One of the greatest spiritual experiences is to be in communion with God and for Catholics that is available through God’s grace, the sacraments, and in a most special way, the Eucharist.
The Eucharist as Vatican II says is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” But how can we believe that God is really present, that His body and blood, soul and divinity are present in bread and wine? Most baffling, some might say, is why God would be present in such a humble form?
I think some points of reflection may help with this question. As I write this on the Feast of Corpus Christi, a day on which we celebrate the body and blood of Christ, I would like to think of four main points. This would be the relationship between the manger, the Cross, humility and sanctity.
Fulton Sheen has said of the relationship between the manger and Cross that “if there was no cross, there would be no crib. If there were no nails, there would have been no straw.” When we think of the Nativity story, we might presume that Mary and Joseph laid Jesus in the manger simply because there was nowhere else to do so. It was simply a makeshift crib for a couple down on their luck trying to find a better place to stay.
But if we look a little deeper we see that in Bethlehem, which literally means the “House of Bread,” Jesus, who is the Bread of Life, announced His coming by being laid in a place to eat. At His birth, He who was laid in a place that offered food, would also at His death lay himself as an offering for us on the altar so that “whoever comes to me shall never be hungry.” He who is the bread that God gives comes down from heaven and “brings life to the world.”
The humiliation of God, from His birth as a baby infant to His final humiliation of death on the cross, was to counteract the pride of humanity. God’s humility made possible our sanctity. And so, our own sanctity is made possible by two kinds of humility: God’s and ours.
With pride, we cannot love God. But with humility, God has a place in our hearts, where He can become bread for us. We can see God, receive God, and join God by humbling ourselves. This is what sanctity is, and humility makes it possible.
Perhaps God is hidden in a host and wine because it reminds us how central humility is in the Christian life. The bread and wine remind us of God’s humility, of the poverty He took on for our sake. In order to have life in Him, we must be united to the Lord not only through the physically humble forms of bread and wine, but also with a spiritual poverty in our hearts in which humility has taken hold.
When we think of the Nativity and Easter, let us think of how the Eucharist is connected to both of those events. Our Lord and King offers us spiritual riches through union with Him, but in order to receive them, we must be impoverished. The Eucharist, through which we will never go hungry, is a spiritual and physical reminder of this reality.