Our Lord Jesus Christ calls each one of us to an intimate, personal relationship with Him. Unfortunately, some Catholics are uncomfortable with this “personal relationship” terminology. Yet Christianity is not a mere moral code, ethnic club, or cultural phenomenon.
Rather, at its very core is the acceptance of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our personal Lord and Savior.
Even as we recognize the need to take positive steps to nurture this personal relationship, we must continually return to this fundamental point: It is God who initiates the relationship. God has first loved us, and our vocation is to respond to that love. And not only does God initiate the relationship, He even goes looking for us!
Pope John Paul II summarizes this profound truth:
Christianity has its starting point in the Incarnation of the Word. Here, it is not simply a case of man seeking God, but of God who comes in Person to speak to man of himself and to show him the path by which He may be reached…. In Jesus Christ God not only speaks to man but also seeks him out. The Incarnation of the Son of God attests that God goes in search of man…. It is a search that begins in the heart of God and culminates in the Incarnation of the Word. If God goes in search of man, created in His own image and likeness, He does so because He loves him eternally in the Word, and wishes to raise him in Christ to the dignity of an adopted son. (1994, Tertio Millennio Adveniente nos. 6-7)
This awesome truth helps us to see the Eucharist in a new light. Before we enter God's world as His beloved children, He first enters ours. Since the pre-eminent way that God remains in our world is through the Holy Eucharist, then the Eucharist must give us important clues as to why Christ assumed human nature in the first place (see the Catechism, nos. 456-60). The Eucharist points not so much to God's “inaccessible transcendence” so much as it does to His “divine condescension.” The Eucharist is about God coming to us.
Our Heavenly Father has willed our existence from all eternity, has called each one of us by name, and has prepared a place for each one of us in heaven. While we remain free to accept His gifts, He earnestly desires our salvation (1 Tm 2:4).
Now, what human father would give his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread (cf. Mt 7:9)? In other words, even flawed human fathers generally strive to do right by their children. How much more has our Heavenly Father taken into account our needs and desires in His plan of salvation for us. His will for us is truly “for our own good” or, as we profess more formally in the Creed, “for us men and for our salvation.”
We can see this principle at work in our Lord's response to criticisms of His disciples who were picking heads of grain on the Sabbath. He says, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mt 2:27). In keeping the Lord's Day, we are not submitting to oppressive, arbitrary rules. Rather, the Lord's Day is for our own good. Our participating in Sunday Mass and observing a day of rest corresponds with the basic human need to worship God outwardly, publicly, and regularly (see the Catechism, no. 2176). It also addresses the need to put our all-consuming human endeavors in their proper context.
Similarly, our Lord has taken the initiative with respect to the Eucharist. He gives it to us as the memorial of His suffering and death, commanding us to “do this” in His memory. He further advises us that if we don't “do this,” then we have no life in us (see Jn 6:53). Our Lord assuredly does not place unnecessary stumbling blocks on the road to His Father's house. Rather, as a God who seeks us out, who is intimately involved with the human family and who knows what's best for us, He gives us His own Body and Blood to help us experience the salvation He won for us and to strengthen us in our Christian pilgrimage.
It is incumbent upon us, then, to thank the Lord for this sublime gift and to beg Him to increase our faith and devotion. Then we can in some way relive the “Eucharistic amazement” of the disciples who, on the road to Emmaus, recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. After all, our God is truly with us.
Leon J. Suprenant, Jr. is the president of Catholics United for the Faith (CUF) and Emmaus Road Publishing and the editor-in-chief of Lay Witness magazine, all based in Steubenville, Ohio. He is a contributor to Catholic for a Reason III: Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass and an adviser to CE’s Catholic Scripture Study. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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