jesus, sweet and gracious, and grant Thy poor mendicant to feel, sometimes at least, in Holy Communion some little of the cordial affection of Thy love, that my faith may be more strengthened, my hope in Thy goodness increased; and that my charity, once perfectly enkindled, and having tasted the manna of heaven, may never die away. Powerful, indeed, is Thy mercy to grant me the grace I desire, and in Thy great clemency, when the time of Thy good pleasure arrives, to visit me with the spirit of fervor." (18)

Hunger for the Eucharist is thus expressed by the same author: "With great devotion and ardent love, with all affection and fervor of heart, I desire to receive Thee, O Lord, as many saints and devout persons, who were most pleasing to Thee in holiness of life and in the most burning devotion, have desired Thee when they communicated. . . . I desire to reserve nothing for myself, but freely and most willingly to immolate to Thee myself and all that is mine. . . . I desire to receive Thee. . . with such faith, hope, and purity, as Thy most holy Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary, received and desired Thee, when the angel announced to her the mystery of the Incarnation. . . '. I here offer and present to Thee the joys of all devout hearts, their ardent affections, their ecstasies, supernatural illuminations, and heavenly visions, together with all the virtues and praises that are or shall be celebrated by all creatures in heaven and earth; . . . thus by all Thou mayest be worthily praised and glorified forever." (19)

The Christian who receives Communion with these dispositions makes increasingly rapid progress toward God and certainly brings other souls with him. Thus is assured the growth of the mystical body of Christ. But we must go a step farther in generosity.

COMMUNION AND THE GIFT OF ONESELF

Our Lord commands us: "Love one another, as I have loved you." (20) He loved us even to dying for us on the cross and giving Himself to us as food in the Eucharist. The Christian should, therefore, in Communion learn the gift of self in order to imitate our Lord. The Eucharistic heart of Jesus, which instituted the Eucharist for us and daily gives it to us, is the eminent exemplar of the perfect gift of self. It reminds us that it is more perfect to give than to receive, to love than to be loved.

Therefore, imitating the example of our Savior, we should, after receiving, give ourselves to others to bring them the light of life and peace. A soul that is increasingly incorporated in our Lord by Holy Communion should in its turn serve somewhat as the bread of the souls which surround it, following the example of our Lord who wished to be our bread. To the less enlightened, to the weak, even to those who wander far from the altar, it should give itself without counting the cost, in spite of misunderstandings, coldnesses, and evil actions. By so doing it will certainly cause souls that have strayed to return to the Eucharistic heart of Jesus, that "forgotten, despised, outraged heart, slighted by men." It is, nevertheless, the heart which loves us, which is "patient in waiting for us, eager to grant our prayers, desirous that we pray to it, the burning source of new graces, the silent heart wishing to speak to souls, the refuge of the hidden life, master of the secrets of divine union," (21) the heart of Him who seems to sleep, but who watches always and overflows incessantly with charity.

This heart is the eminent model of the perfect gift of oneself. For this reason a friend of the Cure of Ars, Father Chevrier, a holy priest of Lyons, of whom we spoke earlier in this work, used to say to his spiritual sons: "Following the example of our Lord, the priest should die to his body, spirit, will, reputation, family, the world; he should immolate himself by silence, prayer, work, penance, suffering, and death. The more a man is dead to himself, the more life he has and the more he gives it. The priest is a crucified man. He ought also through charity, in imitation of his Master, to give his body, spirit, time, goods, health, and life; he should give life by his faith, teaching, words, prayers, powers, and example. He must become good bread; the priest is a man who is consumed." (22)

What is said here of the priest, should be said in a certain sense of every perfect Christian, who ought continually to devote himself in a supernatural manner in order to bring those about him to the end of man's journey, which he too often forgets. Zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of souls is the answer which all should give to our Savior's precept: "Love one another, as I have loved you." (23) In fervent Communion we shall find that generosity which causes the gift of God that we have received to radiate on other souls, and which thus shows the value and the fruits of the Eucharist. We have only to receive the love of God and to give it back to Him in the person of our neighbor.
 

 

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Footnotes
 
 
1. Cf. Vol. I, chap. 32.

2. Cf. St. Thomas, In Epist. ad Hebraeos, 10:15: "The natural motion (i.e.,
of a falling stone) grows the more (in proportion) as it more nearly approaches its end. The contrary is true of violent motion (e.g., of a stone cast into the air). Grace likewise follows the motion of nature. Therefore those who are in the state of grace ought to grow more in proportion as they draw nearer to their end."

3. John 13:35.

4. This subject was treated at the International Eucharistic Congress which
took place in Manila in 1937.

5. Cf. I Cor. 10: 16 f.

6. PG, LXI, 200.

7. PL, XXXV, 1612.

8. In ]oannem, tract. 26. Summa, IIIa, q.79, a.1.

9. Bk. IV, chap. 9.

10. Eph. 4:13-16.

11. Summa, IIIa, q. 73, a. 3.

12. Ibid.

13. Cant. 5: 10.

14. Isa. 45:15.

15. Wisd. 12: 1.

16. The Imitation, Bk. IV, chap. 13.

17. Ps. 30: 20.

18. Bk. IV, chap. 14.

19. Ibid., chap. 17.

20. John 13:34.

21. Words taken from the prayer to the Eucharistic heart of Jesus.

22 Antoine Lestra, Le Pere Chevrier, Paris, 1934, p. 165: "Le tableau de Saint-Fons."

23. John 13:34.