Monthly Spiritual Message
“The Sacrament of Love” and Saint Francis
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI released his Second Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis, The Sacrament of Love, 22nd February 2007. In his introduction he writes: “The sacrament of charity, the Holy Eucharist, is the gift that Jesus Christ makes of himself, thus revealing to us God’s infinite love for every man and woman. This wondrous sacrament makes manifest that greater love which led him to ‘lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn ). Jesus did indeed love them “to the end”. In those words the Evangelist introduces Christ’s act of immense humility: before dying for us on the Cross, he tied a towel around himself and washed the feet of his disciples. In the same way, Jesus continues, in the sacrament of the Eucharist to love us “to the end” even to offering us his body and blood. What amazement must the Apostles have felt in witnessing what the Lord did and said during that Supper! What wonder must the Eucharistic mystery also awaken in our own hearts!”
In the first part of his Letter he tells us that the Eucharist is a Mystery to be believed in faith. We need a “renewed awareness of the decisive role played by the Holy Spirit. Through the working of the Spirit, Christ himself continues to be present and active in his Church, starting with her vital centre which is the Eucharist. It must never be forgotten that our reception of Baptism and Confirmation, is ordered to the Eucharist. The gifts of the Spirit are given for the building up of Christ’s Body and for ever greater witness to the Gospel in the world. The Holy Eucharist brings Christian initiation to completion, and represents the centre and goal of all sacramental life. A love for the Eucharist leads to a growing appreciation of the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Fathers of the Church emphasized that the outcome of the process of conversion is also the restoration of full ecclesial communion, expressed in a return to the Eucharist.
In the Sacrament of Holy Orders, “the priest is victim and altar, the mediator between God the Father and his people, who offers himself on the altar of the Cross…The ordained minister also acts in the name of the whole Church …above all when presenting the prayer of the Church…avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality…it is the office of the good shepherd who offers his life for his sheep.” The Eucharist, as a sacrament of charity, has a particular relationship with the love of man and woman united in marriage. A deeper understanding of this relationship is needed at the present time. The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. If the Eucharist expresses the irrevocable nature of God’s love in Christ for his Church, we can then understand why it implies, with regard to the sacrament of Matrimony, that indissolubility to which all true love necessarily aspires.
The Holy Father ends this first Chapter of the “Sacrament of Love” referring to the life to come. The Eucharistic banquet is described in the New Testament as the “marriage-feast of the Lamb” to be celebrated in the joy of the communion of saints. Celebrating the memorial of our salvation, strengthens our hope in the resurrection of the body, and in the possibility of meeting once again, face to face, those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. And finally, in Mary most holy, we also see perfectly fulfilled the sacramental way that God comes down to meet his creatures and involves them in his saving work. Obedient faith in response to God’s work shapes her life at every moment.
“She is the Immaculata, who receives God’s gift unconditionally, the model for each of us, called to receive the gift that Jesus makes of himself in the Eucharist.”
It has been said of St. Francis, that when he spoke of the Lord Jesus, he had foremost in his thoughts the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. In his Testament he wrote: “In this world, I see nothing corporally of the Most High Son of God, but His most holy body and blood in the Eucharist.” In his “Reminders to the Brothers” he explains: “Our Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples…I am the way, the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me. If you had recognized Me, you would have recognized my Father too.
Now the Father dwells in light that cannot be penetrated, and nobody has ever seen God. Because God is a spirit, He can only be seen by means of the spirit; for it is the Spirit that gives life, whereas the flesh is of no avail. But since the Son is like the Father, He too is seen by nobody otherwise than the Father is seen, or otherwise than the Holy Spirit is seen. And so it was that those who saw Our Lord Jesus Christ only in a human way, and did not see nor believe that He was the true Son of God - as His divine nature demand - they all stood condemned. And so now with all those who see the Blessed Sacrament, sanctified by our Lord’s words on the altar through the hands of the priest, in the form of bread and wine – if they do not see and believe as the spirit and divine nature demand, that it is truly the most holy body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, they stand condemned, for it is the Most High who bears witness to it. He says: “This is My body, and the blood of the New Testament,” and “he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood, has life everlasting.”
“Thus it is the spirit of the Lord, which dwells in those who believe in Him, that truly receives the most holy body and blood of our Lord. All the rest, who have nothing of that spirit and presume to receive Him, eat and drink judgment to themselves. So, you children of men, how long is your sense going to stay dull? Why do you not see the truth and believe in the Son of God? See day after day, He humbles Himself, as when He came down from His royal throne into the Virgin’s womb. Day by day He comes to us personally in this lowly form. Daily He comes down from the bosom of His Father, on the altar into the hands of the priest. And just as He appeared before the holy apostles in true flesh, so now He has us see Him in the sacred bread. Looking at Him with the eyes of their flesh, they saw only His flesh, but regarding Him with the eyes of the spirit, they believed that He was God. In like manner, as we see bread and wine with our bodily eyes, let us see and believe firmly that it is His most holy body and blood, true and living. For in this way our Lord is ever present among those who believe in him, according to what he said: ‘Behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world’.”
As Fr. Augustine
expresses it: “The faith of Francis beholds behind the crystal of the
monstrance, on the linen of the altar, and on the tongue of the communicant,
the hands and feet, the personality and the saving grace of Him who once walked
the fields of Galilee and Judea, and to whom he himself had sworn allegiance as
a knight of the cross. And this unfathomable mystery and infinite treasure, the
priest calls back from the bygone days of
I believe St. Francis, were he alive today, would read and re-read Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Letter on “The Sacrament of Love” with deep love and appreciation.
Spiritual Assistant SFO –
Regional Ministers are requested to distribute this Monthly Message
to all Local Fraternities in the Regional Fraternity.