God in the Eucharist: Marvelous Obsession
We have all known obsession. Earnest Hemingway was obsessed with writing. He spent years scrutinizing over his manuscripts. They were rejected again and again, but his obsession for writing carried him to succes. Vincent van gogh was laughed at and ridiculed for his art. Yet, he was obsessed with color. Night after night passed as he dipped his brush in exotic mixes and finally created his great works of art. Benjamin Franklin was obsessed with a hairbrain dream of inventing a lightbulb. He tested over 3,000 materials, and failed some 3,000 times, before finally triggering light. How many men and women have stayed up all night obsessed with a vision? How many of us have lost sleep because of one idea, one love, one hurt that consumed all our thoughts and soul?
This is obsession, and the kind of marvelous obsession we need for the Blessed Eucharist.
“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever” (Jn. 6:56-59).
The Church has always affirmed with one voice that the consecrated bread and wine are the real and life-giving presence of Jesus Christ. St. Paul taught this, that as we eat this body and drink this blood, we commune with Christ himself, we become intimate, one, and transformed by God (1 Cor. 10:16). St. Ignatius in the second century carried this tradition through the Christian world, declaring the Eucharist the burning presence of God, the “medicine of immortality,” and the central act of a Christian’s life. St. John Chrysostom revered the Eucharist as “a fountain of light, shedding abundant rays of truth” and that, in gazing on the Body and Blood of Christ, “you see him, touch him, eat Him. He gives Himself to you…to be your food and nourishment.” The universal witness of the Church, for 2,000 years, has been to lift up the Eucharist as the pinnacle of God’s presence in our lives.
Yet, it is not enough to believe. It is not enough to accept this basic Christian dogma and it is not enough to merely come, eat, and drink. We must become obsessed with the Eucharistic. We should think about, wonder over, and prepare earnestly our hearts for the Body and Blood of Christ from sunrise to sunset.
Every year at this time, we lift up the Eucharist and process with it all through downtown. What is so marvelous about this Feast, the Feast of Corpus Christi? It is more than a mere celebration of the Eucharist. It is an invitation to a way of life. Corpus Christi arrives to inflame within us a devotion to the Eucharist.
Listen to the words of the saints:
“It is our duty to adore the Blessed Sacrament. No one receives the Blessed Sacrament unless he adores it…and not only do we not sin by adoring, we do sin by not adoring” (St. Augustine).
The Body and Blood of Christ “ought to be honored in the highest manner, and adored with latria [adoration; worship]. For one is the adoration of the Holy Trinity, and of the Body and Blood of the Lord (Patriarch Dositheus).
In his Eucharistic meditations, St. Bonaventure prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ, pierce my soul with your love so that I may always long for you alone, who are the bread of angels and the fulfillment of the soul's deepest desires. May my heart always hunger for you, so that my soul may be filled with the sweetness of your presence.”
We are called to a life adoring God in the Sacrament. We never speak about God in some invisible way. He is never distant, high off in the clouds, or in some metaphysical dimension. He is never “merely in our hearts” in a vague manner. God is in our midst, truly, physically, and always available in this hallowed bread and wine.
I was a college student when I met the monk. I will never forget him. He looked treeish somehow, with a long, twisted beard, and old, calloused skin, and his eyes were wide awake. “Nearly everything we need to do is simply figure out what is the Eucharist. That is your salvation.” Do we get it? Hardly. Maybe a little, enough to come, and set our hearts on the trying. Yet, there is a difference between believing and comprehending. What is the state of our soul when we come up to the altar rail? Isaiah fell down on his face as though dead when he saw the living coal on God’s altar. We eat and drink that living coal. The more we begin to comprehend what happens during Mass, the more we will approach the Eucharist with burning reverence and joyful trembling.
“[The Holy Eucharist] is a fountain of light, shedding abundant rays of truth. And beside it the angelic powers from on high have taken their stand, gazing on the beauty of its streams, since they perceive more clearly than we the power of what lies before us and its unapproachable dazzling rays” (St. John Chrysostom).
The angels marvel and do not dare to approach the Eucharist. What is our attitude?
How can we learn to adore?
The Church requires us to fast a minimum of 6 hours before taking the Eucharist. Obey the Church. There is nothing arbitrary or insensitive in the Church’s rules. They exist to protect us as well as to open us to God’s beautiful grace.
In most of the Orthodox world, you are required to go to confession the day you take the Eucharist. The Mass is our divine wedding with God, and so why should not our wedding clothes be as pure and spotless as possible. If not weekly, we should take the Church’s medicines as often as possible, so as to better revel in God.
The Church invites us to her preparatory services, to Vespers and Matins. Why? These change us. They soften our hearts so that when we approach the altar, we better perceive God.
The Church has a set of prayers called “Preparation for Mass.” Use them. It may be too much to read them all before Mass, so divide them up through the week. This is not legalism. This is an invitation to the banquet.
If our hearts are open to it, God has invited us to a life of joyful adoration. It is up to our efforts how much grace we receive. The doors are open. We choose how we will enter. I will conclude by praying one short prayer from our Eucharistic meditations. May God kindle within us an ever deeper awareness, adoration, and obsession for His life-giving Body and Blood.
“O sweetest Bread, heal the palate of my heart, that I may taste the pleasant savour of thy love. O purest Bread, having all delight and all savour, which ever refreshest us, and never failest, let my heart feed on thee, and may my inmost soul be fulfilled with the sweetness of thy savour. The Angels feed upon thee fully: let the wayfaring man feed on thee according to his measure, that, refreshed with such a Viaticum, he fail not by the way. O holy Bread, O living Bread, O pure Bread, who camest down from heaven, and givest life unto the world, come into my heart, and cleanse me.”