Msgr. Michael Heintz
The Human Condition
March 14, 2017 // The Human Condition

The Eucharist at the heart of the faith

Msgr. Michael Heintz
The Human Condition

In early Christian mystical theology, drawing on the Platonic tradition, there was an aphorism commonly used by spiritual writers: “you become the object of your contemplation.” That is, whatever we fix our attention upon, whatever becomes the focus of our energies and our imagination, whatever it is that consumes our thoughts and desires, has an imperceptible but genuine impact upon us, shaping our sensibilities, molding our personality and making us — far more than we often realize — who we are. The standard objects of fallen human desire — power, pleasure, wealth — can subtly take hold of us, and our desire for them changes who we are; we stray farther and farther from God and find ourselves in a land of unlikeness.

In the course of our life there are countless spectacles presented to our senses. Our attention is drawn here and there, and, in the culture of the microwave and the internet, our focus shifts rapidly. As followers of Christ, as those who are seeking to grow more and more into the likeness of Christ, there is no better way to achieve this than to focus our attention on the Eucharist: Christ’s sacrifice, Christ’s memorial, Christ’s presence. The Eucharist is Christ’s one sacrifice, made present to us again in all its power and promise. Everything which occurred on the cross and in the adjacent garden is made present to us sacramentally; His sacrifice becomes our food. The Eucharist is also Christ’s abiding presence — He is present under the appearances of bread and wine, whether we happen to feel any different or not; He abides in the tabernacle and, shortly, on this altar, whether we we’re tired or bored, distracted or distressed. His presence to His people — thank God — depends little on our worthiness or often half-hearted devotion.

As a people who are formed by the eucharistic love of Jesus (quite literally), we should concentrate on what we do when we gather at the Lord’s altar. We should fix our attention on Christ’s self-emptying love — this is My body, broken for you; this is My blood, poured out for you. We should seek to live what we celebrate, so that we will become more and more like Him who freely and humbly gave Himself for us. The more our life becomes a Mass, the more we can offer all we are and all we have to the Father, the more we can break ourselves and pour ourselves out for our neighbor, the more we will purge ourselves of unredeemed desires and fixations, the more we will grow in the likeness of Christ and the more we will become the glorious creatures God created to be. The ultimate effect of the Eucharist, according to Thomas Aquinas, is to give unity and cohesion to Christ’s body, the church, strengthening our capacity to be living witnesses in the world.

Though trained by our American culture to be rugged individualists, our faith in Christ relates us — and, what is more, puts us under obligation — to our brothers and sisters, especially those in need. The bond established among us in baptism is both ratified and strengthened by our shared participation in the body and blood of the Lord.

We must never overlook the link between the eucharistic communion we are privileged to share and the obligation we have toward the poor. As God has so lavished His generous goodness and mercy upon us, so are we are to do toward others, particularly the poor to whom He is so close, to whom He has united Himself in the divine poverty of the Incarnation. In this we have no choice; it is not one option among many we may choose or select. If we take seriously the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, it is our sacred obligation and duty to reverence and serve Christ in the poor.

Msgr. Michael Heintz is on the faculty at Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Md.

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