Chris Hilder is a public servant in Canberra working for the Australian Department of Defence in Project Performance Management. He has a degree in Law and a Graduate Certificate in Strategic Procurement.
The first line in the Nick Cave song Into My Arms states: "I don't believe in an interventionist God". I would venture this sentiment is widespread in modern society. But is it an accurate view?
We read in Isaiah: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel" (Is 7:14). Emmanuel means God with us, namely, the eternal Son of God became man and lived among us in the most humble manner.
What inconceivable love God has for us that he reached right down to the depths of the earth to meet us as we are. Yet, God's infinite love desired even more.
The words "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt 4:17) remind us of the beginning of God's Kingdom in human history, the Kingdom that saves us from sin and the consequence of sin, which is death, the Kingdom that ends the separation between God and ourselves, and the Kingdom of eternal life.
This is why Christ our Saviour came: to seek us out and to draw us into the eternal love of God.
However, a prerequisite for the Kingdom is a personal conversion of the heart so as to do God's will and thereby live holy lives. But our purely human efforts at holiness must inevitably fail.
Our Lord provided the remedy: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Jn 3:5). Through Baptism we become a child of God, spiritually reborn with a new life - an interior life of divine grace, a sharing in the eternal life of God. We enter the Kingdom of God through a new quality of existence, another level of being in which the Holy Spirit lives in our soul. What unspeakable dignity our God has given us. How grateful we should be and how careful to nurture this divine life.
Christ then summarised the entire spiritual life for us: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me" (Jn 14:6). Christ is God revealed in the flesh, not some impersonal universal law or concept.
The true meaning of spirituality is to know Jesus, to imitate him and to form a relationship with him. Hence we should love to read the Gospels, for through them Christ reveals himself and the Father, and speaks to each one of us personally. The greatness, goodness and mercy of God is put before us, convincing us of the need to persevere in repentance and of God's power to change each one of us.
But God's love was still not satisfied, for Our Lord told the Apostles: "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer" (Jn 22:15).
At the Last Supper Christ knew that he was leaving, but he longed for that night in order to provide a gift guaranteeing it would not be a separation. Instead, through the institution of the Eucharist, he would be with all of us whom he loves, even while we are still on earth.
What exquisite courtesy and graciousness. The privilege is ours, yet Christ made it seem as if we are honouring him.
He later assured us: "I am with you always, to the close of the age" (Mt 28:20).
The "you" in the above sentence refers to the living Church - all Catholics worldwide. It is in the Church's offering of the Eucharist that Christ continues to communicate with us most powerfully and that we have fellowship with him.
But true fellowship requires unity. For this reason it is important that we remain reconciled to God and make use of the Sacrament of Penance frequently so that we do not profane the fellowship as Judas did when he premeditated the betrayal of our Lord. Then with an undivided heart we can focus more attentively on Christ's presence in the Eucharist and rejoice that we have the same privilege as the Apostles, to be in his presence. In the Eucharist Christ is not far away, he is here. Yet, this was still not enough.
For Christ is not simply present in the Eucharist, he is our spiritual food: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day" (Jn 6:53-54).
The body, blood, soul and divinity of the Risen Christ is graciously given to us in Holy Communion. By this gift of himself, Christ in- creases within us the gift of his Holy Spirit, already poured out in Baptism. We are also drawn more deeply into eternal life here on earth and given a pledge of our bodily resurrection at the end of the world. It is supreme nourishment that works to strengthen and build up virtue and love in us who come to receive him with receptive hearts. It achieves this in a profound way.
Everyone who is in love desires to be with his loved one. Lovers desire that where there were formerly two, there now will be one. And the stronger the love, the greater the obstacles it can overcome. Christ's love is so great that nothing short of spiritual union will suffice: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him" (Jn 6:56).
In Holy Communion Christ and his loved ones rest in one another. He achieves intimate union with us here on earth, even if this union is not perfect because we are not perfect.
The purpose of our eating and our union is to be changed into Christ: "I am the living bread" (Jn 6:51). Normal food is assimilated into the body and broken down. When we eat the living bread, an opposite process takes place. The bread of life is the Lord who assimilates us and transforms us into himself. Holy Communion is the most sublime means of being changed into Christ. If we co-operate this process continues until we are so like Christ that it can be said that we abide in him.
And there is another dimension to this union: "Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread" (1 Cor. 10:17).
By being united to our Lord, we are united in him and with one another. Taking Holy Communion is not just a private affair between the Lord and myself, for it is a meal of fellowship with all members of the Church. It expresses and effects unity with one another in Christ. We eat the body of Christ to become the body of Christ. We are no longer separate, rather we are brothers and sisters in Christ, and this gift is open to everyone who believes.
There is nothing that stokes the fire of love in our hearts more than the Eucharist. It is the Sacrament of Communion with God and with one another, and our means for living out Christ's commandment: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (Jn 13:34).
The Eucharist has a still deeper significance because these fruits of the Eucharist flow from the Eucharist making present the Passion and death of Christ. It is from the Sacrifice of the Cross that the Eucharist derives its power: "Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.' And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, 'Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26: 26-28) [my emphasis].
The Eucharist makes present in a most realistic fashion Christ as he hung broken on Calvary in death. Body and blood separated on the altar signify Christ on the Cross just when the last drop of blood drained from his body. The Eucharist is first and foremost the Sacrament of Sacrifice in which Christ, the Lamb of God, the perfect sacrifice, willingly offered himself to the Father.
Christ did not offer himself to God on his own behalf, but on behalf of us all in order to free us from the slavery of sin: "This is my body which is given for you é This cup which is poured out for you" (Lk 22:19-20) [my emphasis].
By his sacrifice our punishment is replaced with peace; by his wounds we are healed; by obeying unto death, Christ made us, who have been disobedient through sin, right with God. In his death, we have been saved. Jesus' love for every person is present in the Eucharist. If we come with an open heart then we are drawn into his love for us. We see and are penetrated with the love of God. This presents us with a profound opportunity. Every one who is loved desires to respond to their lover with love.
Our Lord's words, "Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk 22:19), mean not only to offer the Sacrifice of Christ, but personally to do the essence of what Christ did as well. We must come to the Eucharist ready to "break" ourselves for God. To offer to God our willingness to be obedient to his will just as Christ was obedient for us. By accepting God's will, every cross we bear can be turned into an act of love just as Christ turned his death into the perfect act of love.
This is my body, my blood. I accept whatever you send me. Thus our life, our sorrows, disappointments, failures, joys, and successes can be offered in love. In doing this we truly share in Christ's death, in his sacrifice that is made present to us in the Eucharist, rather than being mere passive observers.
The Eucharist has a further profound aspect: "From the rising of the sun until its setting, my name is great among the Gentiles; and in every place there will be sacrifice to my name é a pure oblation" (Mal 1:11).
The Eucharist is a gift for our sake, but it is not one-sided. The Eucharist at its deepest level is the new and perfect worship of God. It promotes the glory of God as well as our own salvation. Nothing is so useful for us as to adore and worship God. In the Eucharist we are able to approach God and offer the perfect Sacrifice that reaches the very Throne of God, a sweet perfume that is pleasing to the Lord God Almighty.
Finally, a beautiful and powerful extension of this Sacrament of Sacrifice is in Eucharistic adoration outside of the Mass. The Gospel account is appropriate here: "And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, 'Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak'" (Mk 14:37-38) [my emphasis].
As we have seen, at its most profound, sacrifice is always related to worship. It is therefore fitting that we prolong the Eucharist through adoration of our Lord's presence in the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle or especially when the consecrated host is exposed for adoration. In Eucharistic adoration we have a heart to heart dialogue with Jesus, we hear him address us as friends, and find a new intimacy, a deep bonding of our hearts in inexpressible love.
We continue drawing from the graces of the Mass and find the healing we need. At the commencement of our Lord's Passion, his three closest friends let him down by not staying awake and sharing in his Agony in the Garden, but still he found an excuse for them. In Eucharistic adoration we fulfil Jesus' request of his disciples in the Garden to "watch and pray".
This Year of the Eucharist is a fitting time to give thanks for this great miracle of love. A miracle repeated every day in countless places worldwide. The Eucharist is the constant presence of the warmth and light of God's love in the world.
Ironically, a later line in the Nick Cave song states, "but I believe in love". Yes, God has intervened in our world and continues to intervene in our hearts, where we need it most.
The Navarre Bible New Testament, Compact Edition, Scepter Publishers, Princeton, NJ, 2001.
My Meditation on the Gospel by Rev James E. Sullivan, Confraternity of the Precious Blood, Brooklyn, NY, 1962.
Becoming Fire by Father Ken Barker, Missionaries of God's Love, Freedom Publishing, Melbourne, Vic, 2001.
To be a Pilgrim by Cardinal Basil Hume, OSB, St Paul Publications, London, 1984.
Ecclesia De Eucharistia, Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul II, 2003.
Mane Nobiscum Domine, Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, 2004.
"Eucharistic adoration - God is near us" by Bishop Julian Porteous, Catholic Weekly, 6 March 2005.
God Is Near Us, The Eucharist, The Heart of Life by Pope Benedict XVI, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, CA, 2003.
A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist by Abbot Vonier, Zaccheus Press, Bethesda, MD, 2003-2004.