June 5, 2015

Rejoice in the Lord

Eucharist: Living Christ’s gift of self as if we deserved it

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin

“The Holy Eucharist is our daily bread from heaven. Live as if you deserved to receive it daily.”
—St. Augustine of Hippo

None of us deserves to receive Christ in the Eucharist. Holy Communion is always a completely unmerited gift that we receive as a result of God’s grace. Nothing we can do by our own initiative makes us worthy that the Lord should enter our hearts. All we can do is try to be ready, try to “stay awake” and be attentive, and try to be truly grateful when our Lord gives himself to us in the great eucharistic mystery.

St. Augustine admonishes us to live as if we deserved Christ’s sacrificial gift to us. He challenges us to change our lives, as he did, and to see our lives as a progressive journey of hope in which we “seek the face of the Lord continually.”

Augustine knew from personal experience that conversion is a lifelong process. We struggle mightily to be worthy of the love of Christ and the great gifts that we receive from him every day.

All these gifts—life and love, freedom and happiness, truth and hope—come to us freely from the abundant generosity of our God. We do nothing to earn God’s grace. We receive it freely because, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has said, God’s very nature is to give generously, demanding nothing in return, simply because he loves us.

Of all God’s gifts, nothing can compare to the holy Eucharist. Why? Because it is a gift of self, an intimate communion between the Son of God and his sisters and brothers. Through our baptisms, we have become members of his body, the Church.

Through our reception of holy Communion, we are joined to him in the most perfect way imaginable—becoming one with him, body and blood, soul and divinity. Our imperfections are made perfect by his union with us. Our sinful natures become pure and holy because he enters our hearts and transforms us by his grace.

But this experience of conversion is never “once and for all.” Every day, we are invited, and challenged, to live as if we deserve to receive the daily bread from heaven that Christ offers us in the Eucharist.

St. Augustine admonishes us, “Before you receive Jesus Christ, you should remove from your heart all worldly attachments which you know to be displeasing to him.”

Augustine knew that we all too readily forget that we have been made perfect in Christ. We easily fall from grace and give in to selfishness and sin. Our imperfections manifest themselves in our words and actions—in what we say or do, and in what we fail to say or do. We are called to repent, to confess our sins, to resolve to sin no more, and to do penance.

This continual striving for perfection is at the heart of the sacrament of penance. Just as Christ gives himself to us freely in the eucharistic mystery, so he makes his love and forgiveness available to us just for the asking, with no strings attached.

This is the great sacrament of reconciliation between God and us—the sinful men and women who do not deserve his mercy, but who receive it abundantly nonetheless! We should thank God daily for his patience with us, and for his readiness to forgive us and help us, whenever we fall short of his perfect love.

Pope Benedict writes, “Faith in Christ brought all Augustine’s seeking to fulfillment, but fulfillment in the sense that he always remained on the way.” We are not perfect. We are always on the way to perfection. “Even in eternity,” the Holy Father quotes St. Augustine as saying, “our seeking will not be completed; it will be an eternal adventure, the discovery of new greatness, new beauty and an even richer understanding of truth.”

The famous quote from St. Augustine’s widely read Confessions sums it up: “Our hearts are restless till they rest in thee, O God.” The “eternal rest” we will know in heaven is not the experience of dullness, boredom or stagnation. It will be an adventure that propels us deeper and deeper into the discovery of God’s boundless love and mercy.

We can begin now by partaking of the bread from heaven that sustains us in our journey of hope. As we celebrate the great feast of our Lord’s body and blood this weekend (Corpus Christi), let’s live as if we were worthy of this great gift of communion with God and, so, grow in holiness and charity in union with our savior Jesus Christ. †

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