Communion and mission
The Chinese Archbishop Dominic Tang spent twenty-two years in a communist prison, seven of which were in solitary confinement. Once, his captors took him out of the damp and windowless room and condescendingly allowed him a few “hours of freedom.” When asked what he wanted to do, his answer was, “I would like to celebrate Mass.”
We are more familiar with the story of Bishop Francis Nguyen Van Thuan of Saigon. He too was a victim of communist persecution and spent nine years in the labor camps. In his diary, he relates how he would secretly celebrate Mass, using a few smuggled supplies. “At night, when the other prisoners were asleep, lying on the floor of my cell, I celebrated Mass with tears of joy. My altar was my blanket, my prison clothes my vestments. But I felt myself at the heart of humanity and of the whole of creation.”
Thank God for the Eucharist. You have no idea how blessed we are to have Mass even daily. Many people would willingly risk their life for such privilege.
As we celebrate today’s feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, let us truly thank God for such a wondrous gift. Like most gifts, we can easily take the Eucharist for granted. I pray to God we won’t have to experience a persecution to value the Eucharist because often we learn to appreciate things only after losing them.
Hopefully, the lockdown imposed by the Covid-19 has taught us the lesson. I know how many of you missed Mass for three months, and Holy Communion, even more.
Holy Communion is the most intimate experience of God possible on earth. In Communion, Jesus unites himself to us. “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him.” (Jn 6:56)
St. Maximilian Kolbe once said that if angels could be jealous of men, it would be for one reason: Holy Communion. His prayer was: "You come to me and unite Yourself intimately to me under the form of nourishment. Your Blood now runs in mine, Your Soul, Incarnate God, compenetrates mine, giving courage and support. What miracles! Who would have ever imagined such!"
We know from science that the food we eat is transformed and becomes part of us. What was once vegetable or meat becomes human flesh through assimilation. In the Eucharist, the opposite happens. It is we who are transformed by the Eucharist. Purified by his blood and nourished by his flesh, we are conformed to Christ and become a member of his Body.
Truly, Holy Communion is a most intimate and personal experience. However, it is not a privatized one between “Jesus and me.” Communion with the Eucharistic Lord is as much a communion with others. The second reading reminds us of this. “The bread we break, is this not a participation in the body of Christ? Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” When we receive the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, we are united to the Body of Christ, the Church. If Jesus then gives his flesh for the life of the world, we who participate in his Body ought to give ourselves to others too.
Thus, the celebration of the Eucharist which begins at the altar is continued outside the Church, in the world. In his apostolic letter, Sacramentum Caritatis, Pope Benedict points out the missionary dimension of the Eucharist. “The love that we celebrate in the sacrament is not something we can keep to ourselves. By its very nature it demands to be shared with all. What the world needs is God's love; it needs to encounter Christ and to believe in him. The Eucharist is thus the source and summit not only of the Church's life, but also of her mission: ‘an authentically eucharistic Church is a missionary Church.’" (Sacramentum Caritatis, 84)
I love the image which depicts the Eucharist as the beating heart of the Church. The cardiac cycle is explained in terms of diastole and systole, expansion and contraction. In simple words, the heart’s activity consists in drawing in blood and pumping it back to the body. Likewise, in the Eucharist the Lord gathers us to himself in order to send us out to the world. The old Latin rite of the Mass eloquently captures this dynamic in its parting words, “Ite, missa est.” Loosely translated, it means, “Go, you are sent.”*
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