Part 6: Living on The Bread of Life

The following is part 6 of a 14-part series to help inspire parish cenacle and study groups who are looking for ways to make a difference in this troubled world. We invite you to view the entire series.

If you have taken to heart the counsel offered in parts four and five of this series to do some spring cleaning of your soul and to rearrange the furniture of your life, then the next step is the easiest, the most joyful, and the most important of all. You need to center your life, more than ever, on the Holy Eucharist.

In St. John's gospel, chapter six, Jesus Himself taught us that the principal way to let His "life," His merciful love, flow into our hearts, is through receiving the gift of Himself to us in Holy Communion. A hymn familiar to many Catholics, a hymn often sung at the time of the reception of Communion in parish churches, helps sum it up:

I am the Bread of Life.
He who comes to Me shall not hunger;
he who believes in Me shall not thirst.
No one can come to Me unless the Father draws him.
And I will raise him up, and I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up, on the last day.

The bread that I will give
is My flesh for the life of the world,
and he who eats of this bread,
he shall live forever, he shall live forever.
And I will raise him up, and I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up, on the last day.

Unless you eat
of the flesh of the Son of Man
and drink His blood,
and drink His blood, you shall not have life within you.
And I will raise him up, and I will raise him up,
and I will raise him up, on the last day.

This teaching about the Eucharist is central to the "good news" that Jesus preached. Probably no saint in the Church has taken this more to heart than St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, the "Apostle of Divine Mercy." Born a simple Polish peasant girl in 1905, she discerned a call to the religious life that ultimately brought her to the convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Warsaw. Even while she was a young sister in the religious life, Jesus Christ gave to her extraordinary revelations of His merciful love, including the famous Image of The Divine Mercy that has spread throughout the world and that adorns so many Catholic parishes today.

As a woman who faced much misunderstanding from her fellow sisters and who suffered many years of deteriorating health from tuberculosis, St. Faustina knew from her own experience that unless Jesus Himself dwells within us through devout reception of Holy Communion, there is no way that we can face the challenges and struggles of living as His disciples in the midst of this world. She wrote:

All the good that is in me is due to Holy Communion. ... Herein lies the whole secret of my sanctity. One thing alone sustains me, and that is Holy Communion. From it I draw my strength; in it is all my comfort. ... Jesus concealed in the Host is everything to me. ... I would not know how to give glory to God if I did not have the Eucharist in my heart.

O Living Host, my one and only strength, fountain of love and mercy, embrace the whole world [and] fortify faint souls. Oh, blessed be the instant and the moment when Jesus left us His most merciful Heart! (Diary, 1392, 1489, 1037, and 223).

What St. Faustina is telling us here is that it is Jesus Christ Himself, dwelling within our hearts through the Eucharist, who enables us to live as His faithful followers. Without Him we do not have the strength and love to carry the burdens of discipleship. In fact, this is the key to one of the most familiar sayings of Jesus in the gospels, Matthew 11:28-29:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.

Many of us remember these words because they convey a personal invitation from Jesus to "come" to Him and "rest" - and since many of us are exhausted from our daily trials and tribulations, this sounds like just what we need. So, we often seek rest in the company of Jesus in prayer. But if that is all we take from this passage, we may have missed its deeper meaning.

What does Jesus mean by this "yoke" that He intends to put on our shoulders if we come to Him, since, paradoxically, He says the burden of carrying that "yoke" will be "easy" and "light"?

The word "yoke" was actually used by the ancient Jews to describe the "burden" of the Law and the Commandments that every faithful Jew was required to keep. If you think about it, the burden involved in keeping the yoke of the commandments of Jesus can seem like a very heavy one indeed. First, His "new commandment," to "love one another, even as I have loved you" (Jn 13:34), and then His two great commandments, to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength...and your neighbor as yourself" (Mk 12:30-31). These are the highest possible moral and religious ideals and are seemingly impossible for us to live up to at times. Nevertheless, Jesus says that the burden of them is "easy" and "light."

How can this be?

It could only be a light and easy burden if He lifts that burden, with us and for us, since we cannot possibly do so on our own. And that is precisely His gospel promise. That is why Jesus starts this teaching with the words "Come to me." Notice it's not just "Come to My teachings and follow them" or "Come, observe my good example, and imitate Me," but "Come to Me, in prayer and in the Bread of Life; let Me feed you and fill you with Myself, and then you will find My yoke so much easier than all the burdens that the world puts on your shoulders."

Saint Therese of Lisieux, "The Little Flower," (1873-1897) was so swept away by these promises of Jesus that in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, she bursts into praise of the Lord in response:

Ah! Lord, I know You don't command the impossible. You know better than I do my weakness and imperfection; You know very well that never would I be able to love my Sisters [in the convent] as You love them unless You, O my Jesus, loved them in me. It is because You wanted to give me this grace that You made your new commandment. Oh! How I love this new commandment since it gives me the assurance that Your will is to love in me all those You command me to love!

Let's look at that last line again: Jesus Himself, dwelling within our hearts, is the one who will love, in and through us, all those whom He needs us and asks us to love. Thus, the highest ethical command of Christianity ("Love Thy neighbor...") includes, at the same time, one of the greatest gospel promises!

Saint Faustina goes even one step further. Jesus revealed to her that when we allow Him to dwell in our hearts through prayer and Communion and to live in us through deeds of love, it not only fills us with deep joy, but it also rejoices His Heart! Jesus said to her:

How much I desire the salvation of souls! My dearest secretary [St. Faustina] write that I want to pour out my divine life into human souls and sanctify them, if only they were willing to accept My grace. The greatest sinners would achieve great sanctity, if only they would trust in My mercy. ... My delight is to act in a human soul, and to fill it with My mercy. ... My kingdom on earth is My life in the human soul. (Diary, 1784)

Why not come to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist and receive Him as often as you can? How often that will be will vary greatly from person to person, of course, given our different circumstances, but try to receive Him not only on Sundays, but also at least once more during the week. Even on days when you cannot receive Him, if there is a church open that is near at hand where the Blessed Sacrament is reserved, try to pay a visit to Jesus, present for us in the tabernacle, and receive from Him all the graces that He is longing to pour into your heart. Make it a sincere spiritual communion. Unite your heart to His. Jesus lamented to St. Faustina about how few Catholics take advantage of His special presence for them there:

My Heart overflows with great mercy for souls, and especially for poor sinners ... for them I dwell in the tabernacle as King of Mercy. I desire to bestow My graces upon souls, but they do not want to accept them. You, at least, come to Me as often as possible, and take those graces they do not want to accept. In this way you will console my Heart. Oh, how indifferent are souls to so much goodness, and to so many proofs of love! My Heart drinks only of the ingratitude and forgetfulness of souls living in the world. They have time for everything, but they have no time to come to Me for graces. (Diary, 367)

That last line strikes close to home for many of us. It is so easy to get distracted by our work, our hobbies, or the latest sports events on TV that we can forget all about our Savior, present for us in the tabernacle, waiting to shower us with graces if only we will take the time to come to Him. When you think about it, going to the Eucharist once or twice during the week and popping in to pray before the Blessed Sacrament now and then is really not much of a time and energy drain! If you consider the benefits--such as increase of grace in your soul and a closer, more intimate friendship with our Lord - the sacrifice seems small.

And if you ever find your commitment to a more Eucharist-centered life begin to weaken, take these words of St. Francis de Sales as your guide and inspiration:

If worldly people ask you why you receive Communion so often, tell them that it is to learn to love God, be purified from your imperfections, delivered from misery, comforted in affliction, and supported in weakness. Tell them that two classes of people should communicate frequently: the perfect, because being well disposed they would be very much to blame if they did not approach the source and fountain of perfection, and the imperfect, so that they rightly strive for perfection; the strong lest they become weak, and the weak, that they may become strong; the sick, that they may be restored to health, and the healthy, lest they fall sick. Tell them that for your part, you are imperfect, weak, and sick and need to communicate frequently with him who is your perfection, strength, and physician. Tell them that those who do not have many worldly affairs to look after ought to communicate often because they have leisure to do so and those who have great undertakings because they have need to do so, since one who labours hard and is weighed down with troubles should eat solid food and do so frequently. ...

Go often ... as often as you can. ... And believe me, just as hares in our mountains become white in winter because they neither see nor eat anything but snow,* so by adoring and eating beauty, purity, and goodness itself in this divine sacrament you will become wholly beautiful, wholly good, and wholly pure. (Introduction to the Devout Life)

[*Of course, St. Francis de Sales was writing in the 17th century, and we know now that this is not the reason why hares become white in winter! But it nicely illustrates the point, all the same.]

Discussion Questions
1. Read St. John's gospel, chapter six. What does Jesus teach in that chapter about the Eucharistic gift of Himself? Why do so many people in that chapter misunderstand His teaching?
2. Why should we receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament as often as we can?
3. How difficult would it be for you to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament during the week? Are there any Catholic churches or chapels open during the day or evening in your area? Are there churches where the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for Eucharistic Adoration during the week?

A Prayer for a Visit to the Blessed Sacrament
Lord Jesus, Son of God,
I thank You for the infinite love out of which You have instituted this Blessed Sacrament, for loving those who are in the world, You loved us to the end (Jn 13:1);
You promised to remain with us always, even until the end of time (Mt 28:20), especially here, in the tabernacle,
where You await us, call us, and shower us with graces
when we come to You.

I thank You for all the times I have been able to receive You in Holy Eucharist, for by this Sacrament You lift us to the Father of Light, You refresh us with Your grace, and You apply to our hearts the whole treasury of Your merits.

I come to make reparation to You, Lord, for all the wounds Your Heart has received from all heretics who distort Your revealed truth, from all schismatics, who break the unity of Your Church's mission, and from all hardened unbelievers, who persecute Your Body and Bride, and run away from Your love into the darkness;
but especially from the irreverence, indifference, ingratitude, and mistrust of Catholics, Your own friends,
because this is the reproach that has most broken Your Heart.

I come to make reparation to You, Lord, not only in this holy tabernacle, but in every holy tabernacle throughout all the world, especially those in which you are least remembered, and most abandoned.
(Prayer based on the words of Fr. John Croiset, S.J., a spiritual director to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.)

A Hymn (Rev. John Keble, 1818)
Blest are the pure in heart,
For they shall see our God;
The secret of the Lord is theirs,
Their soul is Christ's abode.
The Lord who left the heavens
Our life and peace to bring,
To dwell in lowliness with men,
Their Pattern and their King.
Still to the lowly soul
He doth Himself impart,
And for His dwelling and His throne
Chooseth the poor in heart.
Lord, we Thy presence seek;
May ours this blessing be;
Give us a pure and lowly heart,
A temple meet for Thee.

Read Part 7: How Can We Hear Our Shepherd's Voice?

Robert Stackpole, STD, is director of the John Paul II Institute of Divine Mercy. He wishes to extend special thanks to Kathleen Ervin and the Divine Mercy Eucharistic Society of Oakland, Calif., for help in producing this series. His latest book is Divine Mercy: A Guide from Genesis to Benedict XVI (Marian Press).

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