“His communion sweet and full of consolation …”

Book II: Admonitions Concerning the Inner Life
Chapter 1 – Of the Inward Life

The kingdom of God is within you,” says the Lord. (Luke 17.21)

1. Turn, then, to God with all your heart. Forsake this wretched world and your soul shall find rest. Learn to despise external things, to devote yourself to those that are within, and you will see the kingdom of God come unto you, that kingdom which is peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, gifts not given to the impious. Christ will come to you offering His consolation, if you prepare a fit dwelling for Him in your heart, whose beauty and glory, wherein He takes delight, are all from within. His visits with the inward man are frequent, His communion sweet and full of consolation, His peace great, and His intimacy wonderful indeed.

2. Therefore, faithful soul, prepare your heart for this Bridegroom that He may come and dwell within you; He Himself says: “If any one love Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love hithomas a kempism, and We will come to him, and will make Our abode with him.”(John 14.23) Give place, then, to Christ, but deny entrance to all others, for when you have Christ you are rich and He is sufficient for you. He will provide for you. He will supply your every want, so that you need not trust in frail, changeable men. Christ remains forever, standing firmly with us to the end.

3. Do not place much confidence in weak and mortal man, helpful and friendly though he be; and do not grieve too much if he sometimes opposes and contradicts you. Those who are with us today may be against us tomorrow, and vice versa, for men change with the wind. Place all your trust in God; let Him be your fear and your love. He will answer for you; He will do what is best for you. You have here no lasting home. (Hebrews 13.14)You are a stranger and a pilgrim wherever you may be, and you shall have no rest until you are wholly united with Christ.

4. Why do you look about here when this is not the place of your repose? Dwell rather upon heaven and give but a passing glance to all earthly things. They all pass away, and you together with them. Take care, then, that you do not cling to them lest you be entrapped and perish. Fix your mind on the Most High, and pray unceasingly to Christ. If you do not know how to meditate on heavenly things, direct your thoughts to Christ’s passion and willingly behold His sacred wounds. If you turn devoutly to the wounds and precious stigmata of Christ, you will find great comfort in suffering, you will mind but little the scorn of men, and you will easily bear their slanderous talk.

5. When Christ was in the world, He was despised by men; in the hour of need He was forsaken by acquaintances and left by friends to the depths of scorn. He was willing to suffer and to be despised; do you dare to complain of anything? He had enemies and defamers; do you want everyone to be your friend, your benefactor? How can your patience be rewarded if no adversity test it? How can you be a friend of Christ if you are not willing to suffer any hardship? Suffer with Christ and for Christ if you wish to reign with Him.

6. Had you but once entered into perfect communion with Jesus or tasted a little of His ardent love, you would care nothing at all for your own comfort or discomfort but would rejoice in the reproach you suffer; for love of Him makes a man despise himself. A man who is a lover of Jesus and of truth, a truly interior man who is free from uncontrolled affections, can turn to God at will and rise above himself to enjoy spiritual peace.

7. He who tastes life as it really is, not as men say or think it is, is indeed wise with the wisdom of God rather than of men. He who learns to live the interior life and to take little account of outward things, does not seek special places or times to perform devout exercises. A spiritual man quickly recollects himself because he has never wasted his attention upon externals. No outside work, no business that cannot wait stands in his way. He adjusts himself to things as they happen. He whose disposition is well ordered cares nothing about the strange, perverse behavior of others, for a man is upset and distracted only in proportion as he engrosses himself in externals.

8. If all were well with you, therefore, and if you were purified from all sin, everything would tend to your good and be to your profit. But because you are as yet neither entirely dead to self nor free from all earthly affection, there is much that often displeases and disturbs you. Nothing so mars and defiles the heart of man as impure attachment to created things. But if you refuse external consolation, you will be able to contemplate heavenly things and often to experience interior joy. Source: The Imitation of Christ, Book 2, Chapter 1, by Thomas a Kempis

OohRah! for “Touchstone”

Over the last decade or so I have had an “off and on” relationship with “Touchstone” magazine.

ON
The “on” aspect of the relationship has been the result of the sheer brilliance and perseverance of the magazine’s editors in their attempt to reinvigorate or cause to resurface, the need to be “merely Christian.” The phrase, of course originates with C.S. Lewis’ classic, Mere Christianity.

It is not only a worthy mission, it is essential. Here is the statement of purpose from the masthead:
“Touchstone” is a Christian journal, conservative in doctrine and eclectic in content, with editors and readers from each of the three great divisions of Christendom – Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox. The mission of the journal and its publisher, The Fellowship of St. James, is to provide a place where Christians of various backgrounds can speak with one another on the basis of shared belief in the fundamental doctrines of the faith as revealed in Holy Scripture and summarized in the ancient creeds of the Church.

There are many people, and I count myself as one, who do not “fit.” (And the number is growing.) We have read, C.S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Andrew Murray, Francois Fenelon, Madame Guyon, Alexander Schmemann, Fr. Jonah, Theophan the Recluse, Archimandrite Sophrony, Dietrich Bonheoffer, Evelyn Underhill, Vladimir Lossky, Patrick Henry Reardon, Fr. Thomas Hopko, Dorothy Day, Olivier Clement, G.K. Chesterton, Fr. Stephen Freeman, Nikolai Velimirovic, Lev Gillet, Kallistos Ware, along with a big dose of the Church Fathers (and Mothers) and monastic elders as a result of tracking down and reading the footnotes and references noted by all of these authors. What is more, we actually believed that they were telling the truth!! (And the number of people who do so is growing.)

The problem with all of that is that they are, in fact, telling the truth!! That is costly. Reason? Because it leads those of us who desire to grown in Christ and are willing to gradually (or quickly) let go of everything but what the Truth offers to the inevitable question, “How then must I live?”

The little phrase “mere Christianity” is awe-full in its effects on the soul that has a predisposition to learning and contemplation and can’t get enough of Him who is always enough – the Lord Jesus Christ.

The result is that “we don’t fit” any more. We have inquired and taken seriously what we have been told with an intention to attempt to really live it and not just file it away on the shelf of more useless information about Christ and Christianity. What makes this more complicated is the fact that, on some occasions, those who relayed to us the Truth really didn’t expect us to take it seriously or what the ramifications it might have for daily parish life or local denominational equilibrium might be if we did so. Some of us have been labeled “trouble makers.”

Oh yeah, did I mention the fact that the number of people who fit this description is growin??

I originally subscribed to “Touchstone” because it seemed to be for someone like me. It seemed, back when I originally subscribed, to be saying to my soul, “it’s okay to ask your denominational leaders hard questions and rock the boat for the right reason and here are the right reasons.” It seemed, to be for all of us who, on our best days (those rare times when we are really courageous), are willing live out the Truth that it invites us to live, “cost what it will, lead where it may.” Of course, the editors may not think of themselves as those who are encouraging people to rock the institutional church’s boat. I can’t speak for them.

OFF

The “off” aspect of my relationship with “Touchstone” has been the accumulation of piles of copies and my own inability to discard old copies because, “I might use that article someday in a retreat.” When I think about it that was the ONLY reason I let my subscription lapse. The older I got, the more I realized that I couldn’t remember that fact that there WAS an article in an old issue of “Touchstone” that I could use!! (Yikes…) Why WAS I saving all those copies AND adding to the pile by continuing to subscribe?? So, I let the subscription lapse. Alas…

ON AGAIN

But, you know, I keep visiting the site and wishing I subscribed to the magazine. Sad… But, lo and behold, during my most recent visit to the Fellowship of St. James/Touchstone website and the subscription page I discovered that I could buy a digital subscription. They have probably been offering it for a long time and I have been too dense to notice it.  Anyway, NO MORE OLD COPIES accumulating in my living room to be collected and transferred to my garage along with all the other boxes containing old copies of Christian periodicals!! And, it is cheaper than the paper copy subscription… I immediately subscribed and am halfway through the most recent issue.

The only “problem” with all of this is that the tendency to not only ask “how then must I live” but encourage others to do the same is now being encouraged even more intensely. I am a happy camper…

THEREFORE

So, for all of you well intentioned believers who desire to take what those authors mentioned above have said or are saying seriously and are willing to suffer the real pain of getting to the point of “not fitting” into the nice neat parameters of the current institutional Church anymore but having to fit anyway and are okay with the pilgrim life “on the Way,” I recommend “Touchstone.”

Experts (White Washed Tombs) or Fellow Strugglers in Need of Unceasing Mercy?

ladder of divine ascentThe Divine Liturgy reminds us of the danger of insensibility and addresses the danger efficaciously when it proclaims, “let us be attentive.” Inattention comes in many forms and goes by many names. Here the counsel of St. John of the Ladder in this regard…

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Step 18
On insensibility, that is, deadening of the soul and the death of the mind before the death of the body.

1. Insensibility both in the body and in the spirit is deadened feeling, which from long sickness and negligence lapses into loss of feeling.

2. Insensibility is negligence that has become habit; benumbed thought; the birth of presumption; a snare for zeal; the noose of courage; ignorance of compunction; a door to despair; the mother of forgetfulness, which gives birth to loss of the fear of God. And then she becomes the daughter of her own daughter. (Loss of the fear of God is the daughter of forgetfulness, which is the daughter of insensibility. Then loss of the fear of God in turn gives birth to insensibility.)

3. He who has lost sensibility is a brainless philosopher, a self-condemned commentator, a self-contradictory windbag, a blind man who teaches others to see. He talks about healing a wound, and does not stop irritating it. He complains of sickness, and does not stop eating what is harmful. He prays against it, and immediately goes and does it. And when he has done it, he is angry with himself; and the wretched man is not ashamed of his own words. ‘I am doing wrong,’ he cries, and eagerly continues to do so. His mouth prays against his passion, and his body struggles for it. He philosophises about death, but he behaves as if he were immortal. He groans over the separation of soul and body, but drowses along as if he were eternal. He talks of temperance and self-control, but he lives for gluttony. He reads about the judgment and begins to smile. He reads about vainglory, and is vainglorious while actually reading. He repeats what he has learnt about vigil, and drops asleep on the spot. He praises prayer, but runs from it as from the plague. He blesses obedience, but he is the first to disobey. He praises detachment, but he is not ashamed to be spiteful and to fight for a rag. When angered he gets bitter, and he is angered again at his bitterness; and he does not feel that after one defeat he is suffering another. Having overeaten he repents, and a little later again gives way to it. He blesses silence, and praises it with a spate of words. He teaches meekness, and during the actual teaching frequently gets angry. Having woken from passion he sighs, and shaking his head, he again yields to passion. He condemns laughter, and lectures on mourning with a smile on his face. Before others he blames himself for being vainglorious, and in blaming himself is only angling for glory for himself. He looks people in the face with passion, and talks about chastity. While frequenting the world, he praises the solitary life, without realizing that he shames himself. He extols almsgivers, and reviles beggars. All the time he is his own accuser, and he does not want to come to his senses—I will not say cannot.

4. I have seen many people like this hear about death and the terrible judgment and shed tears, and with the tears still in their eyes they eagerly go to a meal. And I was amazed how this tyrant, this stinkpot of gluttony, by complete indifference, can grow so strong as to turn the tables even on mourning.

5. As far as my poor powers and knowledge allow, I have exposed the wiles and weals of this stony, obstinate, raging and stupid passion. I have not the patience to expatiate on it. He who is experienced and able in the Lord should not shrink from applying healing to the sores. For I am not ashamed to admit my own powerlessness, since I am sorely afflicted with this sickness. I should not have been able to discover its wiles and tricks by myself if I had not caught it and held it firmly, probing it to make it acknowledge what has been said above, and plying it with the scourge of the fear of the Lord and with unceasing prayer. That is why this tyrant and evil doer said to me: ‘My subjects laugh when they see corpses. When they stand at prayer they are completely stony, hard and darkened. When they see the holy altar they feel nothing; when they partake of the Gift, it is as if they had eaten ordinary bread. When I see persons moved by compunction, I mock them. From my father I learnt to kill all good things which are born of courage and love. I am the mother of laughter, the nurse of sleep, the friend of a full belly. When exposed I do not grieve. I go hand in hand with sham piety.

6. I was astounded at the words of this raving creature and asked her about her father, wishing to know her name, and she said; ‘I have no single parentage; my conception is mixed and indefinite. Satiety nourishes me, time makes me grow, and bad habit entrenches me. He who keeps this habit will never be rid of me. Be constant in vigil, meditating on the eternal judgment; then perhaps I shall to some extent relax my hold on you. Find out what caused me to be born in you, and then battle against my mother; for she is not in all cases the same. Pray often at the coffins, and engrave an indelible image of them in your heart. For unless you inscribe it there with the pencil of fasting, you will never conquer me.’ Source: The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 18, St. John Climacus (579 – 649)

“What did you see?” — The Referential (Mysterious) Character of All Creation

Chapter 3

8. What did you see? Water, certainly, but not water alone; you saw the deacons ministering there, and the bishop asking questions and hallowing. First of all, the Apostle taught you that those things are not to be considered which we see, but the things which are not seen, for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. 1 Corinthians 5:18 For you read elsewhere: That the invisible things of God, since the creation of the world, are understood through those things which have been made; His eternal power also and Godhead are estimated by His works. Romans 1:20 Wherefore also the Lord Himself says: If you believe not Me, believe at least the works. John 10:38 Believe, then, that the presence of the Godhead is there. Do you believe the working, and not believe the presence? Whence should the working proceed unless the presence went before? […]

15. You must not trust, then, wholly to your bodily eyes; that which is not seen is more really seen, for the object of sight is temporal, but that other eternal, which is not apprehended by the eye, but is discerned by the mind and spirit. […]

Chapter 8

[…] 49. Now consider whether the bread of angels be more excellent or the Flesh of Christ, which is indeed the body of life. That manna came from heaven, this is above the heavens; that was of heaven, this is of the Lord of the heavens; that was liable to corruption, if kept a second day, this is far from all corruption, for whosoever shall taste it holily shall not be able to feel corruption. For them water flowed from the rock, for you Blood flowed from Christ; water satisfied them for a time, the Blood satiates you for eternity. The Jew drinks and thirsts again, you after drinking will be beyond the power of thirsting; that was in a shadow, this is in truth.

49. If that which you so wonder at is but shadow, how great must that be whose very shadow you wonder at. See now what happened in the case of the fathers was shadow: They drank, it is said, of that Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were done in a figure concerning us. 1 Corinthians 10:4 You recognize now which are the more excellent, for light is better than shadow, truth than a figure, the Body of its Giver than the manna from heaven.

Chapter 9

50. Perhaps you will say, I see something else, how is it that you assert that I receive the Body of Christ? And this is the point which remains for us to prove. And what evidence shall we make use of? Let us prove that this is not what nature made, but what the blessing consecrated, and the power of blessing is greater than that of nature, because by blessing nature itself is changed.

51. Moses was holding a rod, he cast it down and it became a serpent. Exodus 4:3-4 Again, he took hold of the tail of the serpent and it returned to the nature of a rod. You see that by virtue of the prophetic office there were two changes, of the nature both of the serpent and of the rod. The streams of Egypt were running with a pure flow of water; of a sudden from the veins of the sources blood began to burst forth, and none could drink of the river. Again, at the prophet’s prayer the blood ceased, and the nature of water returned. The people of the Hebrews were shut in on every side, hemmed in on the one hand by the Egyptians, on the other by the sea; Moses lifted up his rod, the water divided and hardened like walls, and a way for the feet appeared between the waves. Jordan being turned back, returned, contrary to nature, to the source of its stream. Joshua 3:16 Is it not clear that the nature of the waves of the sea and of the river stream was changed? The people of the fathers thirsted, Moses touched the rock, and water flowed out of the rock. Exodus 17:6 Did not grace work a result contrary to nature, so that the rock poured forth water, which by nature it did not contain? Marah was a most bitter stream, so that the thirsting people could not drink. Moses cast wood into the water, and the water lost its bitterness, which grace of a sudden tempered. Exodus 15:25 In the time of Elisha the prophet one of the sons of the prophets lost the head from his axe, which sank. He who had lost the iron asked Elisha, who cast in a piece of wood and the iron swam. This, too, we clearly recognize as having happened contrary to nature, for iron is of heavier nature than water.

52. We observe, then, that grace has more power than nature, and yet so far we have only spoken of the grace of a prophet’s blessing. But if the blessing of man had such power as to change nature, what are we to say of that divine consecration where the very words of the Lord and Saviour operate? For that sacrament which you receive is made what it is by the word of Christ. But if the word of Elijah had such power as to bring down fire from heaven, shall not the word of Christ have power to change the nature of the elements? You read concerning the making of the whole world: He spoke and they were made, He commanded and they were created. Shall not the word of Christ, which was able to make out of nothing that which was not, be able to change things which already are into what they were not? For it is not less to give a new nature to things than to change them.

53. But why make use of arguments? Let us use the examples He gives, and by the example of the Incarnation prove the truth of the mystery. Did the course of nature proceed as usual when the Lord Jesus was born of Mary? If we look to the usual course, a woman ordinarily conceives after connection with a man. And this body which we make is that which was born of the Virgin. Why do you seek the order of nature in the Body of Christ, seeing that the Lord Jesus Himself was born of a Virgin, not according to nature? It is the true Flesh of Christ which crucified and buried, this is then truly the Sacrament of His Body.

54. The Lord Jesus Himself proclaims: This is My Body. Matthew 26:26 Before the blessing of the heavenly words another nature is spoken of, after the consecration the Body is signified. He Himself speaks of His Blood. Before the consecration it has another name, after it is called Blood. And you say, Amen, that is, It is true. Let the heart within confess what the mouth utters, let the soul feel what the voice speaks.

55. Christ, then, feeds His Church with these sacraments, by means of which the substance of the soul is strengthened, and seeing the continual progress of her grace, He rightly says to her: How comely are your breasts, my sister, my spouse, how comely they are made by wine, and the smell of your garments is above all spices. A dropping honeycomb are your lips, my spouse, honey and milk are under your tongue, and the smell of your garments is as the smell of Lebanon. A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed. By which He signifies that the mystery ought to remain sealed up with you, that it be not violated by the deeds of an evil life, and pollution of chastity, that it be not made known to thou, for whom it is not fitting, nor by garrulous talkativeness it be spread abroad among unbelievers. Your guardianship of the faith ought therefore to be good, that integrity of life and silence may endure unblemished.

56. For which reason, too, the Church, guarding the depth of the heavenly mysteries, repels the furious storms of wind, and calls to her the sweetness of the grace of spring, and knowing that her garden cannot displease Christ, invites the Bridegroom, saying: Arise, O north wind, and come, thou south; blow upon mAmbrose Of Milany garden, and let my ointments flow down. Let my Brother come down to His garden, and eat the fruit of His trees. For it has good trees and fruitful, which have dipped their roots in the water of the sacred spring, and with fresh growth have shot forth into good fruits, so as now not to be cut with the axe of the prophet, but to abound with the fruitfulness of the Gospel.

57. Lastly, the Lord also, delighted with their fertility, answers: I have entered into My garden, My sister, My spouse; I have gathered My myrrh with My spices, I have eaten My meat with My honey, I have drunk My drink with My milk. Song of Songs 5:1 Understand, you faithful, why He spoke of meat and drink. And there is no doubt that He Himself eats and drinks in us, as you have read that He says that in our persons He is in prison. Matthew 25:36

58. Wherefore, too, the Church, beholding so great grace, exhorts her sons and her friends to come together to the sacraments, saying: Eat, my friends, and drink and be inebriated, my brother. Song of Songs 5:1 What we eat and what we drink the Holy Spirit has elsewhere made plain by the prophet, saying, Taste and see that the Lord is good, blessed is the man that hopes in Him. In that sacrament is Christ, because it is the Body of Christ, it is therefore not bodily food but spiritual. Whence the Apostle says of its type: Our fathers ate spiritual food and drank spiritual drink, 1 Corinthians 10:3 for the Body of God is a spiritual body; the Body of Christ is the Body of the Divine Spirit, for the Spirit is Christ, as we read: The Spirit before our face is Christ the Lord. Lamentations 4:20 And in the Epistle of Peter we read: Christ died for us. 1 Peter 2:21 Lastly, that food strengthens our heart, and that drink makes glad the heart of man, as the prophet has recorded.

59. So, then, having obtained everything, let us know that we are born again, but let us not say, How are we born again? Have we entered a second time into our mother’s womb and been born again? I do not recognize here the course of nature. But here there is no order of nature, where is the excellence of grace. And again, it is not always the course of nature which brings about conception, for we confess that Christ the Lord was conceived of a Virgin, and reject the order of nature. For Mary conceived not of man, but was with child of the Holy Spirit, as Matthew says: She was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 1:18 If, then, the Holy Spirit coming down upon the Virgin wrought the conception, and effected the work of generation, surely we must not doubt but that, coming down upon the Font, or upon those who receive Baptism, He effects the reality of the new birth. Source: “On the Mysteries,” Chapters 3, 8, & 9, St. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340 – 397)

Would you know the Blessing of all Blessings?

1.4  Now the Spirit of Love has this Original. God, as considered in himself in his Holy Being, before anything is brought forth by him or out of him, is only an eternal Will to all Goodness. This is the one eternal immutable God, that from Eternity to Eternity changeth not, that can be neither more nor less nor anything else but an eternal Will to all the Goodness that is in himself, and can come from him. The Creation of ever so many Worlds or Systems of Creatures adds nothing to, nor takes anything from this immutable God. He always was and always will be the same immutable Will to all Goodness. So that as certainly as he is the Creator, so certainly is he the Blesser of every william lawcreated Thing, and can give nothing but Blessing, Goodness, and Happiness from himself because he has in himself nothing else to give. It is much more possible for the Sun to give forth Darkness, than for God to do, or be, or give forth anything but Blessing and Goodness. Now this is the Ground and Original of the Spirit of Love in the Creature; it is and must be a Will to all Goodness, and you have not the Spirit of Love till you have this Will to all Goodness at all Times and on all Occasions. You may indeed do many Works of Love and delight in them, especially at such Times as they are not inconvenient to you, or contradictory to your State or Temper or Occurrences in Life. But the Spirit of Love is not in you till it is the Spirit of your Life, till you live freely, willingly, and universally according to it. For every Spirit acts with Freedom and Universality according to what it is. It needs no command to live its own Life, or be what it is, no more than you need bid Wrath be wrathful. And therefore when Love is the Spirit of your Life, it will have the Freedom and Universality of a Spirit; it will always live and work in Love, not because of This or That, Here or There, but because the Spirit of Love can only love, wherever it is or goes or whatever is done to it. As the Sparks know no Motion but that of flying upwards, whether it be in the Darkness of the Night or in the Light of the Day, so the Spirit of Love is always in the same Course; it knows no Difference of Time, Place, or Persons, but whether it gives or forgives, bears or forbears, it is equally doing its own delightful Work, equally blessed from itself. For the Spirit of Love, wherever it is, is its own Blessing and Happiness because it is the Truth and Reality of God in the Soul, and therefore is in the same Joy of Life and is the same Good to itself, everywhere and on every Occasion.

1.5 Oh Sir! Would you know the Blessing of all Blessings? It is this God of Love dwelling in your Soul and killing every Root of Bitterness which is the Pain and Torment of every earthly, selfish Love. For all Wants are satisfied, all Disorders of Nature are removed, no Life is any longer a Burden, every Day is a Day of Peace, everything you meet becomes a Help to you because everything you see or do is all done in the sweet, gentle Element of Love. For as Love has no By-Ends, wills nothing but its own Increase, so everything is as Oil to its Flame. It must have that which it wills and cannot be disappointed, because everything naturally helps it to live in its own Way and to bring forth its own Work. The Spirit of Love does not want to be rewarded, honoured, or esteemed. Its only Desire is to propagate itself and become the Blessing and Happiness of everything that wants it. And therefore it meets Wrath and Evil and Hatred and Opposition with the same one Will as the Light meets the Darkness, only to overcome it with all its Blessings. Did you want to avoid the Wrath and Ill-will or to gain the Favour of any Persons, you might easily miss of your Ends; but if you have no Will but to all Goodness, everything you meet, be it what it Will, must be forced to be assistant to you. For the Wrath of an Enemy, the Treachery of a Friend, and every other Evil only helps the Spirit of Love to be more triumphant, to live its own Life and find all its own Blessings in a higher Degree. Source: The Spirit of Love, Part 1.4-5, William Law

“…let no man forget to eat this Bread, lest his heart should wither”

Of the Institution of the Worshipful and most August Sacrament

When, therefore, our Lord Jesus had instructed His disciples in true humility, both by word and example, and the time of His Passion was close at hand, He desired to teach both them and all of us another of His virtues, not less necessary for our salvation than the one already spoken of; that is to say, perfect love. These two virtues He left us as His testament for an everlasting remembrance, desiring to impress them on our inmost hearts, for in them lies our whole salvation, and without them we cannot be saved. Nay, even had we nothing else, these alone would suffice. Hear, now, what our most gracious Lord said to His disciples: “My little children, a new commandment I give unto you;” as if He would say: “Many lessons, and divers and numerous 30commandments have you from Me. But now, a new commandment I give unto you, the highest, indeed, of all commandments, and the compendium of all My teachings; and this is, that you love one another as I have loved you; that as I lay down My life for you, so also you should love one another unto death, and help one another; that, as I have loved him who betrayed Me, and have prayed for them who have brought Me to the cross, so also you should love your enemies, and do good to them, by lending loving help to all who persecute you, and bring evil upon you.” This new commandment of love our Lord Jesus taught, not only by word, but also by deed. And when He desired to make known to us that we were His true sons, and that out of His eternal love He bore us in His bosom, and that from everlasting we had been in Him, and, as it were, in our origin, had rested in Him from all eternity; and that no earthly father had ever John Taulerembraced us with such exceeding love as that with which He had embraced us. Then it was that, as a most faithful father, He left us His most august testament, and bequeathed to us that excellent good, which is nobler and better than heaven and earth, even His own most sacred Body for food, and for our drink His most precious Blood. O wonderful mystery! O most high Sacrament! Oh, all ye, as many as love God, come, make ready, behold, wonder, marvel, praise, announce and magnify the Name of the Lord. For so great, so marvellous a work hath our Lord wrought in us, that whosoever desireth to look into it with his inward understanding, can only shrivel up in spirit, and faint away in mind, and lose all power for exceeding great astonishment. And even if a man desire, according to the poor little measure of his human frailty, and by the help of God’s grace, to look through and search the depth of this love by means of his reason and understanding, as far, namely, as God vouchsafeth out of love to allow him to do this, yet will his heart melt away, and burn, and glow with the flame and fire of love. For, although it was a great and wonderful work that God Almighty vouchsafed to take upon Himself the nature of man, and to clothe Himself with the sackcloth of our mortality, yet doth this work leave all His other works far behind. For, in the former work, He took upon Himself, indeed, our manhood, but in this work, joined and united with His Manhood, He poureth out upon us His own Godhead, so that we receive It within ourselves. In the former He took on Him our manhood, in the latter, we are clothed with His Godhead.

For, as the food taken by man passeth into his substance, and becometh of one nature with man, so whosoever worthily receiveth this Food, is made one thing with our Lord by grace. And as our Lord saith by Augustine, we change not this divine Food into our substance, but rather are transmuted and transformed by it into Himself, and thus are made deiform, and of one nature with Him. Now this is the way by which we put on Christ, as the apostle admonisheth. Oh! who can ever reach, by any act of the understanding, unto this infinite abyss of deepest love, which God hath willed to make known to us in this sublime and wonderful Sacrament? And this, indeed, He did at the end of His life, that it might be, as it were, the sum, and compendium, and everlasting remembrance of all His works. Moreover, although it was at the last supper that He first instituted this Sacrament, and gave It to man to take, yet It included within Itself the whole Christ, God Incarnate. For in this Sacrament He had His true Body, and His living soul, and He was Very God; and these three we receive in this Sacrament. Where, now, is the heart that will not glow with burning love, and be stirred and moved to devotion, when it considereth with what exceeding love He, the King of glory, the Lord of majesty, was consumed for us vile creatures, who are but dust and ashes, in whom, besides, He found nothing but frailty, and sin, and want? Yet of such He can say: “My delights are to be with the children of men.” Can He lift us higher than by setting up His own temple within us? Can He love us more than by vouchsafing to become the food of His own creatures? He is the highest and most perfect Good, with which no other good can be compared, and which can never fail; and because His fatherly and loving Heart could think of nothing better, nothing higher, He gave us Himself, so as to prove to us His bountiful goodness, and the deep love of His Heart. Bountiful altogether is the bestowal, when He giveth Himself, but how much more bountiful when He giveth Himself in this way! For He gave Himself to be out father, and brother, and companion, and food, and ransom, and mediator, and advocate. Lastly, He will give us Himself for our everlasting reward, and will so satiate us in Himself, that He will be to us all that we can desire.

Nor is this all, for over and above all this bountiful goodness, He is ever ready to come into our hearts, and to bestow upon us all the merits of His Incarnation, and Life and Passion. He saith by His prophet: “Thou shalt call and the Lord will hear thee. Thou shalt cry aloud, and He shall say, ‘Lo, here I am.’” And He Himself saith: “If any man love Me, My Father will love him, and We will come and make our dwelling with him.” Look, O my soul! to thy dignity, and rejoice exceedingly in thy God, Who hath lifted thee up from the dung-hill of thy sins, that thou mayest be the dwelling-place of the Adorable Trinity, thou who wert formerly the devil’s slave.

Nor was it enough for this most ardent Lover to show us such exceeding love. More deeply still must He lower and submit Himself unto us. He will not wait until He be invited and desired by us: He cometh Himself first, and knocketh, and prayeth us to let Him in. Hear what He saith in the Apocalypse: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man open unto Me, I will enter in, and sup with him, and he with Me.” O blessed and happy soul, that listeneth to his Lord’s knock, that watcheth, and with longing waiteth for His coming, so as not only straightway to open to her Lord and Bridegroom, but even with her lamp burning, and full of oil, to go out to meet Him, and to take Him back with her, saying: “Let my Beloved come into His garden!”

Oh! how great the happiness to receive Him, as He cometh back from the heavenly marriage-feast, drunk with wine, full of grace and truth, coming forth from His Father’s most pleasant Bosom, all delightful 35and full of comfort, flowing with spiritual delights, ready to give His loving bride the kiss of peace which He Himself had received from His Father. Oh! what a happiness to eat with Him, Who thus giveth Himself for food! Who, I ask, could ever have so cast himself down, or so raised us up? Heaven and earth are filled with the glory of His divine Majesty, and yet He refuseth not to be handled, and taken and eaten by us worthless worms of earth. The heaven of heavens is not large enough to contain His greatness, and He telleth us that it is His delight to be with us, who lie hidden in the filthy homes of earth.

Oh! whose is the spirit that will not marvel with exceeding wonder? Whose is the heart that will not melt away at the burning fire of this unutterable love? How could He have given us surer proof of this His burning love for us? It is a small thing to Him to send His holy angels to honour and visit us, but that He, the King of angels, should come to His own servants, that He should visit the sick, and comfort the weak, and lift up the fallen, and console the desolate, and give heart to them who despair, and instruct them who doubt, and call back them that wander, and refresh them that hunger, and give warmth to them that are lukewarm; in a word, that He should heal all 36our languor, and all our sins, and this not by any strange medicine, but by His own precious Body and Blood! O wonderful mystery, O most high Sacrament, O unutterable love, O unheard of bounty, in which the Giver is Himself the Gift, the servant eateth his Lord, the creature receiveth his Maker, the minister is commanded to sit at the table of the most high King, and is filled to overflowing with divine food; in which man is fed with the Bread of angels, the Father distributeth the Body of His only Begotten, and giveth His friends to drink, in all abundance, of the precious Blood of His dear Son! Who hath ever heard of greater or more lavish bounty? Where is the understanding that can look into and grasp the mysteries of this wonderful Sacrament? What more could God have done for us? How could He have more closely joined to us His most high Godhead, than to become our food, and to incorporate us wholly into Himself? For as bodily food, when taken by man, falleth down softly into his inward parts, and nourisheth all his members, and at length passeth into his substance, so, in like manner, Christ letteth Himself sink down into our souls, in order to fill us wholly with Himself, and He draweth all our powers into Himself. And if He meeteth our souls thus worthily made ready, so as to enable Him freely to accomplish within us His own pleasant work, then, too, according to the Scriptures, He buildeth up and destroyeth, He killeth and giveth life, He teareth up and planteth, He darkeneth and giveth light. For He is that Lamb Whom St. John saw sitting on the throne of heaven, and making all things new. Even as He once made our souls, when before they had no being, to His own image and likeness, so also He reneweth and marvellously reformeth them according to the same likeness, which in us hath become defiled and broken. Thus, too, thou mayest hear Him say by the mouth of one of His prophets: “I Myself will feed My sheep, and I will make them to lie down. That which hath perished I will seek; that which hath been cast away I will bring back; that which is broken I will bind together; that which is weak I will strengthen.”

Oh! who can grasp in mind, or who is able to discover in thought, all the marvels, and all the happiness, which this divine Food worketh in the soul that worthily receiveth It? Oh! how pure, how holy, and, above all, how divine doth such a man straightway become by means of this Food? For if the nature of the elements is such as, after the manner of their author, to consume all things, and make them like themselves, and transmute them into their own substance, how much more will this 38most noble Food, which is God Himself, consume whatever in man is vicious, or carnal, or sensual, and cause to spring up and encourage all virtue and all good; and, chief of all, will at last transform the whole man into Itself, and unite him with Itself, and, so far as is possible for a creature, make him of one essence with God, and like to Him. While this is being done, that is to say, while man is being conformed and made like unto this Food, he also becometh wholly quickened in spirit, for he receiveth the Bread of Life, so that now he may say with the apostle: “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” He is made, in like manner, wholly angelic and heavenly, for he hath eaten of the Bread of angels, and of their food. Lastly, he is made all divine, inasmuch as he hath received God Himself, Who hath so filled him, and, so to speak, deified his powers, that he can no longer seek, or desire, or meditate upon, or love anything, save only God, while to do God’s will, and whatever God’s love requireth, is for him enough. What, then, can be wanting to us, when we have partaken of this most noble Food? O merciful God! what more couldst Thou have done for us, or what hast Thou done? Even hadst Thou brooded with all Thy power and all Thy wisdom upon this one thing, namely, how to bestow upon man some great gift, and to show to him some striking proof of Thy exceeding love, yet so far as my understanding can grasp, no nobler, or higher, or more useful, or more saving gift couldst Thou have lavished upon us. For Thou hast poured out upon us the whole treasure of Thy grace. Thou hast opened to us Thy fatherly Heart, and allowed the veins of Thy exceeding love to flow in all abundance over us. Openly hast Thou made known to us with what great love for us Thou burnest and art wounded. And because Thou couldst no longer hide this blessed wound, and burning fire, the flame broke forth, and Thou sufferedst man to feel the force of Thy love, giving to him Thy most sacred Body for food, and Thy precious Blood for drink, that so man, looking upon the immensity of this love, might, in his turn, be inflamed and wounded by love, and, at the same time, by its sublimity, might be inwardly forced and admonished to repay it in some way, and satisfy its longings.

See here, how marvellous and unheard of hath been the meeting and the union of the Divine Wisdom with our nature. It took from us our weakness, and our mortal manhood, and bestowed upon us Its own adorable Godhead. And the better to do this, It could find no more suitable or pleasant way, than to leave Itself to us under the appearance of food and drink. 40O power of God, to be ever praised, that under the appearance of a little bread could give His own high Godhead, could give His own perfect Body and holy Soul unto all men, equally and wholly to be their food, which, while wholly received by every man, yet remaineth in Itself whole and incorrupt! O marvellous wisdom of God, that instituted this subtle and saving means of salvation for us, and decreed it! O incomprehensible goodness of God, that for the sake of our salvation hath perfected such sublime works of love! O saving Food, whereby the children of men pass into the children of God, and humanity is absorbed that God may remain! O longed-for, sacred, and adorable Bread, that refreshest the mind, not the belly; that strengthenest the heart, nor weighest down the body; that gladdenest the spirit, nor darkenest the understanding; whereby sensuality is killed, and our own will brought down to nothing, that God’s Will may have place, and God’s Spirit may have rule, and God’s working may come across no hinderance! Of a truth, it was needful for man, who had swallowed the serpent’s poisonous morsel, to drink the heavenly draught of Christ’s precious Blood, in order to recover the salvation he had lost. Clearly it was fitting that he who had fallen through food that brought him death should be raised up again by the Bread of life; that he who had died through the fruit of the tree, should come to life again in like manner, by the fruit of the Tree, and that he who, through the tree of disobedience, had been sentenced to everlasting death, should, by the Tree of obedience, be restored to everlasting glory. On that former tree hung the food of death, on this latter the medicine of life. In that ran the sap of concupiscence, on this hung the grape-clusters of salvation, which, pressed out in the vine-press of Christ’s Passion, gave us that new wine, by which the heart of man is gladdened. Clearly, this is that chosen grape-cluster, sweet to the taste, which they who were said to spy out the earth, that is, the holy apostles, carried on a staff, as they explored with interior eye the kingdom of heaven; as, for example, St. John, who saw in the Apocalypse the Lamb, as it were slain, and St. Paul, who himself also went forth to look at the Land of Promise, when he was rapt into the third heaven, and who, when he had returned to himself, confessed that he knew no other sign, save the grape upon the vine, that is, Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. This is that true grape-cluster which hath no sourness mingled with it; this is that sweet-tasting Bread, or heavenly manna, full of spiritual delights, wherein there is nothing rough or coarse, for it is not made of the grain of the Old Testament, administered by Moses, but it is the flour of wheat, that is, of the grace shown through Christ Jesus; no mere figure, but the truth.

Wherefore, let no man forget to eat this Bread, lest his heart should wither. For as we fell into ruin through food, so by food we must be quickened again to life. Of that former food it was said: “In whatsoever day thou shalt eat thereof, thou shalt surely die.” But of this is it said: “If any man shall eat of this Bread, he shall live for ever.” As often, therefore, as, through the cheating of Satan, that wicked serpent, we have fallen into sins, and have drunk the cup of death when held out to us by the enemy’s temptation, so often ought we to make ourselves ready to partake of this heavenly medicine, with sorrow, and penance, and devotion, and burning longing. Never let us cease at all to succour our sick and suffering souls, since to no man doth our tender-hearted Lord refuse His grace, nor is there anything He is more ready to give than Himself. And, of a surety, whatever favours, whatever grace our Lord Jesus brought into this world, and gave to man when He took his nature, all this He bringeth with Him, and bestoweth upon every man who worthily partaketh of this worshipful Sacrament. Moreover, whatever virtues Christ performed during His Life,—all 43the fruit of His Death, Resurrection and Ascension, the blessedness of His gracious Body, the virtue of His precious Blood, and lastly, the merits of His most noble Soul,—all this He bringeth with Him into the soul that worthily receiveth Him. What more desirest thou? In this most august Sacrament, whatever can be thought of, or desired, is received. For herein is received the true Son of God, Jesus Christ, very God and very Man, ever one God with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Truly, then, it was right to say, that whatever virtues or merit Christ performed, and obtained in His Life and Passion, all this is received in this Sacrament by the soul that is worthily prepared. Nay, our sweet Jesus is ready to give us all these virtues through His tender and bountiful goodness, just as if we had performed them ourselves. Let us hasten, therefore, zealously to cleanse our hearts from every stain of sin, and to adorn them with virtues and good works, that we may be always fit and worthy to receive this saving food, to the everlasting glory of our most gracious Maker. Amen. Source: Meditations on the Life and Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, Chapter 4, by John Tauler (1300-1363)

“We are also nourished by means of the creation…” in the Holy Eucharist

St. Irenaeus of LyonChapter II. – When Christ visited us in His grace, He did not come to what did not belong to Him: also, by shedding His true blood for us, and exhibiting to us His true flesh in the Eucharist, He conferred upon our flesh the capacity of salvation.

1. And vain likewise are those who say that God came to those things which did not belong to Him, as if covetous of another’s property; in order that He might deliver up that man who had been created by another, to that God who had neither made nor formed anything, but who also was deprived from the beginning of His own proper formation of men. The advent, therefore, of Him whom these men represent as coming to the things of others, was not righteous; nor did He truly redeem us by His own blood, if He did not really become man, restoring to His own handiwork what was said [of it] in the beginning, that man was made after the image and likeness of God; not snatching away by stratagem the property of another, but taking possession of His own in a righteous and gracious manner. As far as concerned the apostasy, indeed, He redeems us righteously from it by His own blood; but as regards us who have been redeemed, [He does this] graciously. For we have given nothing to Him previously, nor does He desire anything from us, as if He stood in need of it; but we do stand in need of fellowship with Him. And for this reason it was that He graciously poured Himself out, that He might gather us into the bosom of the Father.

2. But vain in every respect are they who despise the entire dispensation of God, and disallow the salvation of the flesh, and treat with contempt its regeneration, maintaining that it is not capable of incorruption. But if this indeed do not attain salvation, then neither did the Lord redeem us with His blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of His blood, nor the bread which we break the communion of His body.  1 Cor. x. 16. For blood can only come from veins and flesh, and whatsoever else makes up the substance of man, such as the Word of God was actually made. By His own blood he redeemed us, as also His apostle declares, “In whom we have redemption through His blood, even the remission of sins.”   Col. i. 14. And as we are His members, we are also nourished by means of the creation (and He Himself grants the creation to us, for He causes His sun to rise, and sends rain when He wills Matt. v. 45. ). He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.

3. When, therefore, the mingled cup and the manufactured bread receives the Word of God, and the Eucharist of the blood and the body of Christ is made,from which things the substance of our flesh is increased and supported, how can they affirm that the flesh is incapable of receiving the gift of God, which is life eternal, which [flesh] is nourished from the body and blood of the Lord, and is a member of Him?—even as the blessed Paul declares in his Epistle to the Ephesians, that “we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.”Eph. v. 30. He does not speak these words of some spiritual and invisible man, for a spirit has not bones nor flesh;  Luke xxiv. 39. but [he refers to] that dispensation [by which the Lord became] an actual man, consisting of flesh, and nerves, and bones,—that [flesh] which is nourished by the cup which is His blood, and receives increase from the bread which is His body. And just as a cutting from the vine planted in the ground fructifies in its season, or as a corn of wheat falling into the earth and becoming decomposed, rises with manifold increase by the Spirit of God, who contains all things, and then, through the wisdom of God, serves for the use of men, and having received the Word of God, becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ; so also our bodies, being nourished by it, and deposited in the earth, and suffering decomposition there, shall rise at their appointed time, the Word of God granting them resurrection to the glory of God, even the Father, who freely gives to this mortal immortality, and to this corruptible incorruption,  1 Cor. xv. 53. because the strength of God is made perfect in weakness,  2 Cor. xii. 3. in order that we may never become puffed up, as if we had life from ourselves, and exalted against God, our minds becoming ungrateful; but learning by experience that we possess eternal duration from the excelling power of this Being, not from our own nature, we may neither undervalue that glory which surrounds God as He is, nor be ignorant of our own nature, but that we may know what God can effect, and what benefits man receives, and thus never wander from the true comprehension of things as they are, that is, both with regard to God and with regard to man. And might it not be the case, perhaps, as I have already observed, that for this purpose God permitted our resolution into the common dust of mortality, that we, being instructed by every mode, may be accurate in all things for the future, being ignorant neither of God nor of ourselves? Source: Against Heresies, Book 5, Chapter 2, by Irenaeus (120–202)

Mercy accords with nature

St. AmbroseThis is a simple account of a reality.  And if we meditate deeply upon it, it will confirm for us certain wondrous mysteries.  For Jericho is a figure of this world, to which Adam, cast forth from Paradise, the heavenly Jerusalem, because of sin, descended; that is, he descended from the things of eternal life to the things of this lower world: he who through, not change of place but change of will, had brought exile upon his posterity.  For he was far changed from that Adam who had lived in untroubled blessedness, when he descended to earthly sinfulness and fell among robbers; and he would not have fallen among them, had he not exposed himself to them, through turning away from what God had laid down for him.

Who are these robbers, if not the angels of night and of darkness; who will at times change themselves into angels of light, but cannot remain so?  These first of all strip us of the garments of spiritual grace we received, and this is how they are able to wound us.  For had we preserved the unstained garments we received, we could not feel the blows of the robbers.  Watch therefore that they do not first strip you, as they stripped Adam in the beginning, as he was stripped of the protection of the divine commandment, as he was stripped of the garment of faith, and so received a deadly wound. In him all mankind would have been slain, had not this Samaritan, descending, taken care of his grievous wounds.

This was no ordinary Samaritan, who did not despise him whom the priest, whom the Levite had despised. And neither let you despise him because of the name of his people; the meaning of whose name will astonish you.  For the word Samaritan means a defender.  This is how it is interpreted.  And who is a defender, if not He of Whom it was said: The Lord is the defender of little ones (Ps. cxiv. 6)?  And as one man is a Jew in the letter, another in the spirit, so likewise one man is outwardly a Samaritan, another thing inwardly.  Who then is this Samaritan who was going down?  It is He Who descended from heaven, and who had ascended into heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven (Jn. iii. 13).  Seeing the man half dead, whom no one before Him had been able to cure; like that woman having an issue of blood who had bestowed all her substance on physicians (Lk. viii. 43); He came near him, that is, He came close to us by sharing our suffering, and a neighbour to us by showing us mercy.

And bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine.

Many are the remedies this Physician brings to heal us.  His words are medicines.  One word binds up our wounds, another soothes them with oil, another pours in wine.  He binds our wounds by His more austere rule of life,  He soothes us by the forgiveness of our sins, just as He urges us forward by the threat of His judgement.

And setting him upon his own beast.

Hear how He raises you up.  He bears our sins, and for us suffers (Is. liii. 4, Sept.).  And the Shepherd lays the weary sheep upon His own shoulders (Lk. xv. 5).  For man had become like the beast (Ps. xlviii. 13).  So He places us upon His own shoulders, lest we become like the horse and the mule (Ps. xxxi. 9); so that by taking upon Himself our body, He might do away with the weaknesses of our flesh.

And then He brought us to an inn; we who had become as beasts (Ps. lxxii. 23).  It is to an inn they come who are weary from a long journey.  And so the Lord takes us to an inn; He who raises up the needy from the earth; lifting up the poor out of the dunghill (Ps. cxii. 7).  And took care of him; for fear the sick man might not be able to keep the precepts he had received.

But this Samaritan was not to stay long on earth. He must return whither He had come.  And accordingly the next day, etc.  What is this next day, if not the day of the Lord’s Resurrection; of which it was said: This is the day which the Lord hath made (Ps. cxvii. 24)?  He took out two denarii, and gave to the host, and said: Take care of him. What are these two denarii?  Perhaps the two Testaments, upon which have been stamped the image of the Eternal King, by Whose price our wounds were healed?  For we were redeemed by His Precious Blood, that we might escape the festering wounds of eternal death.

The innkeeper therefore receives the two denarii (and it would not be out of place to understand here, the four forms of these books; the Gospels).  Who is he?  He perhaps who says: I count all things but as dung, that I may gain Christ (Phil. iii. 8); from Whom he had received the care of the wounded man?  An innkeeper therefore is he who said: Christ sent me to preach the Gospel (I Cor. 1. 17).  Innkeepers are they to whom it was said: Go ye into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature.  He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved (Mk. xvi. 15, 16): saved from death, saved from the wound infficted by the robbers.  Blessed is that innkeeper who can cure another’s wound.

Blessed is he to whom Jesus says: Whatsoever thou shalt spend over and above, I, at my return, will repay thee.  He is a good steward who also spends over and above.  Paul is a good steward, whose sermons and epistles are over and above the amount he had received.  He had fulfilled the simple command of the Lord by toil of body and soul that was almost beyond measure; that he might relieve many of their grave sickness by the ministry of his spiritual comfort.  Good therefore is the Innkeeper of his inn in which the ass knoweth the Lord’s crib (Is. i. 3), and in which the lambs of the flock are gathered (Is. xl. 11); so that there shall be no easy assault upon the sheepfold by the wolves, howling and ravening without the fold.

He then promises payment when He returns.  When will you return, O Lord, but on the Day of Judgement?  For though Thou art everywhere at all times, and stand now in our midst, though we see Thee not, yet there shall be a time when all flesh shall behold Thee returning.  Then Thou wilt repay what Thou owest.  Blessed are they to whom Thou art Debtor!  Would that we could repay what we have received, and that the office of Priest or of Levite (minister, deacon) might not make us proud! How will you repay, O Lord Jesus?  You promised the just that their reward is very great in heaven (Mt. v. 12).  You will repay when You say: Well done, good and faithful servant; because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things.  Enter thou into the joy of thy Lord (Mt. xxv. 21).

And so since no one is more our neighbour than He Who has healed our wounds, let us love Him as our Lord, let us love Him as our neighbour; for nothing is closer than the Head to Its members.  And let us also love him who is an imitator of Christ.  Let us love him who in the unity of this Body has compassion on the need of another.  For it is not kinship that makes a neighbour, but mercy.  Because mercy accords with nature; for there is nothing so in accord with nature, than to help one who partakes of our nature.  Amen. Source: “On the Good Samaritan,” St. Ambrose, Translated by M.F. Toale, D.D., (PL 15 Evang. Sec. Lucam, Lib. VIII, Incip. par. 73, col. 1718.)

“Be what you see; receive what you are.”

What you see on God’s altar, you’ve already observed during the night that has now ended. But you’ve heard nothing about just what it might be, or what it might mean, or what great thing it might be said to symbolize. For what you see is simply bread and a cup – this is the information your eyes report. But your faith demands far subtler insight: the bread is Christ’s body, the cup is Christ’s blood. Faith can grasp the fundamentals quickly, succinctly, yet it hungers for a fuller account of the matter. As the prophet says, “Unless you believe, you will not understand.” [Is. 7.9; Septuagint] So you can say to me, “You urged us to believe; now explain, so we can understand.”

Inside each of you, thoughts like these are rising: “Our Lord Jesus Christ, we know the source of his flesh; he took it from the Virgin Mary. Like any infant, he was nursed and nourished; he grew; became a youngster; suffered persecution from his own people. To the wood he was nailed; on Saint Augustinethe wood he died; from the wood, his body was taken down and buried. On the third day (as he willed) he rose; he ascended bodily into heaven whence he will come to judge the living and the dead. There he dwells even now, seated at God’s right. So how can bread be his body? And what about the cup? How can it (or what it contains) be his blood?”

My friends, these realities are called sacraments because in them one thing is seen, while another is grasped. What is seen is a mere physical likeness; what is grasped bears spiritual fruit. So now, if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the Apostle Paul speaking to the faithful: “You are the body of Christ, member for member.” [1 Cor. 12.27] If you, therefore, are Christ’s body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord’s table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying “Amen” to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear “The body of Christ”, you reply “Amen.” Be a member of Christ’s body, then, so that your “Amen” may ring true! But what role does the bread play?

We have no theory of our own to propose here; listen, instead, to what Paul says about this sacrament: “The bread is one, and we, though many, are one body.” [1 Cor. 10.17] Understand and rejoice: unity, truth, faithfulness, love. “One bread,” he says. What is this one bread? Is it not the “one body,” formed from many? Remember: bread doesn’t come from a single grain, but from many. When you received exorcism, you were “ground.” When you were baptized, you were “leavened.” When you received the fire of the Holy Spirit, you were “baked.” Be what you see; receive what you are. This is what Paul is saying about the bread. So too, what we are to understand about the cup is similar and requires little explanation. In the visible object of bread, many grains are gathered into one just as the faithful (so Scripture says) form “a single heart and mind in God” [Acts 4.32]. And thus it is with the wine. Remember, friends, how wine is made. Individual grapes hang together in a bunch, but the juice from them all is mingled to become a single brew. This is the image chosen by Christ our Lord to show how, at his own table, the mystery of our unity and peace is solemnly consecrated. All who fail to keep the bond of peace after entering this mystery receive not a sacrament that benefits them, but an indictment that condemns them.

So let us give God our sincere and deepest gratitude, and, as far as human weakness will permit, let us turn to the Lord with pure hearts. With all our strength, let us seek God’s singular mercy, for then the Divine Goodness will surely hear our prayers. God’s power will drive the Evil One from our acts and thoughts; it will deepen our faith, govern our minds, grant us holy thoughts, and lead us, finally, to share the divine happiness through God’s own son Jesus Christ. Amen! “On The Eucharist,” Source: Sermon 272, St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430)

The Effectual Power of the Word — Sacrament

If the heavenly word was effectual in the earthly spring, if it was effectual in other things, is it not effectual in the heavenly sacraments? Therefore thou hast learnt that what was bread becomes the body of Christ, and that wine and water are put into the chalice, but become blood by the consecration of the heavenly word…

Wilt thou know that it is consecrated by heavenly words ? Hear what the words are. The priest speaks, “Make for us,” he says, “this oblation approved, ratified, reasonable, acceptable, seeing that it is the figure of the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, who the day before he suffered took bread in his holy hands, and looked up to heaven to thee, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God, and giving thanks, he blessed, St. Ambrosebrake, and having broken, delivered it to his apostles and to his disciples, saying, Take, and eat ye all of this; for this is my body, which shall be broken for many.

Likewise also after supper, the day before he suffered, he took the cup, looked up to heaven to thee, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God, and giving thanks, blessed it and delivered it to his apostles and to his disciples, saying, Take, and drink ye all of this ; for this is my blood.” Observe all those expressions. Those words are the Evangelists’ up to Take, whether the body or the blood. After that they are the words of Christ ; Take, and drink ye all of this; for this is my blood. And observe them in detail.

Who the day before he suffered, he says, in his holy hands took bread. Before it is consecrated, it is bread, but when the words of Christ have been added, it is the body of Christ. Therefore hear him saying : Take and eat ye all of this ; for this is my body. And before the words of Christ it is a cup full of wine and water. When the words of Christ have operated then and there it is made to be the blood of Christ which redeemed the people. Therefore, see in how many ways the word of Christ is mighty to change all things. There the Lord Jesus himself testifies to us that we receive his body and blood. Ought we to doubt of his trustworthiness and testimony?

Now come back with me to the point which I set out to prove. It is a great and awful thing that he rained manna on the Jews from heaven. But distinguish. What is greater, manna from heaven or the body of Christ? Certainly the body of Christ who is the maker of heaven. Then he who ate manna died. Whosoever eats this body shall have remission of sins and shall never die.

Therefore [when thou receivest] it is not superfluous that thou sayest Amen, already in spirit confessing that thou receivest the body of Christ. The priest says to thee, to thee, The body of Christ. And thou sayest, Amen, that is, true. What the tongue confesses let the heart hold fast…

Give us this day our daily bread. I remember my sermon when I was dealing with the Sacraments. I said to you that before the words of Christ that which is offered is called bread : when the words of Christ have been uttered, it is no longer called bread, but is named body. Why then in the Lord’s Prayer, which follows afterwards, does he say : Our bread ? He called it bread indeed, but he called it … supersubstantial. It is not the bread which passes into the body, but that bread of eternal life, which supports the substance of our soul…  The Latin … calls this bread “daily which the Greeks call “coming.”  Therefore what the Latin and what the Greek text said seem both useful. The Greek indicated both in one expression, the Latin said “daily.” If it is daily bread, why dost thou take it once a year …? Take daily what is to profit thee daily. So live that thou mayest deserve to receive it daily. He who does not deserve to receive it daily, does not deserve to receive it once a year; as holy Job offered sacrifice daily for his sons, lest perchance they should have done any sin in heart or word. Therefore dost thou hear that as often as sacrifice is offered, the Lord’s death, the Lord’s resurrection, the Lord’s ascension and the remission of sins is signified, and dost thou not take this bread of life daily? He who has a wound needs a medicine. The wound is that we are under sin ; the medicine is the heavenly and venerable sacrament.

Give us this day our daily bread. If thou receives daily, “this day” is “daily” to thee. If Christ is for thee “this day,” he rises again for thee “daily.” How? Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. Therefore “this day” is when Christ rises again. Yesterday and to-day he himself is, says the Apostle Paul. But in another place he says, The night is far spent, the day is at hand? Yesternight is far spent, the present day is at hand. Source: “On the Sacraments,” Book 4.4 & 5; 5.4, by St. Ambrose of Milan(340 – 397)