SERMON XXXI. SECOND SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST. – ON HOLY COMMUNION.
“A certain man made a great supper.” LUKE xiv. 16.
IN the gospel of this day we read that a rich man prepared a great supper. He then ordered one of his servants to invite to it all those whom he should find in the highways, even though they were poor, blind, and lame, and to compel those who should refuse, to come to the supper. “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (v. 20). And he added, that of all those who had been invited and had not come, not one should ever partake of his supper. “But I say unto you, that none of those men that were invited shall taste of my supper” (v. 24). This supper is the holy communion; it is a great supper, at which all the faithful are invited to eat the sacred flesh of Jesus Christ in the most holy sacrament of the altar. “Take ye and eat: this is my body.” (Matt. xxiv. 26.) Let us then consider today, in the first point, the great love which Jesus Christ has shown us in giving us himself in this sacrament; and, in the second point, how we ought to receive him in order to draw great fruit from the holy communion.
First Point. On the great love which Jesus Christ has shown us in giving us himself in this sacrament.
1. ”Jesus, knowing that his hour was come that he should pass out of this world to the Father, having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them unto the end. ”(John xiii. 1.) Knowing that the hour of his death had arrived, Jesus Christ wished, before his departure from this world, to leave us the greatest proof which he could give of his love, by leaving us himself in the holy eucharist. ”He loved them to the end.” That is, according to St. Chrysostom, ”with an extreme love.” St. Bernardino of Sienna says that the tokens of love which are given at death make a more lasting impression on the mind, and are more highly esteemed. ”Quæ in fine in signum amicitiæ celebrantur, firmius memoriæ imprimuntur et cariora tenentur.” But, whilst others leave a ring, or a piece of money, as a mark of their affection, Jesus has left us himself entirely in this sacrament of love.
2. And when did Jesus Christ institute this sacrament? He instituted it, as the Apostle has remarked, on the night before his passion . “The Lord Jesus, the same night on which he was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke and said: “Take ye and eat: this is my body.” (1 Cor. xi. 23, 24.) Thus, at the very time that men were preparing to put him to death, our loving Redeemer resolved to bestow upon us this gift. Jesus Christ, then, was not content with giving his life for us on a cross: he wished also, before his death, to pour out, as the Council of Trent says, all the riches of his love, by leaving himself for our food in the holy communion. “He, as it were, poured out the riches of his love towards man.” (Sess. 13, cap. ii.) If faith had not taught it, who could ever imagine that a God would become man, and afterwards become the food of his own creatures? When Jesus Christ revealed to his followers this sacrament which he intended to leave us, St. John says, that they could not bring themselves to believe it, and departed from him saying: ”How can this man give us his flesh to eat ?…This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” (St. John vi. 53, 61.) But what men could not imagine, the real love of Jesus Christ has invented and effected. ”Take ye and eat: this is my body.” These words he addressed to his apostles on the night before he suffered, and he now, after his death, addresses them to us.
3. “How highly honoured, ” says St. Francis de Sales, “would that man fed to whom the king sent from his table a portion of what he had on his own plate? But how should he feel if that portion were a part of the king‟s arm?” In the holy communion Jesus gives us, not a part of his arm, but his entire body in the sacrament of the altar. “He gave you all,” says St. Chrysostom, reproving our ingratitude, ”he left nothing for Himself. ” And St. Thomas teaches, that in the eucharist God has given us all that he is and all that he has. “Deus in eucharistia totum quod est et habet, dedit nobis.” (Opusc. 63, c. ii.) Justly then has the same saint called the eucharist”a sacrament of love; a pledge of love. ”“Sacramentum charitatis pignus charitatis.” It is a sacrament of love, because it was pure love that induced Jesus Christ to give us this gift and pledge of love: for he wished that, should a doubt of his having loved us ever enter into our minds, we should have in this sacrament a pledge of his love. St. Bernard calls this sacrament”love of loves.”“Amor amorum.” By his incarnation, the Lord has given himself to all men in general; but, in this sacrament, he has given, himself to each of us in particular, to make us understand the special love which he entertains for each of us.
4. Oh! how ardently does Jesus Christ desire to come to our souls in the holy communion! This vehement desire he expressed at the time of the institution of this sacrament, when he said to the apostles: ”With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you.” (Luke xxii. 15.) St. Laurence Justinian says that these words proceeded from the enamoured heart of Jesus Christ, who, by such tender expressions, wished to show us the ardent love with which he loved us. ”This is the voice of the most burning charity. ”Flagrantissimæ charitatis est vox hæc.” And, to induce us to receive him frequently in the holy communion, he promises eternal life that is, the kingdom of heaven to those who eat his flesh. ”He that eateth this bread shall live for ever.” (John vi. 59.) On the other hand, it threatens to deprive us of his grace and of Paradise, if we neglect communion. ”Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.” (John vi. 54.) These promises and these threats all sprung from a burning desire to come to us in this sacrament.
5. And why does Jesus Christ so vehemently desire that we receive him in the holy communion? It is because he takes delight in being united with each of us. By the communion, Jesus is really united to our soul and to our body, and we are united to Jesus. “He that eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood, abideth in me and I in him.” (John vi. 57.) Thus, after communion, we are, says St. Chrysostom, one body and one flesh with Jesus Christ. ”Huic nos unimur, et facti summus unum corpus ut una caro.” (Hom. lxviii. ad Pop. Ant.) Hence St. Laurence Justinian exclaims: “Oh! how wonderful is thy love, O Lord Jesus, who hast wished to incorporate us in such a manner with thy body, that we should have one heart and one soul inseparably united with thee.” Thus, to every soul that receives the eucharist, the Lord says what he once said to his beloved servant Margaret of Ipres”Behold, my daughter, the close union made between me and thee; love me, then, and let us remain for ever united in love: let us never more be separated.” This union between us and Jesus Christ is, according to St. Chrysostom, the effect of the love which Jesus Christ bears us. ”Semetipsum nobis immiscuit, ut unum quid simus ardentur enim amantium hoc est. ” (Hom. lxi.) But, Lord, such intimate union with man is not suited to thy divine majesty. But love seeks not reason; it goes not where it ought to go, but where it is drawn. ”Amor ratione caret, et vadit quo dicitur, non quo debeat.” (Serm. cxliii.) St. Bernardino of Sienna says that, in giving himself for our food, Jesus Christ loved us to the last degree; because he united himself entirely to us, as food is united to those who eat it. “Ultimus gradus amoris est, cum se dedit nobis in cibum quia dedit se nobis ad omnimodam unionem, sicut cibus et cibans, invicem uniuntur.” (Tom. 2, Serm. liv.) The same doctrine has been beautifully expressed by St. Francis de Sales. ”No action of the Saviour can be more loving or more tender than the institution of the holy eucharist, in which he, as it were, annihilates himself, and takes the form of food, to unite himself to the souls and bodies of his faithful servants.”
6. Hence, there is nothing from which we can draw so much fruit as from the holy communion. St. Denis teaches, that the most holy sacrament has greater efficacy to sanctify souls than all other spiritual means. ”Eucharistia maxim am vim habet perficiendæ sanctitatis.” St. Vincent Ferrer says, that a soul derives more profit from one communion than from fasting a week on bread and water. The eucharist is, according to the holy Council of Trent, a medicine which delivers us from venial, and preserves us from mortal sins. “Antidotum quo a culpis quotidianis liberemur, et a rnortalibus præservemur.” Jesus himself has said, that they who eat him, who is the fountain of life, shall receive permanently the life of grace. “He that eateth me, the same shall also live by me.” (John vi. 58.) Innocent the Third teaches, that by the passion Jesus Christ delivers us from the sins we have committed, and by the eucharist from the sins we may commit. According to St. Chrysostom, the holy communion inflames us with the fire of divine love, and makes us objects of terror to the devil. ”The eucharist is a fire which inflames us, that, like lions breathing fire, we may retire from the altar, being made terrible to the devil.” (Hom. lxi. ad Pop. Ant.) In explaining the words of the Spouse of the Canticles, “He brought me into the cellar of wine; lie set in order charity in me” (ii. 4.) St. Gregory says, that the communion is this cellar of wine, in which the soul is so inebriated with divine love, that she forgets and loses sight of all earthly things.
7. Some will say: ”I do not communicate often; because I am cold in divine love.” In answer to them Gerson asks, Will you then, because you feel cold, remove from the fire? When you are tepid you should more frequently approach this sacrament. St. Bonaventure says: ”Trusting in the mercy of God, though you feel tepid, approach: let him who thinks himself unworthy reflect, that the more infirm he feels himself the more he requires a physician” (de Prof. Rel., cap. lxxviii). And, in”The Devout Life,” chapter xx., St. Francis de Sales writes: ”Two sorts of persons ought to communicate often: the perfect, to preserve perfection; and the imperfect, to arrive at perfection.” It cannot be doubted, that he who wishes to communicate should prepare himself with great diligence, that he may communicate well. Let us pass to the second point.
Second Point. On the preparation we ought to make in order to derive great fruit from the holy communion.
8. Two things are necessary in order to draw great fruit from communion preparation for, and thanksgiving after communion. As to the preparation, it is certain that the saints derived great profit from their communions, only because they were careful to prepare themselves well for receiving the holy eucharist. It is easy then to understand why so many souls remain subject to the same imperfections, after all their communions. Cardinal Bona says, that the defect is not in the food, but in the want of preparation for it. ”Defectus non in bibo est, sed in edentis dispositione.” For frequent communion two principal dispositions are necessary. The first is detachment from creatures, and disengagement of the heart from everything that is not God. The more the heart is occupied with earthly concerns, the less room there is in it for divine love. Hence, to give full possession of the whole heart to God, it is necessary to purify it from worldly attachments. This is the preparation which Jesus himself recommends to St. Gertrude. ”I ask nothing more of thee,” said he to her, ”than that thou come to receive me with a heart divested of thyself.” Let us, then, withdraw our affections from creatures, and our hearts shall belong entirely to the Creator.
9. The second disposition necessary to draw great fruit from communion, is a desire of receiving Jesus Christ in order to advance in his love. ”He,” says St. Francis de Sales, ”who gives himself through pure love, ought to be received only through love.” Thus, the principal end of our communions must be to advance in the love of Jesus Christ. He once said to St. Matilda: “When you communicate, desire all the love that any soul has ever had for me, and I will accept your love in proportion to the fervour with which you wished for it.”
10. Thanksgiving after communion is also necessary. The prayer we make after communion is the most acceptable to God, and the most profitable to us. After communion the soul should be employed in affections and petitions. The affections ought to consist not only in acts of thanksgiving, but also in acts of humility, of love, and of oblation of ourselves to God. Let us then humble ourselves as much as possible at the sight of a God made our food after we had offended him. A learned author says that, for a soul after communion, the most appropriate sentiment is one of astonishment at the thought of receiving a God. She should exclaim: ”What! a God to me! a God to me!” Let us also make many acts of the love of Jesus Christ. He has come into our souls in order to be loved. Hence, he is greatly pleased with those who, after communion, say to him: “My Jesus, I love thee; I desire nothing but thee.” Let us also offer ourselves and all that we have to Jesus Christ, that he may dispose of all as he pleases: and let us frequently say: ”My Jesus, thou art all mine; thou hast given thyself entirely to me; I give myself entirely to thee.
11. After communion; we should not only make these affections, but we ought also to present to God with great confidence many petitions for his graces. The time after communion is a time in which we can gain treasures of divine graces. St. Teresa says, that at that time Jesus Christ remains in the soul as on a throne, saying to her what he said to the blind man: ”What wilt thou that I should do to thee ?” (Mark x. 51.) As if he said: ”But me you have not always.” (John xii. 8.) Now that you possess me within you, ask me for graces: I have come down from heaven on purpose to dispense them to you; ask whatever you wish, and you shall obtain it. Oh! what great graces are lost by those who spend but little time in prayer after communion. Let us also turn to the Eternal Father, and, bearing in mind the promise of Jesus Christ “Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in my name, he will give it you” (John xvi. 23) let us say to him: My God, for the love of this thy Son, whom I have within my heart, give me thy love; make me all thine. And if we offer this prayer with confidence, the Lord will certainly hear us. He who acts thus may become a saint by a single communion.