From Soul of Christ
The beautiful Anima Christi prayer begins with a deeply personal petition that immediately draws us into a genuine encounter with Christ. In fact, each of the first six petitions of this prayer focus our attention on a specific aspect of Christ’s humanity, similar to our recalling the cherished qualities of a friend or loved one. This first line delves into the deep desire of Christ’s soul to encounter us and be united with us.
Soul of Christ…
“Soul of Christ” is a unique, familiar way to address Jesus, and it sets a personal tone for the entire prayer. This might not be obvious at first glance, because “soul” is a term with many nuances. From a Roman Catholic perspective, the soul is understood as the spiritual part of the person that not only gives life to the body but makes one the unique person he or she is; the soul is the innermost part of the person. In the context of the many petitions that focus on different aspects of Christ – his body, blood, wounds, and sufferings – “soul” refers not to a disembodied view of Christ but rather to his innermost humanity united to his divinity – the essence of who Jesus is.
What a direct, familiar, and powerful way to begin our prayer! In doing so, we express our faith in two incredible mysteries:
- The Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul, and divinity. (During the Mass, Jesus becomes truly, really present in the Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine.)
- Jesus wants so much to be close to us that he makes himself incredibly accessible in the Holy Eucharist. Jesus is physically present at every celebration of the Eucharist and remains in the tabernacles of thousands of churches throughout the world.
If we read the gospels closely, we discover many instances where Christ expresses his yearning to be close to us, (e.g., Matthew 4:19, 11:28; Luke 19:5; John 12:32, 15). When we pray the “Soul of Christ,” we respond to this deep longing of the soul of Jesus.
What does it mean to encounter someone’s soul?
Though my father passed away over ten years ago, I still miss the way he used to look at me. When I would arrive home for a visit or right before I would leave, my dad usually did not say anything, but his eyes would fill with deep emotion, and he would just gaze at me. I would feel so loved, so at home, so connected with him. I think that in those timeless moments I glimpsed my dad’s soul, his very essence: the fruitful love for his family that had come to define him, his deep-down goodness, and the way that his love shaped me into who I am.
Jesus looks at each of us with such a gaze of love, but it is an infinitely greater love.
Sometimes the Eucharistic presence of Jesus is silent. He offers us a humble, unspoken love that without complaint undergoes the limitations of the form of bread for the sake of being near us. His quiet presence listens attentively to our distress or distraction, even when we barely acknowledge him. Yet, when we are able to pay attention, the quiet presence of Jesus can deluge us with the sense of being loved, embraced, and gazed upon with delight.
Praying with the word of God before Jesus in the Eucharist is one of the most vital ways to pray. In his word, Jesus offers us concrete guidance in our day-to-day living, always adapted to just what we need when we are able to listen deeply. The word transforms us, little by little, making us more Christ-like.
“Sanctify” means to make holy. All of us are called to holiness, but a true understanding of holiness is elusive, even mysterious.
Reflect a few moments on what holiness is to you personally. How are you called to be holy?
One way to make the idea of holiness concrete is to think of three people we know whom we would describe as holy. Why would we describe them that way? What do they have in common?
Our spiritual tradition describes holiness in many ways:
- union with God
- abundance or fullness of life
- the perfection of charity
- to be “of God”
- being Christ-like
As the Son of God, Jesus is Divine Love who created us, recreates us, and saves us. In the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity entered human history and took on our human nature, including a human soul, to draw us closer to himself, to sanctify us.
We can best understand what holiness means by contemplating Jesus during his life on Earth. With his human soul, will, mind, and heart, the Son of God shares in the entirety of our human experience and shows us how we, too, can live in loving union with the Father. The entire life of Jesus – from his humble birth and hidden life at Nazareth to his suffering, death, and resurrection – is our way to holiness.
Jesus is the Love of God made human, visible, and tangible. The work of the church is to be the presence of Jesus extended throughout history so that, especially in the sacraments, we have a way to grow closer to him. Every sacrament is a miraculous encounter with God’s love. But Jesus encounters us in an especially marvelous way in the Eucharist, where he waits for us.
At the Last Supper, Jesus invites his disciples to abide in him: to love and be loved as Jesus loves and is loved by the Father. These invitations to holiness are memorialized at the Last Supper and in every Eucharist we celebrate. Contemplating this personal invitation to union with Jesus during times of adoration can transform our attitude and participation at every Mass.
Our unique call to holiness
We all share a common call, a common vocation, to holiness. But each of us is to live that call uniquely, to shine in an unrepeatable way with the radiance of the face of God. In his book, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, Christian writer Frederick Buechnes writes, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” God has given us to the world just as much as he has given the world to us. In this light, it is helpful to pray with Blessed John Henry Newman’s beautiful meditation about the mission that is particular and unique to each of us:
God has created me to do him some definite service;
He has committed some work to me which he has not committed to another;
I have my mission – I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next;
Somehow I am necessary for his purposes.
Someone – perhaps “many someones” – in this world needs us to be who we are called to be, to love as we are called to love. The world desperately needs us to be saints.
God gives us the precious gift of one lifetime. What a tragedy it would be to waste our potential, to never know the joy of expressing and sharing our unique “voice” and gifts with the world. Yet it is deceptively easy to waste our life on things that are good but are not part of our deep call to holiness.
We live our deepest call when we are fully ourselves, when we strive to be and embrace who God calls us to be and how God calls us to be. It’s hard work to say, “yes,” to our deeper call over and over, to turn away from sin, to ignore distractions, and to tune the melody of our life so that our authentic voice – in all its God-given purity, clarity, and power – rings out through the world.
One woman who lived an unusual way to holiness is Blessed Margaret of Castello. Born in the thirteenth century with numerous physical disabilities (blindness, lameness, short stature, and hunchbacked), she was imprisoned for years by her family because they were ashamed of her. Finally, they brought her to a shrine in the hopes that she would be healed. When she wasn’t, they abandoned her there. But others took Margaret in and came to admire her. Eventually, Margaret became a Dominican tertiary known not for her unusual appearance, but for her prayer and charity to others.
Margaret could have spent her entire life in self-pity, resentment, or chasing after cures. Instead, she sought to serve others, rejoicing in the gift of her life, her call to holiness, and the unique opportunities she was given to serve others and to offer her sufferings to Jesus. Her unique vocation to love triumphed over the adversities she faced.
As the saints show us, being holy means we become most fully ourselves. Yet holiness itself is not something we can earn, achieve, or win. Instead, holiness is God’s gift; it comes about in our relationship with God. Our part in becoming holy is to respond to grace, to let God work freely in us. That’s why Jesus invites us as his disciples to leave aside our fear and, instead of trying to achieve holiness on our own, to share in his holiness. He invites us to immerse all of our being in God.
Soul of Christ, sanctify me. In this petition we pray for union with Christ, that through us our despairing, desolate world may receive the hope and love of Christ Jesus.
The second part of each chapter connects the petition with a passage from scripture. You may use this second part to make an hour of adoration by praying with the suggested material.