The Eucharist, Mystery of Communion
Since her re-election as President of the Focolare Movement, Maria Voce, continues the tradition of presenting one of the points of the Spirituality of Unity to the world-wide Focolare community, to deepen throughout the year. This year, 2014-15 our focus centres on the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, including its social and cosmic dimension. In the following conversation, which was given during the spiritual retreat at the opening of the General Assembly last September, Maria Voce highlights the part that Jesus in the Eucharist has played in the life and thought of Chiara Lubich, as an integral part of the charism of unity.
In 1977, Chiara introduced the theme on the Eucharist. Before such a profound topic, she had turned directly to Jesus with this prayer:
“Jesus Eucharist, what presumption, what audacity it is to speak of you, you who, present in churches throughout the world, know the secrets, the confidential words, the hidden problems, the sighs of millions of people, the tears of joyous conversions known only to you, the heart of hearts, the heart of the Church. We would not speak of you at all … if it were not that our own love seeks to overcome every fear and yearns to go a little beyond the veil of the white host, of the wine of the golden chalice. Forgive our daring!”
If Chiara had begun like that, how could I dare to speak of Jesus in the Eucharist without making her attitude my own? She had found courage in the fact that “love wants to know – more - in order to grow in love”. She continued: “So as not to end this earthly journey without having discovered, at least a little, who you are.”
I would like this to happen: to discover at least a little who he is. I would like this to happen to me, to all of us, to all the members of the Movement in the world, for the entire Movement. I feel that we must speak of the Eucharist because we are Christians, we live in the Church, and we want to bring or revive the Ideal of unity in it. No mystery of faith is so intimately connected to unity as much as the Eucharist. It is this sacrament which “opens up unity and brings out all its content”, so much as to permit, as Chiara said, “the consummation of the unity of human beings with God and with one another, and of the unity of all the cosmos with its Creator.”
The Eucharist makes us Jesus
Yet, as I said, we don’t want to highlight so much the sacrament as such, but rather that “something more” of our spirituality among the effects it produces: the Eucharist seen and lived from the perspective of unity.
The Eucharist was instituted by Jesus on the same day in which He gave us the commandment of mutual love and it cannot set aside this love: actually it “produces its effect on our mutual love: it makes us one, it makes us Christ”; it gives us “that grace” which we must expect precisely when we live the new commandment, up to experiencing the presence of Jesus among us, unity, that grace which is unity. In this dynamics, there is certainly an ascetic part which is our part, mutual love; but there is also a mystical part that comes from God: and this is what the Eucharist does.
The Eucharist is the “sacrament of unity” because it has the goal of making unity with God and among us grow and therefore is needed to nourish the presence of Jesus in our midst. But it’s a “sacrament of unity” first of all because it brings about something extraordinary in each one of us: our personal transformation into Jesus. In fact, in the Eucharist it is Jesus who comes in us and transforms us into Himself:
“This is the purpose of the Eucharist: to make us God (by participation),” obviously, and Chiara continued, “by mixing our flesh with Christ’s life-giving flesh, which is given life by the Holy Spirit, the Eucharist divinizes us in soul and body. Therefore it makes us God.”
The Eucharist at the beginning of the Movement
But what position did and does the Eucharist still have in the life of the Movement? It has always had a very important and privileged place and value. Also this time we will look at Chiara’s life and what Jesus in the Eucharist had been for her. I remember that once, in answering a focolarino, Chiara talking precisely to Fons, who is now in Heaven with her, said:
“Do you know what the Movement is? From my point of view, as far as I am concerned and what I have done? It's something between Jesus in the Eucharist and me.”
She was very small, we know her story. The nuns of the Child Mary brought her for adoration in front of Jesus in the Eucharist and she would tell Jesus: “You created the sun, you give light and warmth, put your light and your warmth inside me, through my eyes; put all your light in my soul.”
She repeated this phrase for a long time, kneeling down before Jesus in the Eucharist, until she saw the Host all black and all the rest white, just as it happens when you intensely fix your gaze on one point.
When she was a little older we would find Chiara in the Cathedral of Trent, where, in a corner illuminated by a small window, she studied philosophy before Jesus in the Eucharist. She wanted Jesus in the Eucharist to illuminate her in her search for truth.
While preparing herself to take her vows on December 7th, we all remember how she answered the priest who was acting like the devil’s advocate, telling her: “Think about it, your brother and sisters will get married, you will remain alone all your life!” Chiara replied with conviction: “Until there is a tabernacle on earth with Jesus in the Eucharist I’ll never be alone!”
We also know that, at the beginning of the Movement, every Saturday in the Massaia Hall in Trent, she gathered together all those who would later have become her first companions, the first focolarine. Chiara would go to prepare herself in front of Jesus in the Eucharist, repeating many times: “You are Everything, I am nothing; You are Everything, I am nothing.”
Jesus in the Eucharist also accompanied the first focolarine in their trips to bring the Ideal all over Italy: moving from city to city by train. Looking at the churches spread throughout the territory, from the bells that could be seen from the train window, it seemed to them that precisely He, Jesus in the Eucharist, was accompanying them in their journey. He was present in every Church and was linking the whole of Italy. Chiara said: “He was our ‘knight’, our ‘escort’ accompanying us”.
It’s in Jesus in the Eucharist - we heard it in these days - that the Pact of unity with Foco flourished. It opened up Paradise for Chiara. It’s Jesus in the Eucharist that sustains Chiara in the trials, in the most difficult moments of the Movement. When no one would listen to her, because the Movement was being examined, He – Jesus in the Eucharist – was always there, ready at any hour, waiting for her, telling her: “Really I am the head of the Church.” So He gave her peace of mind.
And as Chiara said:
“The most important moment of the day, without compare, is when You come into our hearts. This is our audience with the Almighty,” when no one would listen to her.
Among many experiences, we still remember the deep experience Chiara lived during her trip to the Holy Land, where she had gone not on pilgrimage but to do an act of love. On that occasion Chiara was particularly struck by the geographic setting that served as a background of Jesus’ earthly life and that still carried the signs of many moments of His life. She was absorbed by this almost physical presence of Jesus that she almost forgot the existence of the Movement. She was almost in adoration of that land, looking at the star-studded sky, the houses, the walls, the stones, the streets on which Jesus had walked, as if her whole life was there. Then suddenly a thought came in her heart: there is something that is worth more than the stones of the Holy Land: it’s the living Jesus, the living Jesus in the Eucharist that she could find also in Italy, also in Rome where she lived, in every point of the world where there is a Tabernacle. It is for Him that she could return home.
This is an experience that continues also today for all of us. In any small church, in the most remote ones, we feel that there is the same Jesus in the Eucharist who lives in the great cathedrals, in St. Peter’s Basilica and everywhere. It’s the same Jesus. The countries of the world change, the races are different, there are unfamiliar cultures, the most varied religions, foreign languages, and perhaps we don’t even understand the celebration because the language is difficult, we do not know it yet and this makes us feel far from our homeland, but Jesus is the same. Jesus is there and He is the same. Jesus is always the same.
A few beautiful pages
“No, the earth has not remained cold. You have remained with us! What would our life be like if tabernacles did not bear your presence? … We adore You, Lord, in all the tabernacles of the world. Yes! They are with us, for us. They are not far away like the stars in the sky, which you have also given us. We can meet you everywhere: King of the stars and of all creation! Thank you, Lord, for this immeasurable gift. Heaven has poured itself onto the earth. The starry sky is small. The earth is big, because it is dotted everywhere with the Eucharist: God with us, God among us, God for us.”
Jesus, therefore, “populates” the earth with His presence. Chiara had already understood this in 1949 when she wrote in a page of Paradise:
“Jesus did not remain on earth, so that he could remain in all points of the earth in the Eucharist. He was God, and as a divine seed, he bore fruit, multiplying himself.”
In all kinds of struggles and sufferings He was the one who gave Chiara strength, so much that He made her say that she would have died many times if Jesus in the Eucharist and Jesus in the midst, nourished by Him, had not sustained her. From this intimate relationship of Chiara with Jesus in the Eucharist, some of her most beautiful meditations emerged. They have now become patrimony of the entire Church, like:
“If you suffer and your suffering is such that it prevents any activity, remember the Mass.
Jesus in the Mass, today as once before, does not work, does not preach: Jesus sacrifices himself out of love. In life we can do many things, say many words, but the voice of suffering, maybe unheard and unknown to others, is the most powerful word, the one that pierces heaven.
If you suffer, immerse your pain in his: say your Mass; and if the world does not understand do not worry all that matters is that you are understood by Jesus, Mary, the saints. Live with them, and let your blood pour out for the good of humanity - like him!
The Mass! It is too great to understand!
His Mass, our Mass.”
In another meditation that spontaneously developed as a thanksgiving at Communion, after attending a Mass with Eli at St. Mary of the Angels in Rome, Chiara wrote:
“I love you not because I learned to tell you so, not because my heart suggests these words to me, not so much because faith makes me believe that you are love, not even for the sole reason that you died for me.
I love you because you entered into my life more than the air in my lungs, more than the blood in my veins.
You entered where no one could enter when no one could help me every single time no one could console me.
Each day I have spoken to you. Each hour I have looked to you and in your face I read the answer, in your words the explanation, in your love the solution.
I love you because for so many years you have lived with me and I have lived of You. I drank from your law and I did not realize it."
The Eucharist and the Ideal of Unity
"I nourished myself on it, gathered strength...” The Meditation continues, but I’ll let you go and reread it.
And, truly, we could almost say that Jesus in the Eucharist is the hidden driving force of Chiara’s whole life and of all those who want to follow her Charism, the Charism of unity. However it is significant that Jesus, addressing the Father, as we have heard in the prayer, asks for unity among his people and among those who will come, after having instituted the Eucharist.
Chiara wrote: “Unity, therefore, reaches its fullness through the Eucharist. Unity can be lived fully only through the Eucharist, which makes us not only one through love, but one body and one blood with Christ and with each other.”
Therefore, there exists a marvellous intertwining between the Eucharist and the Ideal of unity. If, in order to begin such a vast Movement, God made Chiara and her first companions focus precisely on Jesus’ prayer to the Father – “That all may be one…” (cf. Jn 17:21) -, he also strongly urged them towards the only One who could bring it about: Jesus in the Eucharist. So much so that we recount – with a very clear image – how newborn babies instinctively nourish themselves from the maternal breast, without knowing what they are doing. In the same way, a phenomenon was verified from the beginning of the Movement: those who drew closer to the Charism of unity, through a day in Mariapolis or meeting a focolarino, they started to receive Communion every day.
“How can we explain this?" Chiara asked herself this question and she wrote:
“What instinct is for the newborn baby, the Holy Spirit is for adults who have been born anew into the life that the gospel of unity brings. They are carried into the ‘heart’ of the Church their mother, where they feed on the most precious nectar she has.”
The Eucharist makes us ‘Church'
Communion with with our brothers and sisters.
The Eucharist therefore divinizes human beings, they become God, by participation, this is understood! But, at the same time the Eucharist produces this effect not only in the individual person, but in the many people gathered together to celebrate this mystery. “All being God, are not many, but one. They are … all together in God. They are one with him, lost in him.”
This reality, which the Eucharist generates, is the Church. The early Christian community already witnessed this. In the Acts of the Apostles we find that “the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). It was a community that, gathered together around the Eucharistic meal, around the agape, experienced the effects of the unifying action of the Holy Spirit. The first Christians shared and put in common their own goods, detaching themselves from every material good out of love for their neighbours. They found rightful solutions to their differences as is seen in the resolution of the dispute between Hellenists and Hebrews over the daily distribution of food (cf. Acts 6:1-6). Their love went beyond their circle of fellow believers. They didn’t consider themselves as exclusive and privileged beneficiaries (of divine favour), but rather as messengers, taking the good news of the Gospel “outside” to the ends of the earth. This is how the message entrusted to the Apostles by the Risen Jesus spread first throughout the Middle East and then throughout the world. Their witness was such that soon people said: “See how these Christians love one another, and how they are ready to die for one another.” As we know, it’s an effect of the Eucharist.
The Holy Spirit himself who came down upon the Apostles in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, continues to work now – we know it – in every Mass celebration. This is for a twofold purpose: “to sanctify the gifts of bread and wine, that they may become the body and blood of Christ, and to fill all who are nourished by these holy gifts, that they may become one body, one spirit in Christ.”
It’s what we ask for in the Second Eucharistic prayer that is said during Mass: “May all of us who share in the body and blood of Christ be brought together in unity by the Holy Spirit.” These words – we read in the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Cartatis – “help us to see clearly how the res, the substance, of the sacrament of the Eucharist is the unity of the faithful within ecclesial communion. The Eucharist is thus found at the root of the Church as a mystery of communion:” Communion with God, communion with our brothers and sisters.
Leaving behind the insular world of ‘individuality’
The evocative image which Saint Augustine uses is well-known: the image of the grains of wheat that, once they have been ground, are kneaded into the dough and baked. He said: "this process, which unites and transforms the separate grains into a single loaf, well represents “the unifying action of the Holy Spirit on the members of the Church, eminently achieved through the celebration of the Eucharist.”
“... as a true ‘sacrament of unity’ (the Eucharist) also produces unity among people. This is logical. If two are like a third, two persons are like Christ, they are like one another.
The Eucharist produces communion between us. This is splendid and, if humanity were to take it seriously, it would result in a paradise beyond our dreams. Because, if the Eucharist makes us one, then it is logical that each person treats the others as brothers and sisters. The Eucharist forms the family of the children of God, who are the brothers and sisters of Jesus and of one another. In the natural family itself there are rules which, if brought onto a supernatural level and applied on a vast scale, would change the world. In natural families everything is shared in common: life, home, furniture …. A family has its intimacy, its members know each other’s situations because they have communicated them to one another. The members of a family go out into the world bringing the warmth of the home and they can be useful to society, if they are honest and they come from a healthy family. A family is happy when it gathers round the table or sings or prays together. If the family is one of the most beautiful works of the creator what will the family of God’s children be like?”
Each one of us has a precise commitment to contribute in making humanity this family of children of God: to go out from the closed world of our individuality so as to encounter others.
“We must no longer think of ‘me’ but, rather, of ‘us’ – urges Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. This is the reason why, every day, we pray ‘Our Father’ for our daily bread. Breaking down the barriers between ourselves and our neighbours is the prerequisite for entering the divine life to which we are called.”
We also find Pope Francis going along this line, who in a recent general audience centred on the Eucharist, he urged the whole Church with these questions: “...we, - from the words of Pope Francis - when participating in Holy Mass, we find ourselves with all sorts of men and women: young people, the elderly, children; poor and well-off; locals and strangers alike; people with their families and people who are alone.... But the Eucharist which I celebrate, does it lead me to truly feel they are all like brothers and sisters? Does it increase my capacity to rejoice with those who are rejoicing and cry with those who are crying? Does it urge me to go out to the poor, the sick, the marginalized? Does it help me to recognize in theirs the face of Jesus? We all go to Mass because we love Jesus and we want to share, through the Eucharist, in his passion and his resurrection. But do we love, as Jesus wishes, those brothers and sisters who are the most needy?”
And this is love: “making ourselves one” in such a way that the others feel nourished by our love, comforted, relieved and understood. By instituting the Eucharist, Jesus illustrated, in a stupendous way, his way of doing things.
In this Chiara noted: “He makes himself ‘bread’ in order to enter into everyone, to make himself edible, to be one with everyone, to serve, to love everyone.”
But what happens when love of neighbour fails? We know: the Eucharist, truly the sacrament of unity, immediately asks us to reconcile with our neighbour every time this unity is broken. The Gospel tells us this. One of the phrases which Chiara especially highlighted right from the beginning of the Ideal, so that it may be lived out first of all by all of us of the Movement, is precisely the phrase taken from the “Sermon on the Mount” in Matthew: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Mt 5:23).
The Eucharist and the ut omnes unum sint
In fact Chiara was deeply convinced that “divine worship and the love between brothers and sisters that composes and recomposes unity among them absolutely cannot be separated from one another.”
In the Eucharist we experience, therefore, (these are also Chiara’s words) that “Jesus is there, with all his heart, completely there for everyone, completely there for each and every person on earth. From Him we can learn how human beings are truly all equal, all children of God, all his possible followers, all candidates for his Mystical Body. He has no preferences of people, he makes no discriminations… and, just with his existence, he tells us where our love must reach, opening ourselves to universal brotherhood.”
Therefore, when we celebrate the Eucharist together, we don’t only create the community because the Risen One is among us, but it’s precisely from there that we go towards the world. This is what happened – as we know – right from the beginning of the Ideal. After having gathered together for the Mass, they then spread out to the most varied places, stables, schools and offices, so as to proclaim the Gospel, telling the experience of the new Ideal life together, having ut omnes (unity) at heart. Chiara wrote: “We aimed at humanity, knowing that in order to save people, we, like Jesus, had first to pay with our lives and then to speak.”
What also strikes us of those times is the moment of thanksgiving after receiving Communion. Chiara wrote:
“We always recited Jesus’ final prayer, the prayer of unity.
It is the one we recited together this morning.
It was our way of praying. We expected that after receiving Communion, Jesus would be within us. And, since they told us that we are not the ones to receive him but it is He who receives us, we felt that we were another Christ and we said that we would lend Him our mouth so that he could repeat his final prayer, the prayer of unity. It was a supplication so that unity would be accomplished and this is already a reality in progress.”
This arduous commitment, which was borne witness to in such an intense way by the first generation of our Movement, must today ever more animate also our conventions, the meetings and the Mariapolises. In this sense we could ask ourselves whether the Mass is still lived as the central moment of our days as to experience, individually and all together, the complete power of the Eucharist as sacrament of unity.
Even today, at the end of every celebration, we should be enveloped by that atmosphere of joy that urges each one of us to go back to our own environment to bear witness to this unity with the Risen One: in our families, homes, workplaces, everywhere, “with the ardent desire of evangelization which enflames hearts, with the certainty that, in this way, the presence of the Risen One among human beings becomes a reality as He had promised (cf. Mt 18:20).”
The Eucharist and the secret of the Resurrection
But there is still another fundamental effect of the Eucharist in those who receive it with the rightful conditions, highlighted by Chiara in such a specific way that it cannot be disregarded: the Eucharist brings about the resurrection of the flesh opening wide for us eternal life.
We read in John’s Gospel: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day” (Jn 6:54). They are Jesus’ words.
Therefore, in the Eucharist we could say that we receive the guarantee of the bodily resurrection at the end of the world. “This pledge of the future resurrection – affirmed Pope John Paul II in an Encyclical totally dedicated to the Eucharist – comes from the fact that the flesh of the Son of Man, given as food, is his body in its glorious state after the resurrection. With the Eucharist we digest, as it were, the ‘secret’ of the resurrection.”
In this resurrection there is also the habitat of human beings, the cosmos, creation itself, which – as Paul wrote to the Romans – “for the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God” (Rm 8:19).
“Jesus, who died and rose again, is certainly the true cause of the transformation of the cosmos”, but perhaps... – perceived Chiara - Jesus also expects “the cooperation of people, ‘Christified’ by his Eucharist, in order to accomplish the renewal of the cosmos.”
If the Eucharist is the cause of the resurrection, the resurrection of a human being, is it not possible – Chiara asked herself – “that the body of a human being, divinized by the Eucharist, may be destined to decay underground in order to contribute to the resurrection of the cosmos?”
These intuitions are already present in the writings of Paradise 1949, where we read among other things:
“Human bodies can be renewed (rise up) only in the end because they are linked to nature. They will bring about in nature, by dying in it (incinerating) what the Eucharist brings about for human beings: they will re-evangelize nature, that is, they will make it new. And there will be new heavens and new earth, renewed by us: king of creation, gods of creation, redeemers of creation.”
“The Eucharist redeems us and makes us God. We, with our death, redeem and make nature God. Therefore nature emerges as the incarnation of the Word, as the continuation of Jesus’ body. Besides, when Jesus became flesh, he took on human nature in which all nature converges.”
What a great vision!
“The Church – thanks to the Eucharist – is made up of divinized people, made God, united to Christ who is God and to each other,” called to journey towards the Bosom of the Father together with the whole of creation. Everything came out from God and therefore returns, because of the Eucharist, in God. Ineffable mystery, before which we can only remain, contemplate, worship, and thus conclude together with Chiara in this way, as she wrote:
Ineffable mystery, before which we can only remain, contemplate, worship, and thus conclude together with Chiara in this way, as she wrote:
“Jesus you have a great plan for us, and you are carrying it out through the centuries. It is to make us one with you so that we may be where you are. You came from the Trinity down to earth, and it was the will of the Father that you return, but you did not want to go back alone, you wanted to go back together with us. This, then, is the long journey: from the Trinity to the Trinity, passing through the mysteries of life and death, of suffering and glory. How wonderful that the Eucharist is also ‘an offering of thanks’. Only through the Eucharist can we ever thank you enough.”