by Sister Mary Ignatius, O.C.D.
Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles
We are called to love and to be loved – this is the essence of heaven.
Mother Luisita, foundress of the Carmelite Sisters, has left us a few precious spiritual notes. For those of us who love her, notes seem too few and far too short to satisfy our desire to hear her speak – to be taught by her and guided by her wisdom.
In 1914, Mother Luisita made her annual retreat and left us four short paragraphs about the Eucharist. I want to share with you some thoughts on just two sentences from those notes. By delving down into her thoughts, I believe that one can be nourished, led and guided into a richer relationship with Jesus.
“It is necessary for us to live the Eucharist. The Eucharist is love and only love, and so it is necessary that we perfect love within us.”
The first operative word must certainly be “necessary” – which implies something that cannot be ignored; it is inescapable and imperative. This can be a pretty daunting idea, until we remember that we are not speaking about a sterile command or requirement. We are speaking about a relationship – a relationship of love. What can this mean to “Live the Eucharist”?
As I was pondering this phrase, an event occurred that helped me as I thought about her words. Two dear friends celebrated their golden jubilee of marriage. This wonderful occasion began with the celebration of the Holy Mass. This was significant because this couple shares a faith-filled marriage – centered in the Holy Trinity and the Liturgy. The cover of the booklet we each received showed the pair on their wedding day. They looked like a thousand other young couples full of hope and joy. Now, fifty years later, one or the other has a bit of grey hair and a few more inches around the middle. The real change, however, is not the physical but the spiritual one that has occurred. For all its beauty, the love of the wedding day has grown into a depth of union and relationship that goes beyond the power of speech to convey.
There is a reason that God the Father chose the image of nuptials to express His union with His people, Israel. The union of a man and a woman in marriage is as close as can be expressed in image and word to what each of us is called to. We are called to love and to be loved: this is the essence of heaven.
In the days following the golden jubilee celebration, I thought a lot about how my friends’ marriage had grown. The loving relationship that I saw on that afternoon was built one day at a time – one hour at a time. Love is demonstrated in the ordinary events of life. He goes to work and wants to do well to provide a home for his bride and later for their children. She, in turn, works to make a home for him and their family. This work is not a generalized thing. It is concrete and real. I knew a lady who shared with me that she never put gasoline in her car. Her husband began doing that for her early in their marriage. Even though she was perfectly capable of doing this, he continued to do it for her. He was saying, “I love you.” He was “perfecting love” as Mother Luisita directs us. Someone once said, “Never underestimate the power of one act of love.”
Growth in a relationship takes place through the most commonplace things on this earth. Caryll Houslander has written, “Our communion with one another, which is our Christ-giving to one another, is in eating, working, sharing the common sorrows and responsibilities, comforting one another in soul and body, talking to one another.” This is surely the “living Eucharist” that Mother Luisita speaks of.
This development must be constant and persevering. One cannot decide that today I will make supper or go to work and not do it tomorrow. This is a lot of work on the part of both individuals in a relationship. There is also an element of give and take if the two are to grow in this love relationship.
Jesus loves us, not only two thousand years ago, but now in this present moment. Like all lovers, He does not want to be separated from us. Love is creative, and He has found a way that means union now in this life. He gives us the Holy Eucharist. He invites us into His Eucharistic Presence with only one purpose; He wants us to let Him love us. Our response can be only one, to love Him in return.
What is the Eucharist if not the most profound outpouring of self this side of heaven? Here Jesus, the second person of the Blessed Trinity places Himself in our hands. He comes under the guise of bread and wine. There He remains so that we can be nourished, sustained and uplifted in our Christian life. Mother Luisita reminds us that it is not enough for us to receive the Eucharist; we must “live the Eucharist.”
“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)
These words of Jesus were spoken at the Last Supper at the hour that the Eucharist was instituted and given to the Apostles. Surely, it is not by accident that His words speak of remaining in His presence which implies living closely with Him. This abiding in Him will lead us to deeper knowledge of Him, just as it has in the life of my friends after fifty years of marriage.
This growth in knowing Jesus will yield fruit in our lives in the most amazing ways. I was struck by the thought recently that the early Christians brought about conversions without the aid of RCIA, talk radio, or television ads. They brought their friends, neighbors, co-workers, and family into the faith by “living the Eucharist.” Because they had a relationship with the risen Christ, their lives were different from the rest of those around them. This difference, the love that was part of their lives, drew others to them.
Of all the gifts that man has on earth, relationship with others is paramount to one’s happiness and well-being. The night before Jesus sacrificed Himself to obtain our salvation; He gave us the perfect means of “abiding” in Him. He gave us the Eucharist. Mother’s word echoes the Lord’s own word to us, “…apart from me you can do nothing.”
# 1324 of the Catholic Catechism tells us, “For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church; namely Christ Himself, our Pasch.” The Eucharist is nothing less than the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity. On that night of the Last Supper, when Jesus took bread, broke it, and gave it to his Apostles with the words, “This is My body which is given for you,” He meant it.
We are called to be joined to Our Lord the way a branch is joined to the vine. It is not rocket science to understand that a branch severed from the vine dies and is fruitless. Our call then is to remain joined to Christ the Vine so that we can in turn produce fruit that will last. What better way could the Lord have devised than to provide us with the Holy Eucharist, so that we might be nourished, strengthened and fortified on our journey.
Taking the two ideas of “living the Eucharist” and “growing in love,” I believe that we have a whole synthesis of the life of a Catholic Christian. We develop our “love life” by living in union with our Eucharistic Lord every hour of the day. It is true that some are unable to attend daily Mass and Communion, but we have the gift of the spiritual communion. We can join ourselves to Jesus at any moment of the day or night. Secondly, we can become better lovers by those daily acts of love. St. Therese surely is our model of a hidden life full of loving acts. It led her to great sanctity and can do so for us as well.
In July 1914, Mother Luisita wrote, “He is the companion of my exile, He is the bread for my journey, and He will follow and sustain me until my arrival to the port of bliss.” She calls Him bread for the journey, a perfect Eucharistic image. May each of us be enriched by the Eucharist and grow in love, so that in the end we, too, may be greeted by Him on our arrival at the port of bliss.
“He is the companion of my exile,
He is the bread for my journey, and
He will follow and sustain me
Until my arrival to the port of bliss.”
(Venerable Mother Lusita)
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