by Father John A. Hardon, S.J.
In the providence of God, different saints are raised up by Him in different periods of history to provide the world with solutions to the deepest problems of their age. The deepest problem of the modern age is alienation from God. Call it separation from God or indifference to God; call it unawareness of God or disinterest in God. By whatever name, in so-called developed countries of the Western world, God has been replaced by Self as the focus of attention and, I would not hesitate to say, adoration.
That is why an unlikely saint like St. Peter Julian Eymard should have arisen to alert the world that the Incarnate God is In our midst in what we may casually call the Blessed Sacrament.
GOD WITH US
To appreciate the Eucharistic teaching of Eymard, we must begin in the Old Testament. The prophet Isaiah foretold the coming of the Messiah by predicting that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son, and His name would be Emmanuel, which means "God with us." The significance of this title rests in the words, "with us." The forthcoming Savior would be God, indeed, but God who is
One of the reasons for the incarnation, St. Peter Julian makes clear, is that God who was and would have been everywhere in His creation, took on flesh from the Virgin Mary so that He might become our Emmanuel. During His thirty years in Palestine, Jesus, the Son of God and equal to the Father, could be seen and touched and heard by His contemporaries. Why? Because the Second Person of the Trinity had assumed our humanity. Wherever the Man Jesus was, there was the fullness of His Divinity in tangible and visible and audible form.
Certainly God became Man that He might suffer and die on the Cross for our Redemption. Certainly God became incarnate that He might have a human body and soul that could separate, and thus He could die on Calvary. Certainly God assumed a human will so that He could voluntarily offer Himself to the Heavenly Father for our sins.
THE BLESSED SACRAMENT
But that was only the beginning. On the night before He died, Christ instituted two sacraments: the sacrament of the Eucharist in order to perpetuate His real bodily presence on earth and the sacrament of the Priesthood in order to make the Eucharist possible until the end of time.
Given these premises, the prophecy of Isaiah not only was fulfilled at Nazareth and Bethlehem. It is being continually fulfilled by Christ's abiding presence among us in the Blessed Sacrament.
What must be kept in mind, however, is that Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is Jesus. He is here, geographically, in our midst. He is here, corporally, among us. He is here, the same identical Jesus that Mary carried in her womb for nine months and held in her arms on Christmas Day.
He is Emmanuel, because He is our God who took on our human nature, that He could be physically present to us and we to Him. He invented the Eucharist, we may say, in order to be wherever we are whether in Europe or Africa or Asia, Australia or the Americas; whether surrounded by the noise and smoke of an industrial city or in the quiet of a suburb or a farming town.
This is the first lesson that Peter Julian teaches us: that Jesus the God-made-man dwells among us. And He multiplies His presence, so that wherever we His followers may be, there He also, as Love incarnate, can be.
St. Peter Julian is so commonly associated with the Eucharist as Real Presence that we are liable to overlook his corresponding emphasis on the Eucharist as Christ's continuing sacrifice.
There are critics of Eucharistic Adoration who claim that devotion to the Real Presence detracts from the Eucharistic Liturgy. Worship of Our Lord apart from Mass, it Is said, distracts from the liturgical celebration.
This attitude is nothing new, in fact, it was one reason that Julian Eymard met such violent opposition in his day. A deeper understanding, however, shows how these two aspects of the Eucharist are not competitive. They are fully compatible. Indeed they are complementary. We would not have the Mass without the Real Presence, nor the Real Presence without the Mass.
The core issue at stake here is what St. Peter never tired insisting on: that the Holy Eucharist is Jesus Christ. Once this is recognized, then a flood of consequences follow.
• It is uniquely through the consecration at Mass that Our Lord becomes physically present in the world. No Mass, no Real Presence!
• It is through the double, and separate, consecration at Mass that Jesus continues to sacrifice Himself to His heavenly Father. What Christ did at the Last Supper was to make the voluntary offering of his bodily life for the salvation of a sinful world. The Last Supper was a real Mass. On the next day, Jesus fulfilled what He had offered the evening before. He actually died on Calvary by the literal separation of His Body and Blood, which caused His death on the Cross.
• In every Mass, Jesus re-enacts what He did on Good Friday. Being now immortal He can no longer die in His own person physically. But He can, and does, die mystically in two ways: in His willingness to die if He could, and in us members of His Mystical Body who are to die daily in the surrender of our wills to the will of our heavenly Father.
• Christ's sacrifice of Himself is symbolized not only in the double consecration at Mass. It is also manifest in His continued presence among us under the Eucharistic species. Here especially Julian Eymard is eloquent in explaining what this means. As this champion of devotion to the Real Presence would have it, every feature of Christ's Passion is being re-united by His Eucharistic Presence.
During His Passion in Palestine, Christ endured the agony of betrayal by His enemies and of abandonment by His friends.
Mysteriously, but really, Christ is reliving, or shall we say re-dying, the experiences He went through on Holy Thursday night and Good Friday morning.
Once we recognize that the Christ in the Eucharist is the Christ of the Passion, it is not poetry but stark reality to see Him undergoing in anticipation the sufferings He endured during the longest Mass in history, from the cenacle of the Last Supper to His expiring on Calvary.
St. Peter Julian is not finished yet. He wants to bring out the incomprehensible truth that Christ, even now, is undergoing His Passion. He not only became Man to suffer for our salvation in the past. In ways we cannot fathom but still believe, He became Man in order to suffer for our redemption in the present. That is why He is in the Holy Eucharist, our God become Man, living in His humanity in our midst.
As we read these words we are struck as by a thunderbolt. "Where have I been," we ask ourselves, "all these years and not realized what is going on?" Why, the Passion of Christ, from Gethsemane to Calvary, is a present-day reality! As the God-Man during His mortal life on earth, Christ foresaw all the infidelity and hypocrisy of His nominal followers until the end of time. He suffered the experience of this rejection and treachery. During those agonizing hours of Holy Week, He submitted meekly and silently to the injustices of His enemies. Now in the Holy Eucharist, He can no longer suffer in His own human nature. But He can, and wants to suffer in our pathetically mortal humanity. More still, He wants to show us how we are to endure, like Him, what He went through in those closing days of the first Holy Week of history. Silence and patience, peaceful acceptance of opposition from those whom we love; this is the lesson of the silent presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist today.
INDIFFERENCE TO THE REAL PRESENCE
All that we know about St. Peter Julian Eymard tells us he was a mild personality. He was not abrasive or aggressive or self-opinionated. Yet as we read some of his conferences on the Holy Eucharist, we wonder. He is outspoken in the extreme when he talks about the coldness and indifference of so many professed Catholics toward the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
He has only one explanation for this phenomenon. It must be the work of the evil spirit. In one dramatic passage, he has the devil mocking Jesus. "I give man nothing that is true, good or beautiful," he tells the Savior. "I have not suffered for his sake, and I am more loved, more obeyed, and better served than you." To which Eymard adds the comment, "Alas! It is too true, our coldness, our ingratitude are Satan's triumph over God!"
Peter Julian wrote these observations in the nineteenth century. They could just as well have been written today.
But there is a solution. The absolute number of strong believers in Christ's Eucharistic Presence has never been large. This is a fair comparison with the number of believers in His divine presence in Palestine in the first century. Yet we know what happened: that a relatively small number of dedicated followers shook the Roman Empire to its foundations. We can expect the very same. With St. Peter Julian Eymard, we can pray, "Lord Jesus, we adore Thy power which has multiplied wonderful works." The miracles that He performed in Galilee and Judea, He continues performing in our country in our day. He is the same almighty God in human form. The only precondition is that we believe.
QUOTES FROM ST. PETER JULIAN EYMARD
• What are the proofs of a genuine love? There is only one, its sacrifices: the sacrifices it prompts us to do and those it accepts with joy.
• Love without sacrifice is but an empty name, a self-love in disguise.
• If we would therefore know the greatness of the love Jesus in the Eucharist has for man, if we would estimate the value of this love, we should look into the sacrifices called for by the Eucharist.
• They are the same as those of the Passion of the God-Man. Now as then, Jesus Christ sacrifices His civil life, His natural life, and His divine life.
• What shall we say of the Eucharistic abasement of our Lord Jesus Christ? To remain with us, Jesus Christ exposes Himself to ingratitude and insult. Nothing disheartens him. Let us contemplate this good Savior Whom we ill-treat as we would no one else, and Who nevertheless persists in remaining with us.
© Inter MirificaTaken from Great Catholic Books Newsletter, Volume II, Number 2
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