Man, having sinned, felt an instinctive fear of God. Immediately after yielding to the tempter, he dared not answer the voice of His Creator but hid himself and fled from His visage.
This sensation of fear is so natural to us when we have done wrong that even a child, in spite of his mother’s tenderness, hesitates to go near her when he has disobeyed her. The criminal fleeing from human justice is so possessed with fear that it is written in his face and may even reveal his guilt.
Fear before God is the same, and greater still. You think a certain sinner is hardened and continues in sin simply from pride? No! He is afraid of God; and the greater his sin, the more afraid he is.
What is despair but the false conviction that one will not be forgiven and is destined to fall into the hands of an inexorable Judge? People who refuse to come to church are afraid of our Lord. If they are forced to come, they are embarrassed and nervous. The sinner is afraid of himself; he cannot live with his own heart and conscience; he frightens himself! That is why he seeks distraction; he is fleeing from himself.
Sacred Scripture shows us this fear so dominant in mankind that even the holiest persons trembled if God appeared to them or spoke to them in the form of an angel. The holy Virgin herself, pure as she was, trembled in the presence of the angel of God. Fear dominated the human race.
Reconciliation in the Eucharist
God took four thousand years to prepare the reconciliation of man, which was to be perfected only in the Eucharist. The Incarnation greatly advanced this work of regaining man’s confidence, but it was not enough. For thirty-three years only, Jesus gave evidence to us of His goodness, and we may say that if He had deprived us of His presence after this short period of time, we would be as subject to fear as were the Jews before His advent.
Could the Incarnation, work of salvation though it was and a sublime testimonial of the love and power of God, suffice to establish the confidence of friendship between the Creator and His creature? No, friendship demands constant personal communion.
Therefore, our Lord instituted the Most Holy Eucharist. By means of this sacrament, He is in our thought, in us, with us, beside us, continuing and perfecting His work of making us His intimates and friends. Hiding His glory, He comes to us in the incognito of friendship, just as if a king were to assume the guise of a poor man and, seating himself at his table, say to him, “I belong to your family; treat me as one of you.” Yet Jesus Christ does even more; He comes to us under the appearance of bread. Who can be afraid of a grain of wheat? Could God find a better way to veil His majesty?
See how easy and delightful communion with our Lord now becomes. Because Jesus Christ is hidden in the Eucharist, you can come near to Him and hear His divine promise. Otherwise, one word from Him would make the world tremble with terror, as on Mount Sinai. One word of love would inflame and consume us, one word of menace annihilate us.
Union with Jesus
As for imitating His virtues, if Jesus did not veil them in the Eucharist, if He did not put them, so to speak, within our reach, we would despair of attaining to them. But hiding them, seeming to be without life and obeying entirely as if He were only inanimate matter, He encourages us to follow His example. For the same reason, a mother hesitates in her speech and takes tiny steps in teaching her child to talk and walk.
The Eucharist, we may say, is Jesus establishing intimacy between man and God. But the mysteries of the close union Jesus forms with us in Communion! How to describe them? Friendship presupposes union, for without union, perfect confidence cannot exist. Jesus wishes to be united to each of us individually.
Moses, with holy audacity, said to God, “Show me Thy glory.” And God, although He refused at first, could not resist in the end the confidence with which Moses pleaded and insisted. However, lest Moses should be consumed by the splendor of His glory, God ordered him to stand afar off and then only passed before him. Moses saw but a single ray of the divine Majesty, and, for the rest of his life, his face shone with the dazzling reflection of it.
The glory of Jesus in the Eucharist, if revealed to us, would make us like Moses. But would there be friendship and intimacy? Moses, dazed with glory, was scarcely desirous of speaking or opening his heart! Yet Jesus insists on our friendship. He wishes us to treat Him as our Friend, and to that end, He takes the appearance of bread. No one is frightened; all think they see what has been familiar to them from their childhood: bread. All are encouraged, then, to open their hearts. Our Lord takes us unawares.
Zacchaeus had not presumed to wish to speak with our Lord. He simply desired to see Him. Jesus takes him by surprise and calls him by his name. Zacchaeus obeys and finds himself completely changed by so much love. He no longer remembers that he has been only a miserable sinner. No, after an act of sincere humility, he receives Jesus in his house and, without fear, rejoices in the sweetness of His presence.
If Jesus sent an angel to announce Communion and bring it to us instead of coming in the hidden way He does, we would tremble with fear a long time beforehand. But no, in order that we may enjoy the happiness that is ours in Communion, it is necessary that we be taken unawares, and we are. Our eyes see only frail appearances, a lowly form. That is the grace of graces. If it were not for that, we would be too greatly agitated in receiving Communion.
It is good to be moved, but not to be troubled. Our emotion causes us to think more of Him whom we are about to receive and less of our own unworthiness.
And when our Lord is within us, what shall we do but rejoice? By His goodness, we are sheltered from the splendor of His sanctity and are made to forget His power, His glory, and His grandeur. Let us, then, rejoice in this wondrous contrivance of God for us. By the Eucharist, God is present to us; by Communion, we enter into intimacy with Him.
Oh, yes, happy fault! When man was in the state of innocence, God was our Lord and Master; now He is our Friend, our Guest, and our Food.
This article is adapted from a chapter in How to Get More Out of Holy Communion. It is available from Sophia Institute Press.
Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash