First Published in 1868.
TAN Books and Publishers
On the Great Desire of Jesus Christ to Enter
into Our Hearts in Holy Communion
IN a preceding chapter I treated of the great love which Jesus Christ has shown us in the institution of the Holy Eucharist, and because love demands love in return, I went on to prove how this condescension of His places us under the obligation of visiting Him frequently and of paying reverence to Him in this Sacrament of His love. Jesus Christ, however, is not satisfied with the visits and reverence which we pay to Him. He wishes especially that we should receive Him in Holy Communion; this is indeed His chief object in remaining among us under the Sacramental species.
Now, if you ask why it is that Jesus Christ wishes us to receive Him, I answer, it is because He so ardently desires to be united to us. Yes, strange as it may seem, Our Lord's heart yearns to be united to ours. He burns with the desire of being loved by us. Holy Scripture represents Him as standing at the door of our hearts, knocking until we open to Him. This great desire of Jesus Christ, to enter into our hearts in Holy Communion, will be the subject of our present consideration; but I must begin by acknowledging my entire inability to describe it as it really is. That indeed would simply be impossible. No tongue can express the longing of our Saviour to unite Himself to us. I will merely endeavor to point out some of the ways in which He manifests this desire, and I am sure that this effort of mine, as well as your devout attention, dear Reader, will cause great joy to the loving heart of Jesus, whose desire that we should know His love is as great as His love itself. The first proof, then, of Our Lord's great longing to enter into our hearts in Holy Communion is His own declaration.
When He was about to institute the Holy Eucharist, He said to His disciples: "With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you," thereby expressing, according to the commentary of St. Lawrence Justinian, His most ardent wish, His most earnest desire to unite Himself to us in Holy Communion. And what He expressed in so touching a manner at the Last Supper He as often declared in other ways.
One day, as St. Gertrude was meditating on the greatness of the love which made the Lord and King of Heaven find His delight in the society of the children of men, our Saviour illustrated what seemed to her so incomprehensible by the following comparison: The son of a king is surely much higher and greater than the children who run about the streets; he has in his father's palace everything that can delight and gratify him; yet, if you give him the choice either to go out and play with the children in the street or to stay at home amid the splendors of his father's court, he will certainly prefer the former.
"Thus, I too," said Our Lord, "find my pleasure in being with you; and having instituted the Blessed Sacrament for this end, anyone who prevents a soul from receiving Me, deprives Me of a great pleasure." He also said to St. Matilda: "Look at the bees and see with what eagerness they seek the honey-flowers, yet know that My desire to come to you in Holy Communion is far greater." Nay, He declared to St. Margaret of Cortona that He would even reward her Confessor, and that richly, too, for having advised her to receive Holy Communion frequently; and Father Antonio Torres, as we read in his life, appeared shortly after death in great splendor to a certain person and revealed to him that God had increased his glory in Heaven in a special manner for [his] having allowed frequent Communion to his penitents. Most remarkable is that promise of Jesus Christ by which He induced the Blessed Prudentiana Zagnoni (a nun of the order of St. Clare) to receive the Blessed Sacrament frequently. "If thou wilt receive Me often in Holy Communion," said He, "I will forget all thy ingratitude towards Me."
Words and promises of Our Lord like these are indeed powerful arguments to convince us of His excessive desire to enter our hearts in Holy Communion, but the extraordinary miracles which He has performed in order to enable His servants to receive Him frequently in Holy Communion are still more powerful arguments. St. Teresa at one period of her life was afflicted with a severe sickness, attended with vomiting, which occurred regularly every morning and evening. What most distressed her was that this illness prevented her from receiving Holy Communion. In this affliction she had recourse to Our Lord, and He, whose desire to come into her heart was far greater than hers to receive Him, was pleased to cure her. But as if to show for what purpose the relief was granted, He only delivered her from the attack to which she was subject in the morning, leaving her subject to that which usually came on in the evening.
A similar difficulty prevented St. Juliana Falconieri from receiving Our Lord when her last hour had come. After having thought of every possible means of satisfying her desire for Communion, she at last entreated her confessor to bring the Sacred Host near her, that she might at least humbly kiss It. This being refused her, she begged that It might be laid upon her breast, in order that her heart might feel some refreshment from being near to Jesus; and when the priest, in compliance with her request, spread the corporal on her breast and laid Our Lord upon it, she exclaimed with the greatest delight: "O my sweet Jesus!" As she drew her last breath, the Sacred Host disappeared, and as it was not to be found, the bystanders were sure that our Saviour, in the Blessed Sacrament, had united Himself to her heart, to strengthen her in her passage and accompany her to Heaven.
In the eighth chapter of the life of St. Lawrence Justinian, it is related that there lived in Venice a nun who was prevented from receiving Jesus Christ on the feast of Corpus Christi. Being much grieved thereat, she besought St. Lawrence at least to remember her at Mass. Our Lord could not allow her piety to go unrewarded. Accordingly, while the holy Patriarch was saying Mass in the crowded church, the nun saw him enter her cell with the Blessed Sacrament to give her Holy Communion.
At other times Our Lord has made the miracle still more remarkable by employing the ministry of an Angel or a Saint, instead of a priest, or by dispensing altogether with a visible agent. The Blessed Gerard Majella [now St. Gerard Majella], lay-brother of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, when he was but nine years old, approached one day the communion-rail while the priest was distributing Holy Communion, impelled by a strong desire to receive his Saviour; but the priest, seeing his youth, asked him whether he had made his First Communion, and finding that he had not, sent him away. But the good heart of Jesus could not suffer the child to hunger after Him in vain: That very night Our Lord's Body was brought to him by the Archangel St. Michael.
In like manner St. Stanislaus Kostka was sick in the house of a Protestant relative; and debarred of every opportunity of receiving his beloved Lord, he made his appeal to the Queen of Heaven and obtained through her intercession the grace to receive the Blessed Sacrament at the hands of St. Barbara. One day while St. Bonaventure was assisting at Mass, he felt an ardent desire to receive Holy Communion, but abstained through fear of not being sufficiently prepared. Our Lord, however, could not refrain from gratifying His own desire; when the priest had broken the Host, the Saint perceived that a small particle of it had come and rested on his tongue.
I might multiply instances of such miraculous Communions, but those which I have adduced are sufficient to show how much Our Lord has done in order to satisfy His wish to enter into our hearts in Holy Communion. I will therefore proceed to point out another way by which He has manifested this desire, namely, the threats and the promises He has made in order to induce us to receive the Blessed Sacrament.
When a lawgiver wishes to insure the observance of a law, he promises rewards to those who keep the law and threatens with punishment those who violate it. And the greatness of these rewards and punishments is the measure of the importance which he attaches to the law. Now consider what Our Lord has done to urge us to receive Him frequently in the Blessed Sacrament. Not content with giving us the bare precept, "Take and eat, for this is My Body."
He has added thereto the strongest inducements. What more could He do to prevail upon us to receive Him than to promise us Heaven if we do so. "He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood," says He, "shall have life everlasting." On the other hand, He threatens us with Hell if we refuse. "Amen, Amen, I say unto you, unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you." Moreover, as He threatens with eternal torments those who never receive Him, or who do not receive Him when the precept of Communion requires it, so He also punishes, though less severely, those who from negligence and indifference refuse to receive Holy Communion as often as their state of life demands.
While St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi was praying one day before the Blessed Sacrament, she saw one of her deceased sisters in the choir, completely enveloped in a robe of fire and reverently adoring the Blessed Sacrament. By this the Saint was given to understand that the deceased nun was in Purgatory and that in penance she was to wear that mantle of fire and to adore the Blessed Sacrament for one hour every day-----because in her lifetime she had often, through negligence, omitted to receive Holy Communion. Now what do all these invitations, these promises, these rewards and punishments prove? What, but the unutterable desire of Jesus Christ to unite Himself to us in Holy Communion. He seems in a manner to force us to receive Him. He makes our temporal and eternal welfare depend on our receiving Him, and thus makes use of our natural desire for happiness to bring us to His Altar. He seems to say, "If you do not receive Me, you shall have no health, no strength or vigor, no comfort, peace or rest, no courage, zeal or devotion; you will be vehemently assailed by temptations, which you will not have strength to resist; you will commit mortal sin, lose My grace and friendship, and becoming a slave of the devil, you will finally fall into Hell and be unhappy forever."
I do not know that I can add any proof of our Saviour's desire to enter our hearts in Holy Communion more striking than those which I have already presented, but there yet remains one to be considered, which is certainly more affecting. I allude to the patience with which He has borne the insults which for eighteen hundred years [now nineteen hundred years] have been heaped upon Him in the Holy Eucharist. I will not offend you, dear Reader, with the relation of the indignities which have been offered to Our Dear Lord in the Sacrament of His love; it is too dark a page in the history of human depravity.
Suffice it to say that He has been loaded with almost every species of outrage which malice could suggest or impiety perpetrate. Infidels, Jews, heretics and sometimes even nominal Catholics have united together to insult Him. All the sorrows which Our Lord had to endure during His life on earth are repeated again and again in this Holy Mystery. Now why does Jesus Christ endure such affronts? Surely none of us would be willing to remain with those who continually maltreat and persecute us; a life in the desert, in the midst of extreme poverty and desolation, would be preferable to such a lot.
Why, then, is our Saviour so patient amid so many outrages? Is He not free to act as He pleases? Is He forced to remain with us in the Blessed Sacrament? Yes, He is forced. He does indeed sometimes vindicate His honor and visit irreverence with exemplary punishment, but there is one point to which His anger never goes: He will never take back the gift of His love. Men may do what they will, but the desire of Jesus Christ to be united with us will always force Him to remain in the Blessed Sacrament. This is the secret of Our Lord's endurance. He endures all things for the sake of the elect.
All the outrages which the wicked have helped upon Him are compensated for by one devout Communion, and He is willing to remain in our churches, abandoned, alone for hours and hours, that He may be able to unite Himself with the first soul that comes hungering for the Bread of Life. Oh, how true are the words which Jesus Christ spoke to His disciples at the Last Supper! "With desire I have desired to eat this Pasch with you."
God desires that we should receive Him. He commands us to receive Him; He threatens us with Hell if we refuse; He punishes us in Purgatory if we are careless in receiving Him. He promises to forgive all our ingratitude, to remit the temporal punishment due to our sins, nay, to give us Heaven itself if only we receive Him. He promises a special reward to those of His priests who encourage others to receive Him; and as if all this were not enough, He employs His Angels and Saints, yea, His Own Omnipotence, to convey the Blessed Sacrament to those who are prevented from receiving Him. Shall we not respond to this desire of Our Lord? Jesus, our King, the Creator of Heaven and earth, longs after us, and shall not we, His creatures and subjects, long after Him? Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, desires to feed His sheep, and shall not the sheep know His voice and follow Him?
Ah, if we knew that some great and rich prince had so set his heart on us as to find his happiness in dwelling with us, how impatiently would we expect his arrival; how eagerly would we count the days and hours until he had come! Now, Jesus Christ is far greater and richer than any earthly prince. What honor is so great as that of receiving our God and Saviour? And shall we say: "Delay, O Lord; come not now; wait a little longer!" Alas! That there should be any Christians who speak thus! Can we conceive anything more extraordinary than that a man who believes and knows that God desires to unite Himself to his soul should yet remain indifferent to so great a favor? Can anything show more clearly how the world and sin have usurped the place of God in the human heart, and blinded it to its true happiness? Let me warn you at least, dear Reader, against such folly and ingratitude. If your own desire does not impel you to receive Holy Communion, at least let the desire of Jesus Christ urge you. Do not stay away because your love is cold; go, and your love will grow warm. Begin by going to please Him, and you will keep on to please yourself.
This Sacrament is the great means of advancing in Divine love. Those who taste a little honey desire to eat more; but those who know not its sweetness do not desire it at all. In like manner, this heavenly banquet continually satisfies and creates spiritual hunger. The Saints, by often receiving their Saviour, obtained such a longing desire to possess Him as even to cause them suffering until it was satisfied. St. Teresa's desire for Holy Communion was so great that she used to say that neither fire nor sword could deter her from receiving her Divine Lord.
St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi used to go to that part of the Communion-rail where the priest came first to distribute the Blessed Sacrament in order to receive Our Lord as quickly as possible. St. Philip Neri was often unable to sleep at night on account of his great desire to receive Holy Communion. One night, as Father Antonio Gallonio was about to give him Holy Communion, he held the Sacred Host in his hand for some time; at last St. Philip, unable to endure the delay any longer, cried out: "Antonio, why do you hold my Lord in your hands so long? Why do you not give Him to me? Why? why? Give Him to me; give Him to me!" It is also related that this Saint, when taking the Precious Blood at Mass, used to lick and suck the chalice with such affection that it seemed as if he could not tear himself away from it. He gradually wore off the gilding on the rim of the chalice and even left there the print of his teeth.
But still more remarkable is that which is related of St. Alphonsus. Once, on Good Friday, being unable to receive Holy Communion, his affliction was so great that a violent fever came on him; his life was even in danger. The Doctor came and bled him, but there was no improvement until the next day, when the Saint learned that he could again receive his Saviour. On receiving these joyful tidings, the fever immediately left him. Gustate et videte quoniam suavis est Dominus. (''Taste and see how sweet is the Lord.") Come, then and taste this heavenly food for yourself. Let neither the example of others nor the pleasures of the world nor the coldness of your own heart deprive you of so rich a consolation.
How truly does the author of The Imitation of Christ remark: "If Jesus Christ were offered only in one city in the world, how cheerfully would men endure even hardships to go to that favored spot! How would they long for the time when they could receive their God. Many holy pilgrims have undertaken long and arduous journeys and have encountered dreadful perils by land and sea only that they might be able to weep in the places in which our Saviour suffered and to kiss the ground on which He trod.
What is there, then, that should prevent you from receiving your Saviour Himself? Should you not be willing to sacrifice everything-----to sacrifice health and riches and life itself that you might be deemed worthy of so great a favor? So, at least, thought the Christians of other days. I need not refer you to the examples of the early Christians-----there are instances even in later times. In the time of the penal laws in England under Queen Elizabeth a Catholic nobleman was fined four hundred crowns for having received Holy Communion; but, regardless of the iniquitous law, he continued to communicate, cheerfully paying the fine each time he was detected, although he was thereby obliged to sell two of his best estates. He declared that he never spent any money with greater joy than that which he was obliged to pay for the privilege of receiving his Lord. (Schmid's Histor. Catech.)
Still more affecting is the example which is related of a dying man in the time of St. Charles Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan. A dreadful pestilence had broken out in the city, and a certain man in the hospital of St. Gregory, having been attacked by it, was soon reduced to the last extremity. In this state, he was carried, more dead than alive, to a place where the dead bodies were thrown before being buried. Life, however, was not yet quite extinct, and after a night spent in this horrible situation, he heard in the morning the sound of the bell announcing the approach of the Blessed Sacrament. Seized with an ardent desire of receiving his Saviour, he extricated himself with great difficulty from the dead bodies that were piled upon him, and crawling to the feet of the priest who carried the Holy Viaticum, he conjured him to give him Holy Communion. The priest, touched with compassion, immediately communicated him, but the efforts the poor man had made were too much for his feeble strength, and while his lips were yet moving in prayer, and his eyes looking up to Heaven, he fell back cold and lifeless at the feet of the priest.
You, dear Reader, have no such efforts, no such sacrifices to make in order to receive your Lord; you need not undertake long journeys nor cross stormy seas and high mountains; Jesus Christ is at your door; you have but to go to the church and you will find Him. You have everything to gain and nothing to lose in receiving a good Communion. Avail yourself, then, of so great a privilege.
If hitherto you have communicated but seldom, for the future communicate oftener. Our Lord Himself solicits you; He repeats the cry He uttered on the Cross. Sitio! "I thirst." And for what does He thirst? He thirsts for your heart; He urges you as He did Zacheus: "Make haste, for today I must abide in thy house."
How exceedingly great is the reward of those who obey this loving invitation! Does not Jesus Christ declare that He will recompense those that receive Him and show mercy to Him in the person of the poor? How much more will He reward those who receive Him and show mercy to Him in person. To such He will say: "I was naked" in the Blessed Sacrament, stripped of My glory, and your faith, reverence and devotion supplied what was wanting to My Majesty; I was "imprisoned" in the form of bread and wine, and "sick" with love for you, and you did lovingly visit Me and refresh Me; I was a "stranger," unknown to the greater part of mankind, and you gave Me your heart for My abode; I was "hungry" and "thirsty," consumed with the desire of possessing your affections entirely, and you satisfied My desire to the utmost. Come, then, blessed of My Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.