From Soul of Christ
The fifth petition of the Anima Christi prayer focuses on Jesus’s passion as our source of strength. We can find this strength especially in the Eucharist, where Jesus renews his saving suffering, death, and resurrection for us and for the world.
Passion of Christ…
In fulfilling his command at the Last Supper, “Do this in memory of me,” the church continuously celebrates the memorial of Christ’s passion and death. At every Mass, the sacrifice of Jesus is made present on our altars for our sake. Yet, it is not uncommon to hear Roman Catholics complain, “I don’t get anything out of the Mass.” Why this tragic lack of understanding?
- Most Roman Catholics have never studied their faith past First Communion or Confirmation instruction. Is it fair to expect a childhood level of understanding to meet adult challenges of faith?
- We are not used to seeing with “eyes of faith.” Perhaps the way the Eucharist is celebrated is lacking: not reverent enough, distracted, sung poorly, or lacking an engaging homily, etc. Or perhaps suffering has dimmed the light of faith in our lives.
- Jesus’s passion and death feel irrelevant, distant from our lives, or too uncomfortable to dwell on.
The questions then become: How does the Mass connect with our daily lives? How can we renew our faith and love for the Eucharist, which is the pledge of Christ’s self-giving love, the invitation to deeper union with Jesus, and a foretaste or “sneak preview” of Heaven? How can we pray with the mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection so that it changes our lives?
As a child, Joan loved to pray with the Stations of the Cross because they made the love of Jesus feel real to her. Later, as Joan grew older, she found she could not enter into the spirit of Lent. Just going to the Palm Sunday Mass and hearing the account of the Lord’s passion read aloud brought back memories of a violent trauma she had suffered in her childhood. The thought of Christ’s hands nailed to the cross made her relive the memory of her own helplessness and shame. Struggling to find meaning in her tragic past, Joan found herself progressively unable to pray about the central mystery of her faith. After several years, Joan spoke to a wise priest about her spiritual dilemma.
The priest reassured her that she was already sharing in the passion of Christ in her own way, and that it might be more helpful to focus her current prayer on other aspects of God’s love – such as praying the psalms, meditating on the miracles and teachings of the public life of Jesus, or reading the Letters of the New Testament that explore how to live the Christian life.
Gradually, as Joan healed from her painful past, she began praying again with the Passion, this time taking comfort that Jesus understood her sufferings. Instead of focusing on the physical sufferings of Jesus, her prayer centered on Christ’s great love for her, and how she could find meaning in her own sufferings by united them with his.
What Joan experienced so intensely, many of us go through in a smaller way. Praying the Stations of the Cross, or meditating on the Passion and death of Jesus can be uncomfortable, leading us to feel guilty, to think more about our own suffering or where we have felt disconnected from God’s saving love.
But when prayed with sentiments of faith, the Passion and death of Jesus can become one of our greatest consolations. “When we look at the crucifix, our primary feeling should not be sadness but rather adoration, contemplation, and gratitude for the salvation that was accomplished in the mystery of life offered on the wood of the cross. On this wood, Christ reigns and draws everyone to himself, because the cross is the pathway to resurrection.”
In addition to learning more about the Eucharist through reading and studies, spending time in adoration outside of Mass is one way we can grow in our appreciation of the Most Holy Sacrament. Blessed James Alberione, whose Pauline spirituality is centered on the Eucharist, made Eucharistic adoration a keystone of Pauling prayer:
I insist on the Visit [daily hour of adoration], not because it is first. First comes the Mass; second, Communion; and third the Visit; but one who makes adoration well will also make the other two well.
The beauty of the Eucharist is that Jesus comes to be with us in every circumstance of our life: the joys, routine, obstacles, sorrows, busyness, sufferings. Jesus does not come to make our lives easy or perfect, but to be with us. His passion strengthens us because we know for certain that we are never alone. Jesus, our crucified Master, reveals how every moment in our life can have meaning.
When confronted with suffering, we can allow it to embitter us or help us grow: the choice is ours. Jesus gives us the strength to choose growth. Suffering can help us to grow:
- by opening our eyes to appreciate what we have, and gifting us with new awareness about what is important in life;
- by helping us to recognize and accept our dependence on God;
- by making us aware of our interdependence on others;
- by increasing our understanding and compassion for the sufferings of others.
Undergoing our own anguish also gives us a very precious opportunity to offer our sufferings in union with Christ’s, thus sharing in his mission of salvation for others.
The crucifix is the icon that best represents our faith. The Lenten liturgy speaks of the cross as the “Tree of Life.” When we unite our sufferings to those of Jesus on the cross, we, too, will experience life – for the passion of Jesus did not end in death but in his resurrection.
Because Jesus suffered in every possible way – mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually – we know that he not only understands our sufferings but can also give us the strength we need in them. Saint Thomas Aquinas highlights three ways the Eucharistic presence of Jesus can offer us strength: Memorial, Banquet, and Presence.
Whenever we are tempted to doubt the love of Jesus for us, we only need to glance at a crucifix to remember that his fidelity could never be broken, not even by torture and death.
At every Eucharistic Celebration, Jesus renews his offering of himself. The gift that Christ makes of his life to the Father for us can be like an earthquake that rocks our lives of routine, forgetfulness, and complacency. His suffering cracks our hard hearts wide open, making space for God’s love to enter and become the new foundation of our lives.
In suffering and dying for love of us, Jesus transforms our relationship with suffering and death. For Saint Paul (and for the church), the suffering and death of Jesus is always connected with his resurrection. Jesus died for love of us and to save us from the power of death; Jesus rose to bring us to eternal life. Death itself is changed: no longer is it the end. Rather, death is the beginning of a new, eternal life in Christ where loneliness, suffering, and sin will be no more.
In the Eucharistic Celebration, Jesus offers his body and blood for us as our food. Just as food taken regularly sustains us physically, so the “Bread of Angels” is meant to be received often, to sustain us and help us grow in union with God, especially in those moments when we are most hurting or needy. The times that we don’t feel like going to Mass are precisely the time we should not miss going!
At Mass, the banquet is twofold. The Liturgy of the word gives us a particular kind of nourishment: God speaks to us in our specific time and circumstance. The carefully chosen readings at Mass can become the source of our prayer and meditation throughout our day or week.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist invites us to enter into and unite ourselves to the offering Jesus makes of himself to the Father, to be fully present to the renewal of his sacrifice for us, and to receive him in Holy Communion. Not only does Jesus want us to ask for whatever we need, he wants to give us far more than we in our littleness can imagine. We can ask him anything and entrust ourselves to him with utmost confidence.
Speaking of this twofold banquet, Blessed James Alberione points out that the word of God gives us light for the journey, and Holy Communion gives us the desire and strength to journey on.
According to Saint Thomas Aquinas, in the Eucharist Jesus humbles himself even more than in his passion. During his passion, his divinity was hidden, but in the Eucharist his divinity and his humanity are hidden. Just as in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus desired the company of the apostles, so in the Eucharist Jesus desires our companionship. Yet Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is often neglected, disrespected, or blasphemed.
Jesus knows what it is to suffer alone, to be misunderstood, rejected, and abandoned by all. Yet he will never let us undergo the depth of his suffering. No matter how alone we feel, Jesus is faithfully present in the Eucharist for us. He is our rock and faithful friend to lean on, our harbor in whom we can rest safely, the shepherd who never leaves our side. In being physically with us in his real Eucharistic presence, Jesus offers us a tangible, physical closeness. In faith our sense reach out in adoration: we adore him with our gaze lit by faith, we kneel before him in adoration, we cradle him in our hands as we receive Communion, we taste the reality of his love. Whatever strength we need, when we encounter Jesus in the Eucharist, we can lean on his merciful love and unshakable fidelity. Jesus will never abandon us.