09 May 2015

Saint Damien and friendship with the Blessed Sacrament

Within the context of the Holy Mass, by means of the Communion Antiphon, Holy Mother Church asks to consider these words of the Lord Jesus today as we receive the Eucharist: "Father, I pray for them, that they may be one in us, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me" (John 17:20-21).

We were first united with Jesus - made one with him - in the saving waters of Baptism. This is why Saint Paul speaks our being "baptized into Christ Jesus" as being "united with him" in his death and his resurrection (Romans 6:3, 5). It is because of this unity with Christ that the Apostle speaks of the one Body of Christ (see I Corinthians 12:12-27).

Yet, after Baptism we can weaken or even sever this unity with Christ by our sin. We can rightly make these words of Saint Paul our own: "For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want" (Romans 7:19). Likewise, Saint John distinguishes between "sin which is deadly" and "sin which is not deadly" (I John 5:16, 17).

This is why the Lord Jesus entrusted the power of the forgiveness of sins to his Apostles (John 20:23) - through which sins which are not deadly are forgiven (see I Corinthians 11:27) - and why at the Last Supper the Lord commanded the Apostles to "do this in remembrance of me" (Luke 20:19). Through the Eucharist Jesus nourishes us with himself, with his own Body and Blood as our food, because, as he says, "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53). He gives himself to us as food and drink to strengthen our unity with him.

What is more, as if in answer to the request of the disciple on the road to Emmaus - whose request petition, as well - who said to Jesus, "Stay with us," Jesus gave us the Eucharist because "he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (Luke 24:29; John 6:56).

Saint Joseph Damien de Veuster recognized the profound truth of all of this in a most intimate way. Amidst the great pain and suffering he witnessed and endured in the leper settlement on Moloka'i and the loneliness he experienced by being the only priest of his order on the island and not hearing from his family for years at a time, Father Damien found his truest friend in the Eucharistic Lord. Of his friendship with Jesus, he wrote most movingly:

I find my consolation in the one and only companion who will never leave me, that is, our Divine Savior in the Holy Eucharist. . . .It is at the foot of the altar that we find the strength necessary in this isolation of ours. Without the Blessed Sacrament a position like mine would be unbearable. But, having Our Lord at my side, I continue always to be happy and content. . . . Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the most tender of friends with souls who seek to please Him. His goodness knows how to proportion itself to the smallest of His creatures as to the greatest of them. Be not afraid then in your solitary conversations, to tell Him of your miseries, your fears, your worries, of those who are dear to you, of your projects, and of your hopes. Do so with confidence and with an open heart.
Looking to the Eucharistic faith of Father Damien, on this last day of the novena in his honor before the celebration of his memorial, we ask of the Sacred Heart of Jesus "an increase of devotion to Holy Mass and to the Blessed Sacrament" and for the grace "to prepare my heart more worthily and more fervently to receive You in Holy Communion."

A simple glance around the pews at any Sunday Mass is enough to remind us of the sad reality that too few people - Catholics included - believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. This is a great tragedy because they lack an essential aspect of the friendship of Jesus in their daily lives.

From his youth, Father Damien showed a devotion to the Blessed Sacrament; perhaps this is why he joined the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary and of Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. In his devotion to and friendship with the Blessed Sacrament, Father Damien was and is not alone.

The celebrated author J.R.R. Tolkien also wrote movingly of his friendship with Jesus in the Eucharist in a letter to his son Michael:
But I fell in love with the Blessed Sacrament from the beginning - and by the mercy of God never have fallen out again: but alas! I indeed did not live up to it.
In that same letter, Tolkien perhaps explained how - or why - he never fell out of friendship with the Blessed Sacrament:
The only cure for sagging of fainting faith is Communion. Though always Itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith, it must be continuous and grow by exercise. Frequency is of the highest effect. Seven times a week is more nourishing than seven times at intervals.
I daresay Father Damien would agree. The only way to grow in friendship with Jesus, to strengthen our unity with him, is to spend time with him.

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