It is very profitable to think a lot about the thirty hidden years of our Lord’s life at Nazareth. There is something very beautiful about those years, especially the hiddenness of our Lord's divinity in that ordinary setting. Our Lord was born in the obscurity of a manger at Bethlehem. Only Mary and Joseph knew that the new-born infant was Almighty God through whom all things have their being. Consider this child growing up at Nazareth, growing in age and grace and wisdom. Morally speaking, he was an absolutely admirable child, boy, youth, and then young man. It would have been manifest that he was an entirely good person. We remember how when our Lord presented himself to John the Baptist for baptism St John the Baptist said to him full of respect that he, Jesus, should be baptising him. On another occasion he challenged his enemies to convict him of sin. No one could have. Think of our Lord attending the school at Nazareth, playing and conversing with other children. Think of him learning his profession as a carpenter and helping St Joseph his foster father. Think of him mixing with his relatives and townspeople, purchasing goods in the town, accepting payment for his work, attending the synagogue and mixing with the worshippers after the services. His goodness would have been manifest.
At the same time he clearly fitted in and must have been very normal in his manner. His true glory was hidden. No one suspected that he was God. Perhaps even Satan did not know it. His divinity was hidden under the appearance of his humanity. And then when his public ministry began and his fame as a great prophet and man of God began to spread, still his humanity was so obvious that when our Lord began to hint at his divinity increasingly opposition to him grew. An attempt was made to stone him for claiming that God was his own father, and so making himself God’s equal. He was eventually crucified for bearing witness to the truth about himself. He performed mighty works, but their purpose was to point to who he really was, and for this he required faith. All across the pages of the Gospels we see our Lord asking for faith in him and in his word. The greatest point to be believed was, not that he was human for this was abundantly clear, but that he was also divine. That was the test of faith. It went beyond the appearances. He was man, yes of course, but he was also God. This was not obvious.
Now, just as our Lord’s divinity was hidden under the appearances of his humanity, so in the Eucharist both his humanity and his divinity are hidden under the appearances of bread and wine. There is a great difference, though. Our Lord’s divinity was not hidden under what was simply the appearance of humanity. He did not simply appear to be human, while really being simply divine. No, he really was human. People saw an actual man, not just the look of one. His human nature was real. But while his humanity was manifest, his divinity was not. The man before them was actually a divine person. Now, in the case of the Holy Eucharist, we do not see bread and wine after the consecration - we see the appearances of bread and wine and all the qualities that bread and wine have. But it is not real bread. The substance of bread and wine has gone and there is now a new reality, the person of Christ, present sacramentally. The only objective reality there is Jesus. We do not see Christ’s human form and human qualities, nor do we see his divine qualities. We only see the qualities and appearances of bread and wine. My point is that just as Our Lord’s divinity was not seen and was not evident during those years at Nazareth, but only his humanity, so too when we behold the Holy Eucharist we do not see his humanity and divinity. We see only the appearances of bread and wine, without it being actually bread and wine. The reality before us is the whole risen human and divine Christ.
Just as it was a test of the disciples’ faith to believe that the man who was before them, so good and so holy, was in fact God, so it is a test of our faith to believe that the sacred host that is before us is in fact the all-holy human and divine Christ, now risen and at the right hand of the Father. The danger is that we shall fail in our faith, or neglect to approach the Holy Eucharist with a living and conscious faith. The danger is that we shall treat the Holy Eucharist as if it is just a small piece of bread, even though we would not deliberately claim it is simply that. When our Lord told his hearers in the synagogue at Capernaum that they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood if they were to have life, very many of his disciples left him. Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote that when our Lord taught the doctrine of the Eucharist he lost the masses. He also wrote that it was then that Judas turned away from him too, because it was after our Lord taught that doctrine that he told his disciples that one of them was a devil.
The Catholic is not likely to deny the doctrine of the Eucharist outright, and to leave our Lord because of it. But it is very likely that unless we take special care, we will neglect the Eucharist and act as if we really did not believe it. We ought treat our Lord in the Eucharist as Mary and Joseph treated our Lord in their home at Nazareth. They knew who he really was, and acted accordingly, even though everyone else in Nazareth thought of him as a mere man. We ought treat the Holy Eucharist for what it is, namely, as the living God, even if everyone else in the world were to treat it as a mere wafer of bread.
I remember years ago attending a talk by a young Anglican woman. She certainly understood the doctrine of the Eucharist and accepted it. There are so many different traditions and currents of Anglicanism that while it is possible that there may be a true Holy Orders and hence a true Eucharist here and there within Anglicanism, one has to presume that there is not, generally. But this young Anglican woman said that she set out to love everyone each day with the love of Christ. She knew that of herself she could not do it, so she made the decision to receive the Eucharist very regularly so as to receive the grace and strength to keep her resolution. Now the Catholic has the fulness of Christian doctrine, the absolute truth as it comes from God to guide us. We know that the Holy Eucharist within a proper Mass celebrated by a priest is our Lord himself, but hidden under the simplest of appearances, those of bread and wine - in order to be utterly accessible. And being our Lord himself, the Eucharist is for that very reason the high point and the source of our entire Christian life and that of the whole Church. We can maintain this as a living realization only if we keep alive in our minds, in our hearts and in our very imaginations, the dogma of faith that this small wafer before us is the risen Jesus, in all his divinity and humanity. The Eucharist is the Lord of lords and King of kings. It only looks like a wafer.
Inasmuch as a profound Christian life has Christ at the very centre, the Eucharist has to be at the very centre of the Christian life. If the Catholic is not careful he will tend to think that Jesus is there somehow, but in a manner not very different from the presence of Jesus, say, in our hearts. We will tend to think in a protestant way, namely that bread is there mixed up with a spiritual presence of Jesus. But no. It is only Jesus there in his body, blood, soul and divinity, the whole risen Jesus under the appearances, not the reality, of bread and wine. We must deepen our belief in this through repeated acts of faith. We must make repeated acts of faith in the Eucharist all through life, and indeed it is an excellent practice often to be maing spiritual communions with the Eucharistic Jesus. .
Moreover, not only do we have before us in the Eucharist the greatest of persons, but also the greatest of moments, the moment of Calvary. Calvary was the moment that changed the history of man and the world. The world’s prospects were changed by the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. That moment is made present to us at Mass. Such is the Church's teaching. At Mass and in receiving Holy Communion we are united with Jesus precisely as offering himself totally on our behalf to the Father. The problem is that we tend not to realize this. The result of not realizing it is that we do not open ourselves to the person of Christ and the blessings he won for us at that greatest moment of all time.
Let us remember also that, Calvary being made present to us at Mass, Our Lady our Mother is present too. She was unimaginably close to Jesus at Calvary, and she is unimaginably close to Jesus at every Mass. Just as John the beloved disciple gazing on Jesus at Calvary had Mary by his side, so we who are the disciples of Jesus at Mass have Mary by our side. Just as Our Lord from the cross said to Mary his mother, here is your son, entrusting John to her, so at Mass Jesus entrusts each of us at every Mass. Just as our Lord said to John, here is your mother, so he says that to each of us at Mass. John took Mary to his own home from then on, we are told. We too ought at every Mass take Mary to our own home, the home of our souls where dwells the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Mary is the gift of Jesus to us at every Mass.
It is so easy to attend Mass and participate in it as if it is just a religious service. We hear the expression so often, "it was a lovely service", or "it was a boring service". We need to be filled with the conviction that the person who is doing everything at Mass is our Lord himself. He is present and filling the assembly which has gathered. He is the one who is speaking to us as the Scripture passages are read, and as the homily is being given. It is our Lord who is making present at Mass what he did at Calvary. By means of Holy Communion he makes it possible for each of us to join him in his offering of himself at Calvary. But do we realize this? We must pray for a deep faith.
So what ought we do to protect our faith in the Eucharist, and to nourish its growth? To begin with, we ought start by thinking about it. We need to meditate long and prayerfully on the fact that Jesus is truly there in the tabernacle and present during Mass making Calvary present. When we come to Mass, or when we are approaching the Church, or driving past it, we ought think of the fact that Jesus is there. How often we come to Mass, enter the church, make the sign of the cross absent-mindedly and genuflect absent-mindedly, and then sit down and begin to read the bulletin, or look around at the people there, or enter into a quiet conversation with someone near us. How often do we see and hear constant conversation, noisy conversations going on in various parts of the Church! This is a major problem in many of our churches now. Everywhere there is constant talk. When the collections are taken up, there is talk. There is talk during the distribution of Holy Communion. There is talk before and after Mass in the church. Rather, as we enter the church, we ought immediately gaze at the tabernacle, making a very reverent sign of the cross with the holy water, and a reverent genuflection (but of course not done in a way that will draw attention to us, thus opening ourselves to the temptation of vanity).
Then there is our reception of Holy Communion. How poorly we receive our Lord into our souls! Saints have recommended that we spend ten minutes in prayer with our Lord after receiving him in Holy Communion. I would recommend that - and I know plenty of people who do it. Of course if we have something very concrete we must do immediately after Mass for others, it is different. But then at least we ought remember our Lord’s presence within us while we are doing after Mass what we have to do, or try to be with our Lord in the car as we are going home. Our Lord is still with us for as long as the appearances and qualities of bread remain within us. So, do we neglect him? Or again, do we ever think of who is present in the church when we drive past a church or pass it in the bus, or see a church in the distance from the train? A very good practice whenever we pass a church would be to do some act of devotion, such as making a small sign of the cross on the forehead, thinking of the Most Holy Jesus who is there in the tabernacle. Do we make spiritual communions during the day, uniting ourselves with Jesus in the tabernacle?
The greatest of blessings to be
from Mass and Holy Communion, and from uniting ourselves as constantly
as possible in a spiritual way with the Eucharistic Jesus, is the
of the Holy Spirit and his grace. Our Lord came to take away the
sin and to give to the world and to each of us the gift of the Holy
together with his sanctifying grace. This is why we ought bring to the
Eucharistic Jesus all our spiritual needs, our longing for holiness,
weaknesses and our sins, and repeatedly and insistently ask for his
St Paul says that in Jesus we receive every heavenly blessing. Well,
us ask for all the blessings that come from heaven. St Alphonsus writes
in one of his books that one of the reasons why we do not receive as
from God as we could is that we do not ask for much. Our
depends to a great extent on our asking for it and on asking for all
for our sanctification. The greatest time to ask for what we need in
order is the time of Holy Communion. Let us use this time and not
it because of a weak faith.
So then, let us base our lives on the Eucharist. It
is the summit and the source of the Christian life.