Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ask Him to Come: The Value of Spiritual Communion

The Eucharist is the center of our lives. Here the Presence of Jesus in our life today reaches a dimension that we call “substantial”–the Whole Christ, body, blood, soul, and divinity, present for us under the appearance of bread and wine. Here is the sacrament which is the foundation for that total involvement of Jesus in every aspect of our lives, for that constant invitation to discover Him and love Him in every moment on that personal path that He lays down for each of us.

How can I find Christ present in the world? How can I find Christ in the faces of Eileen, John Paul, Agnese, Lucia, Teresa, Josefina, in the faces of my friends, in the faces of those who I would rather not look upon, even in the faces of those who might seek to harm me? I must find Him first and adhere to Him above all in that wonderful gift in which He gives Himself to me directly and personally–the Blessed Sacrament, the “Holy Mysteries” of His Body and Blood which is He Himself in the enduring love by which He has given and poured Himself out for me.

The great mystery of the Holy Eucharist! Jesus Himself!

The great day in which we encounter our Eucharistic Lord is Sunday, and for this reason the “Sunday obligation” is not some arbitrary burden but merely an indication of the essential nature of this regular and sustained renewal of our relationship with Jesus, which gives a foundational form to our Christian life. Participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice on Sunday is the fundamental gesture by which a baptized person expresses concretely that he or she belongs to Christ: that this belonging is a real event that determines the way he or she lives in space and time. Sunday is the day that is defined by the Eucharist, and as such it is a day to be cherished, a day for rejoicing, a day given over to the foretaste of eternal life.

We know also that Jesus offers Himself to us every day in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and Catholic Christians who are able are invited to participate at Mass and receive him daily. And many churches are blessed to offer the opportunity to adore Him in the Blessed Sacrament frequently or even “perpetually”–any time of day or night.

But I wish to speak here of something that may appear to be a “lesser” way of approaching the Eucharist, but which can also enrich the relationship between the Eucharist and our daily life. It is the practice known as “spiritual communion.” Although spiritual communion takes place at a distance, it is truly Eucharistic because it’s object is that unique, substantial Presence of Jesus in the sacrament.

This gesture of the soul is not only for those who are far from a church. Everyone can benefit from acts of "spiritual communion" made consciously during the day. Turn to Christ present in the Eucharist in your heart, especially the Eucharistic Lord being offered in the Mass. Focus on Him and ask Him to come and nourish you, strengthen you, and give you joy.

St. Thomas states beautifully that one of the effects of the receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist is joy: "being spiritually gladdened, and as it were inebriated with the sweetness of the Divine" (ST III, 79, 1). He also speaks clearly of the desire to receive the Eucharist as a "spiritual eating...by which one receives the effect of this sacrament" though not as fully as in sacramental reception (ST III, 80, 1).

Making a "spiritual communion" is more than a brain exercise or some disembodied spiritualism, because it is a desire aimed precisely at the sacrament itself in all its substantial and corporeal reality. We should all try to consciously unite ourselves to the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and make a spiritual communion every day; indeed we should do so often throughout the day.

The Eucharist is always the source and summit of the Christian life, but I do not think people need be entirely robbed of Eucharistic joy if they are in circumstances where going to Mass is not part of their daily life (as is the case for many who have responsibilities at home, work, or hindrances of distance, or various other important commitments, or other reasons). Even those who attend daily Mass should make union with the Eucharist by desire a frequent part of their day.

Acts of conscious "spiritual communion" will deepen our desire and disposition for the sacramental reception of the Eucharist, by the joy they do give and also by the hunger that they increase as they seek the fullness of the Reality that gives strength and sweetness, the Reality of the One who gives joy because He is Joy.

Let us also keep in mind and heart the billions of people throughout the world who Jesus longs to feed, who hunger--unknowingly--for this Mystery which has been revealed and made available to us, and in which we can partake "spiritually" in this very moment. Let us do so often, with these many souls in mind, offering for them what has been given to us. "Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world." Let us remember that Divine Mercy is Eucharistic, and that our prayer for His Mercy is a spiritual participation in the Mass and a spiritual communion; it is a Eucharistic love, which gives us missionary hearts that reach out to the whole world and every human being in it, especially those most in need of His Mercy.