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Summer 2005

The Stream of Mission from the Heart of Christ

When we enter into the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we do not enter into the presence of a static reality, but rather, into a dynamic Presence which is personal, living, and loving. Upon entering a church where the Sacrament is reserved, we enter into the stream which flows “from below the threshold of the temple” (Ez 47:1). Such is the nature of the Eucharist, “the font and summit of life in the Church” (Lumen Gentium, 21). As a true font, it flows with the life-giving water of grace. We benefit greatly by plunging into the streams of this font by visiting and adoring Jesus Christ truly present in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. But we benefit even more when this font enters into us by means of the reception of Holy Communion. When we drink of this font in Holy Communion, what Jesus once promised is realized: “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14). And again, in another place: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to Me, and let the one who believes in Me drink. As the Scripture has said, ‘Out of His Heart shall flow rivers of living water. Now He said this about the Spirit, which believers in Him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified’” (Jn 7:38-9).

Christ “gave up His Spirit” on the Cross as a gift to the Church. When the members of the Mystical Body of Christ receive this Gift they are then able to carry this Divine Treasure out into the world. Such is the dignity of each member of the Christian faithful: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor 6:19). The presence of the Holy Spirit in the faithful should radiate for the benefit of others, as St. Basil the Great wrote: “As clear, transparent substances become very bright when sunlight falls on them and shine with a new radiance, so also souls in whom the Spirit dwells, and who are enlightened by the Spirit, become spiritual themselves and a source of grace for others” (Treatise on the Holy Spirit, ch. 23).

This stream of God’s grace which flows into our hearts is renewed in every Holy Communion. The nature of this stream is indicated in the meaning of the word communion. On one hand communion has the sense of the Latin words: cum—with; unio—union; that is, “to be in union with”. But it can also be understood to be formed by the words: cum—with; munia—duties, functions; that is to say, “to share the same tasks or works”. Our communion with Christ should lead not only to a static union of existence, but also to a union of action. The two should go together, as the philosophical axiom puts it: “action follows upon being”. By virtue of our true union with Christ, we are to share the same duties and works as He. Through communion we are hired as laborers in the vineyard of the Lord. We become “God’s fellow workers” (1 Cor 3:9) and “co-workers with the truth” (3 Jn 1:8). Just as the Presence of Jesus in the tabernacle of the Church is not just static but also dynamic, so also the Presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ in the temple of our body is a dynamic and life-giving reality.

The faithful having received Jesus in Holy Communion are sent on mission: “Ite, missa est!” Jesus said to His Apostles at the Last Supper: “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask Him in My name” (Jn 15:16). And again, after the Resurrection: “As the Father has sent Me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21). In the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah was given a vision of the heavenly liturgy, the Seraphim singing: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Is 6:3). Following this vision of the praise of the highest choir of angels, the Lord then asked, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” (Is 6:8). The prophet responded with readiness, “Here am I; send me!” Such should be the readiness of all who are given the grace to partake in the heavenly liturgy.

When the Son entered into the world on mission from the Father He said: “Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a Body You have prepared for Me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘See, I have come to do Your will, O God’”(Heb 10:7-8). Likewise, the on-going mission of the Son in the Eucharist calls for a similar echo in the hearts of all the faithful. Mary was the first to realize fully this grace of the Christian mission. This swift obedience of the Son in the Incarnation had an immediate echo in the Immaculate Virgin who said: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to Your will” (Lk 1:38). Further, as Pope John Paul II wrote: Mary also anticipated, in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Church’s Eucharistic faith. When at the Visitation she bore in her womb the Word made flesh, she became in some way a ‘tabernacle’—the first ‘tabernacle’ in history—in which the Son of God, still invisible to our human gaze, allowed Himself to be adored by Elizabeth, radiating His light as it were through the eyes and the voice of Mary” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 55).

The Eucharist calls for mission as Pope John Paul II affirmed: “The two disciples of Emmaus, upon recognizing the Lord, ‘set out immediately’ (cf. Lk 24:33) in order to report what they had seen and heard. Once we have truly met the Risen One by partaking of His Body and Blood, we cannot keep to ourselves the joy we have experienced. The encounter with Christ, constantly intensified and deepened in the Eucharist, issues in the Church and in every Christian an urgent summons to testimony and evangelization” (Mane Nobiscum Domine, 24).

The Holy Spirit acts in and through the members of Christ’s Mystical Body. St. Paul speaks of the Church as: “[Christ’s] Body, the fullness of Him Who fills all in all” (Eph 1:23). At first glance it would seem strange that St. Paul would refer to the Church as the fullness of Christ. Would it not be more accurate to say that Christ is the fullness of the Church? In a certain sense, it is clear that “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph 3:8) are what fills the members of the Church “with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19). But St. Paul is teaching here that in a certain sense the Church brings to completion the work of Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Commentary on the Letter to the Ephesians, clarifies the meaning of this verse by explaining the analogy of the body that St. Paul uses. In some way we can say that our body is the “fullness of our soul”. That is to say, our soul has certain powers which can only be realized in and through our body. For example, the human soul has the power of vision. But it depends upon the health of the eye to determine if and to what extent the soul will be able to exercise this power. In a similar way, the soul is also dependent upon the body for other operations of man that are effected through the body and its organs.

In an analogous way, although it would be possible for the Holy Spirit to realize the sanctification of mankind all by Himself, the Blessed Trinity has ordained that the Holy Spirit act in and through Christ and His members of the Church. Whereas the soul cannot exercise its power of sight without the cooperation of the physical eye, the Holy Spirit will not act in the world for the salvation and sanctification of mankind except in and through the members of the Church. This divine action is realized either through the external actions of the faithful or by the Holy Spirit working through the intercessory power of the faithful. The various charisms that are given to the individual members of the Church are distinct ways in which the Holy Spirit “fulfills” or completes the power of Christ in and through the Church. The extent to which the members of the Church cooperate is the extent to which the Church as a whole will be led to the “fullness of Christ”, as St. Paul writes: “And He Himself gave some to be Apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13).

To “cooperate” with the Holy Spirit means to willingly serve as a “handmaid of the Lord”, that is, as a docile servant of God after the example of Mary and the holy angels. We are called to be “instruments of God’s peace”, to use a phrase of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. Every instrument is used according to the mode proper to the instrument. Irrational instruments such as a shovel, a knife or a paint brush are expected to act in accordance to the reasoned desires of the one who uses them, without lending any additional reasoned consideration. As the prophet Isaiah remarks: “Shall the axe vaunt itself over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!” (Is 10:15).

An intelligent instrument, on the other hand, lends its own rational powers to the work to be done. A servant is an intelligent instrument. Whether the servant is human or angelic, he uses his own intelligence in the fulfillment of his Master’s command.

When we fulfill our mission, we impress our own personality and character upon that work. Each instrument lends its own proper qualities to the work to be done. A sculptor has many chisels. Each has a different shape, size, and length. Each effects the work in its own unique way. So also God, the Divine Artist, has endowed man and angel with many diverse talents. When He chooses certain men to accomplish something, He does not use them as though they were formless instruments. Rather, He uses their many diverse talents and gifts in order to accomplish His work. An example of this truth is found in the way that God inspired the writers of Sacred Scripture according to the teaching of the Catechism:

To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while He employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though He acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever He wanted written, and no more. (Dei Verbum, 11 cited in CCC 106)

The first point is that God chose certain men. It is He who chose them, and He chose the ones He knew would be the correct instruments. The second point is that they “made full use of their own faculties and powers”. They applied to the work at hand their own human efforts and intelligence, thus giving it a stamp of their own personality. This is evident if we compare the styles and vocabulary and grammar proper to each of the sacred writers. They are all unique. Nevertheless, being completely docile to God, God was able to consign to writing “whatever He wanted written, and no more”. It is clear that the charism of the inspiration of Sacred Scripture is altogether singular. Still, it is emblematic of the docility to which all Christians should aspire.

It may also be noted that the inspiration of Sacred Scripture came through the mediation of the holy angels. In particular, the “Four Living Creatures”, angels from the choir of Cherubim seen by the prophet Ezechiel (10:9-21) and St. John as described in the Book of Revelation (4:6-7), have been associated with the four Gospel writers. The Living Creature that has the appearance of a man is associated with St. Matthew. The one with the appearance of lion is associated with St. Mark. The one with the appearance of an ox is associated with St. Luke. Finally, the one with the appearance of an eagle is associated with St. John. One reason the Fathers of the Church made this association was because they noted certain characteristics proper to each of these creatures reflected in each corresponding Gospel. This correspondence indicates that even the angels who brought the inspiration of God for Holy Scripture added to that inspiration their own personal characteristics. This personal influence was willed by God, as it is willed by God in the case of every instrument, especially personal instruments. To serve God does not involve a loss of personal identity. To the contrary, it leads to the most perfect fulfillment of our own uniqueness. For in this way, none of the distinct members of the Mystical Body could be confused with another in its proper function.

God desires that we fulfill our mission as prophet, priest and king within His Church in cooperation with His holy angels. In the Apocalypse, twice the angel said to St. John: “I am a fellow servant with you and your comrades who hold the testimony of Jesus. Worship God! For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev 19:10).

The possibility of bearing fruit that will last depends upon our continued union with Christ. “Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who abide in Me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from Me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:4-5). This union is established especially through Holy Communion, whether sacramental or spiritual. It can be deepened especially through adoration and contemplation in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

Pope John Paul II wrote that the Eucharist not only gives the interior strength needed to fulfill our mission, but it also provides our mission-plan. He pointed out three elements of this plan: thanksgiving, solidarity with all humanity and service for the least (cf. Mane Nobiscum Domine, 25). Eucharistic devotion necessarily includes a sense of “communion” with all. Pope John Paul II points out that “St. Paul vigorously reaffirms the impropriety of a Eucharistic celebration lacking charity expressed by practical sharing with the poor (cf. 1 Cor 11:17-22, 27-34). We cannot delude ourselves: by our mutual love and, in particular, by our concern for those in need we will be recognized as true followers of Christ (cf. Jn 13:35; Mt 25:31-46). This will be the criterion by which the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebrations is judged” (ibid.).

Members of the Work of the Holy Angels are called in a special way to fulfill their mission in conscious collaboration with the holy angels. The angels can help us recognize the needs of those around us. Whether we are in the position to help materially, emotionally or through prayer, the angels wish to open our eyes to see and inspire our heart with the courage to serve those in need of our assistance. They also can help us to deal with other people by working in cooperation with their guardian angels.

Further, the angels help us to recognize the mission that the Providence of God offers. Wherever we find ourselves, whether it be according to our own plan or due to some unhappy circumstance, if we are open to the light of the angel, we will see how our mission at every moment is to “irrigate” the place where we are with the waters of grace. Whether it be at the airport, the shopping mall or in a traffic jam, all the people we pass will experience the presence of this dynamic grace of Christ in our hearts. In this way the stream that originates from the Heart of Christ on the Cross not only flows in adoration, contemplation, and expiation, as we discussed in previous meditations, but it also flows forth as mission within the Church, through its dynamic presence in the faithful members of His Mystical Body. Together with the angels let us strive to fulfill our mission of drawing with joy from this font of salvation for the eternal benefit of the Church and the world.  

Fr. Basil Nortz, ORC