In my last column, I wrote about the Eucharist as the food we need to spiritually survive and flourish in our secular culture. Jesus is our heavenly food, and just like the food we eat, he becomes a part of us. In this column I will build on that foundation with a focus on how worthily receiving the Eucharist transforms us.
Over the course of her almost 80 years of life, more than 100,000 people came to visit Venerable Marthe Robin, a bedridden French woman who lived for 51 years on only the Eucharist. Those who visited her received wise counsel, an outpouring of compassion, and the promise of her prayers. Although she died in 1981, today 40,000 people a year visit her home and pray.
While she was alive, Ven. Marthe Robin once said, “I want to cry out to those who ask me if I eat, that I eat more than them, for I am fed by the Eucharist of the blood and flesh of Jesus. I would like to tell them that it is they who arrest and block the effects of this food in themselves.”
“If we receive Jesus in the Eucharist with faith,” Pope Francis taught at an August 2015 gathering, he “transforms our life into a gift to God and to our brothers.” We become this gift because the Eucharist puts us “in tune with the heart of Christ” and allows us to “assimilate his choices, thoughts, [and] behaviors.”
As many saints and popes have taught, what differentiates the Eucharist from normal food is that Jesus transforms us by uniting us physically and spiritually with him. Each day I look forward to celebrating the Eucharist, for it fills my heart and soul with joy as I receive Jesus. I know he abides with me and I with him, as he promised. The Eucharist strengthens me to die to my will and to seek only the will of Father, to give my life as Jesus gave his life for the salvation of souls.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus makes the connection between the Eucharist and transformation explicit. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn 6:56-58, emphasis added).
St. Paul touches on other aspects of how Jesus in the Eucharist changes us. In his Letter to the Philippians, he calls it taking on the mind of Christ and urges the Christians of that city to imitate Jesus’ humility and willingness to pour out his life for us. When we worthily receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist, we have an opportunity to allow him to form our hearts, minds and wills, so that we think, love and act as he does.
The Catechism describes this renewal in this way: “Communion with the flesh of the risen Christ, a flesh ‘given life and giving life through the Holy Spirit,’ preserves, increases, and renews the life of grace received at Baptism” (CCC 1392).
Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who tirelessly promoted the importance of spending time in adoration and frequently receiving Communion, observed, “We become like that which we gaze upon. Looking into a sunset, the face takes on a golden glow. Looking at our Eucharistic Lord for an hour transforms the heart in a mysterious way” (Treasure in Clay, p. 198).
Advent is the time of preparation for celebrating Jesus’ birth as one of us to save us from sin, death and the devil. This is the perfect time to trust in God’s mercy and repent through Confession, so that we can draw closer to Jesus in the Eucharist and allow him to transform us completely through our obedience to the Father’s will. This divine transformation is what has enabled generations of Catholics to lay down their lives for Christ and for others. And by doing that, we give witness to Jesus and confound the world by our joy.