It was Jesus who adopted the name Bread of Life. And what a name! He alone could give it to Himself. An angel charged with naming our Lord would have given Him a title consonant with His attributes, such as Divine Word, or Lord, or the like — but Bread: such a name he would never have dared to give to his God!
Bread of Life! Ah, but that is the true name of Jesus; in it is the whole Christ, in His life, in His death, and after His Resurrection. Crushed on the Cross and sifted like flour, He will have after His Resurrection the same properties for our souls as material bread has for our bodies; He will be in truth our Bread of Life.
Material bread nourishes and sustains life. Lest we faint away, we must keep up our strength by taking food, of which bread is the very essential. It is more substantial to our bodies than any other nutriment and sufficient alone for life. The soul, in its natural life, must live forever; it has received that immortality from God. But the life of grace received in Baptism, and regained and renewed in the sacrament of Penance, that life of sanctity, more noble by far than the natural life, cannot be maintained without sustenance; and its principal nutriment is the eucharistic Jesus. The life restored by holy Penance will be brought to fruition in some sort by the Eucharist, which will cleanse us from our affections to sin, will blot out our daily offenses, will give us strength to carry out our good resolutions, and will remove from us the occasions of sin.
The Lord said, “He that eateth my flesh hath life.” What life? The life of Jesus Himself. “As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.” In fact, food imparts its own substance to him who eats of it. Jesus will not be changed into us; He will transform us into His own image.
Our very body will receive in Communion a pledge of resurrection, and, even in this life, it will be more temperate, more obedient to the soul. It will but take its rest in the tomb, conserving the eucharistic seed, source of a more splendid glory for it in the day of eternal reward.
But we eat not merely to sustain life; we eat to gather as much energy as the work of life demands; it is hardly prudent and certainly insufficient to eat merely in order not to starve. The body must labor, and it will have to expend in its toil not its own substance — which would soon destroy it — but the superfluous strength it has drawn from food. It is a truism that we cannot give what we do not have; therefore, the man condemned to work hard without receiving sufficient food each day will soon lose his strength.
Now, the more we desire to come near to God and live a virtuous life, the more we must expect combat; consequently, we need to gather more and more strength in order not to be vanquished. For all these struggles of the Christian life, the Holy Eucharist will give the necessary strength. Without the Eucharist, prayer and piety soon languish. The religious life is nothing but a continual crucifixion of our nature and, of itself, holds no attraction for us. Without strong and gracious help, we do not willingly accept the Cross. Generally speaking, piety without Communion is dead.
Baptism, which bestows life, Confirmation, which increases it, Penance, which restores it — none of these is enough; these sacraments are only preparation for the Eucharist, which is their fruition and their crown.
Jesus said, “Follow me,” but that is difficult; it takes effort and demands the practice of the Christian virtues. We must remember that he alone who abides in our Lord will bear much fruit. And how shall we abide in Him if not by eating His Flesh and drinking His Blood?
Possessing Jesus within us, we are two persons, and the burden, so shared, is light. Therefore did St. Paul say, “I can do all things in Him who strengtheneth me.” And He who so strengthened him is the same who lives in us — Christ Jesus.
Whatever its appearance, moreover, bread possesses a certain attraction. The proof is that we never tire of it. Who has ever turned against bread, even when all food seemed tasteless? And where, pray, shall we find substantial sweetness if not in that honeycomb, the Holy Eucharist?
So it follows that piety which is not frequently nourished by Holy Communion has no sweetness; it is not rooted in, nor animated by, the love of Jesus Christ. It neither attracts us nor appeals to our love. It is harsh, austere, and rude. It would go to God by the way of sacrifice alone — a good way, surely, but how difficult it is not to give way to discouragement! The bow, bent too far, might break. Those who follow this road win much merit, without doubt, but they miss the heart and sweetness of sanctity, which are found only in Jesus.
You want to progress without Communion? But Christian tradition is against you! No longer say the Our Father, since you ask in that prayer for your daily Bread, the Bread you think to do without!
Without Communion, one is constantly in the heat of the battle. One knows only the difficulties in the acquisition of virtue, not the sweetness of its practice — the joy of working, not simply for oneself and moved solely by the hope of reward, but purely for the glory of God, from love of Him, from affection, like little children. He who receives Communion finds it easy to understand that having received much, he must give a great deal in return. That is piety — intelligent, filial, and loving piety. Besides, even in the severest trials, Communion makes the soul happy, filling it with a tender and loving joy.
The height of perfection is to remain united with God in the midst of the most violent interior temptations, and it is when you are most tempted that God most loves you. Yet, in order that these storms may not overwhelm you, learn to return frequently to the divine fountainhead to renew your strength and to purify yourself more and more in that torrent of grace and love.
Receive Communion therefore! Eat the Bread of Life if you wish to live well, if you wish to obtain sufficient strength for the Christian combat, if you wish to possess happiness even in the thick of misfortune.
The Holy Eucharist is the Bread of the weak and of the strong. To the weak, clearly, it is necessary; but to the strong likewise, since they bear their treasure in fragile vessels and are threatened on every hand by desperate enemies. Let us, then, take care that we have a guard, a sure escort, fortifying food for our journey; this will Jesus be, our Bread of Life.