On this past Saturday, August 25, we celebrated the feast day of Saint Louis of France, principal patron saint of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis. The feast day of Saint Louis is celebrated as a solemnity in the City of Saint Louis and as a feast in the rest of the Archdiocese. This year, I transferred the celebration of the solemnity in the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis to Sunday, August 26, in order to permit a greater participation of the faithful.
In my homily for the Pontifical Mass for the Solemnity of Saint Louis in the Cathedral Basilica, I reflected on the source of the heroic sanctity of our principal patron who was a husband and father of eleven children, ruler of a great nation, and Crusader for the safeguarding of the Christian life in the holy places of our Lord's Redemptive Incarnation. Wanting to share my reflection with all of the faithful of the Archdiocese, I have edited the homily for this week's column.
Becoming Whom We Receive in Holy Communion
In his Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, "On the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission," Pope Benedict XVI recalls a passage from the Confessions of Saint Augustine, regarding the Holy Eucharist. Saint Augustine writes about the different effect of consuming the Heavenly Bread of the Holy Eucharist in comparison with the effect of eating earthly food. Earthly food is assimilated into our very being; it becomes a part of us. The Body of Christ, the Heavenly Food of our earthly pilgrimage, on the contrary, transforms us into the Food we consume, that is, Christ Whom we receive in Holy Communion.
Through the Eucharistic Sacrifice, our Lord Jesus Christ unites us to Himself, draws our hearts into His glorious Sacred Heart. By so doing, He heals and purifies our poor, fearful and doubting hearts. He gives rest and strength to our hearts. In short, He gives us the grace to live in Him always, to reflect His likeness in every moment of our lives, in everything that we think and say and do. In the glorious pierced Heart of Jesus, we receive the strength to "remove from [our] midst oppression," to "bestow bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted," trusting that "the Lord will guide [us] always and give [us] plenty even on the parched land" (Is 58:10-11). In the Heart of Jesus, we find the refreshment and fortitude to become for our neighbor "a spring whose water never fails" (Is 58:11). In the words of Saint Paul, our Lord Jesus Christ gives us the grace to offer our bodies "as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship" (Rom 12:1) (Pope Benedict XVI, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis, "On the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church's Life and Mission," 22 February 2007, n. 70).
The Intrinsically Eucharistic Nature of Christian Life
Pope Benedict XVI comments on the reflection of Saint Augustine with these words:
Christianity's new worship includes and transfigures every aspect of life: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). Christians, in all their actions, are called to offer true worship to God. Here the intrinsically Eucharistic nature of Christian life begins to take shape. The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progressive transfiguration of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God (cf. Rom 8:29ff). There is nothing authentically human — our thoughts and affections, our words and deeds — that does not find in the Sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full (Sacramentum caritatis, n. 71).
The Holy Eucharist is truly the fount and highest expression of the life of the Church. It is, therefore, the fount and highest expression of our personal life in Christ. Having communion with the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, we are called and given the grace to live in pure and selfless love of God and neighbor, observing always and everywhere the great commandment of love (Mt 22:37-40).
Saint Louis: Holding on to God with Faith and Good Works
Saint Louis IX of France, the principal patron of our Archdiocese, is a remarkable example of an Eucharistic life, of a life in which the reality of the Eucharist formed every element. At the conclusion of his Credo, Saint Louis urges to hold on to God with two arms. He explains:
The two arms with which we must hold God clasped, are firm faith and good works. We need both of these together if we wish to keep hold of God, for either one of them is useless without the other (John of Joinville, The Life of St. Louis, tr. René Hague, New York: Sheed and Ward, 1955, p. 236, n. 846).
The image of clasping or holding on to God underlines for us the intention and the devotion which are needed in our relationship with God, in our response of love to Him Who has first loved us and has loved us "to the end" (Jn 12:1; 1 Jn 4:10).
Our holy and noble patron also cautions us about the daily work of Satan and the forces of evil to lead us to give up our hold on one or the other, firm faith or good works, and thus to lose both:
We see, then, that we must combine firm faith with good works. Daily the devils fight with us to deprive us of one or the other, and on the last day, by which I mean the day of our death, they will strive even harder than they do now. On that day may God and His Mother and all His saints grant us their help!" (The Life of Saint Louis, p. 236, n. 848).
Saint Louis understood that taking up the Cross with Christ means also entering, with Christ, into the Garden of Gethsemane and resisting, with the help of God's grace, the temptations to discouragement and despair.
Saint Louis heeded the admonition of Saint Paul:
Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm
against the tactics of the Devil….
With all prayer and supplication,
pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.
To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication
for all the holy ones (Eph 6:11,18).
Saint Paul teaches us what we see embodied in the life of Saint Louis, namely, constant vigilance and prayer, so that we, with the help of God's grace, do whatever God asks of us, at any moment of our life.
Saint Louis, Man of the Holy Eucharist
As son, husband, father, ruler and Crusader, Saint Louis strove, in everything, to embody his holding on to God by faith. If we read the account of his daily life, written by Jean de Joinville, who knew the King most personally and fought alongside the King in the Crusades, beginning in 1248, we discover the source of the faith and good works by which Saint Louis held on to God, steadfastly remaining in the company of our Lord. Jean de Joinville writes:
He so arranged the business of governing his country that every day he heard the hours of the Office sung, and a Requiem Mass without chant, and then a sung Mass of the day or the feast, if there was one. Every day after dinner he rested on his bed, and when he had slept and rested he said the Office of the Dead privately in his room with one of his chaplains, before hearing Vespers. In the evening he heard Compline (The Life of St. Louis, p. 36, n. 54).
Clearly, the every day of the life of Saint Louis was centered in the Sacred Liturgy, above all, the Holy Eucharist.
When we consider the richness of virtue in the life of Saint Louis, for example, his daily and generous provision for the poor, his establishment of institutions to educate the young and to care for the sick and those in need, and his devotion to the sacred places of our Lord unto the giving of his last energies, we ask how it is possible that so many Christ-like qualities could be embodied in one man, in one lifetime.
The answer to our wonderment is the Eucharistic Sacrifice in which Saint Louis participated daily and which transformed him more and more into Christ's own likeness. When we consider the complexity of his life as father of a large family and as ruler of a nation, we marvel at his wisdom, truly wisdom from God, by which he formed his every activity in daily Mass and praying of the Liturgy of the Hours.
Recalling the memory of Saint Louis, let us ask him to intercede for us, so that we may become men and women of the Eucharist. May we imitate Saint Louis, finding in the Holy Eucharist the grace to live every moment of our lives in and with Christ for the glory of God the Father and for the good of our neighbor, especially our neighbor who is in most need.
Imitating our beloved patron, Saint Louis, let us, each day, lift up our poor, sinful and doubting hearts to the Lord, placing them into His glorious pierced Heart. May we live every moment of our lives in the communion with the Lord, which is ours in the Holy Eucharist.