St. Theophilus of the second-century exclaims: “(consuming the Body of Christ) makes man divine, by inebriating him, as it were, with divinity.”
How much time has passed since my Baptism, my second birth? O that it feels like an eternity! “Pray without ceasing,” St. Paul says. And I realize now that I can no longer cease for a moment on my journey to perfect sanctification. Prayer for my salvation was answered both long before and soon as the waters washed over me, yet salvation is not a battle but a war.
“Know you not, that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) Without the Spirit, faith is impossible. Faith itself is a shield; “In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one” (Eph 6:16).
Why is faith a shield? I have learned that it is so because with faith one may always be reminded of the presence of God. How apt are you to commit grave evil in front of your parents, grandparents, law enforcement, a man of high standing in the town, and the like? We restrain ourselves out of love, obedience, fear of shame, or fear of consequence. How much more then shall we, if we realize we are unceasingly in the presence of God, refrain from sinning against Him? A soldier shall not last long without his shield, and neither shall a Christian last long without faith.
It is not merely good enough to remove a disease if you don’t work toward recuperation. Likewise, it is not good enough to only remove evil from one’s life. One must also add goodness, as God himself is goodness. It is not Christian perfection to only defend, as indicated by the shield, one must also be on the offensive, as shown by the sword.
If faith be the shield, what then is the sword? “The sword,” St. Paul writes, “is the Spirit (which is the word of God).” (Eph 6:17) The Holy Spirit is love itself. The highest form of love, charity, is one of the three theological virtues. Charity is the action of extending love to others unconditionally. Without condition, love must be offered to others since the model of love, Christ’s offering of his entire self to us, was given to us though we offended him with every possible offense.
It was this sense of unworthiness that made St. Paul strive to be one of the greatest of the saints. How short do all of our actions fall when we behold Christ ascend up His mountain of suffering? On the Cross, when it appeared as if His irresistible love, signified with his opened arms, was held back from embracing us by the nails of our sins, the Redeemer rose up in glory to the heights of Heaven.
Before this great show of wonders, He left us the Spirit (Acts 2). How much more contagious is a plague that cannot be perceived in those who are sick? Christ ascended away from us, so that with the invisible Spirit, God could move amongst a greater flock, all the more unrecognizable. “Blessed are they that have not seen, and have believed.” (John 20:29)
“Let him be accursed,” St. Paul says of those who “[have] no love for the Lord (1 Cor 16:22). But how can one love God? St. John the Apostle shall lead us a step toward our answer: “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20) Perhaps someone shall ask God how they are able to love Him who they can’t see. “And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) Thus, St. Catherine says that “if one wants to see how much someone loves their God, see how much they love their neighbor.”
The Holy Sacraments
The same matter of the invisible working through the visible applies to the Sacraments. The third-century theologian Tertullian wrote in The Resurrection of the Dead that: “No soul whatever is able to obtain salvation unless it has believed while it was in the flesh. Indeed, the flesh is the hinge of salvation. . . . The flesh, then, is washed [baptism] so that the soul may be made clean. The flesh is anointed so that the soul may be dedicated to holiness. The flesh is signed so that the soul may be fortified. The flesh is shaded by the imposition of hands [confirmation] so that the soul may be illuminated by the Spirit. The flesh feeds on the body and blood of Christ [the Eucharist] so that the soul too may feed on God. They cannot, then, be separated in their reward, when they are united in their works.”
When Christ was baptized, “the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove.“ (Luke 3:22) “After you had come up from the pool of the sacred streams,” St. Cyril of Jerusalem of the fourth-century writes,” there was given chrism, the antitype of that with which Christ was anointed, and this is the Holy Spirit. But beware of supposing that this is ordinary ointment. For just as the bread of the Eucharist after the invocation of the Holy Spirit is simple bread no longer, but the body of Christ, so also this ointment is no longer plain ointment, nor, so to speak, common, after the invocation.” [Catechetical Lectures, 21 [A.D. 350])
How can the power of the invisible God be worked through what is before our eyes? The power of God. The power of He who wishes it to be so. Why do we have the Sacraments at all? God wishes it that way. Cyril continues, “Further, it [the ointment] is the gracious gift of Christ, and it is made fit for the imparting of his Godhead by the coming of the Holy Spirit. This ointment is symbolically applied to your forehead and to your other senses; while your body is anointed with the visible ointment, your soul is sanctified by the holy and life-giving Spirit.”
Baptism and Confirmation are gifts which are worthy of infinite praise, but the Most Blessed Sacrament, as the Council of Trent calls it, the Eucharist, is worthy of worship, for it is God Himself. Its mystery is that God conceals His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, His true and Real Presence beneath the appearance of bread and wine. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote of his desire for Christ in the Eucharist before his martyrdom: “I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible.” (Letter to the Romans [A.D. 110])
If the Eucharist is truly the Flesh of Christ, “Why see we not the flesh?” the second-century Christian St. Theophilus of Antioch asks. And he answers, “Because, if the flesh were seen, it would revolt us to such a degree, that we should be unable to partake of it. And therefore in condescension to our infirmity, the mystical food is given to us under an appearance suitable to our minds. He gave His flesh for the life of the world, in that, by dying, He destroyed death.” After speaking of the true presence of infinite Divinity itself within the Eucharist, Theophilus exclaims: “(consuming the Body of Christ) makes man divine, by inebriating him, as it were, with divinity.”
Do you still ponder why the pinnacle of all salvation is before our eyes at Mass? Take this answer by the golden mouth of St. John Chrysostom:
“Christ did this to bring us to a closer bond of friendship, and to betoken His love toward us, giving Himself to those who desire Him, not only to behold Him, but also to handle Him, to eat Him, to embrace Him with the fullness of their whole heart. Therefore as lions breathing fire do we depart from that table, rendered objects of terror to the devil. (…) “For this Blood molds in us a royal image, it suffers not our nobleness of soul to waste away, moreover it refreshes the soul, and inspires it with great virtue. This Blood puts to flight the devils, summons angels, and the Lord of angels. This Blood poured forth washed the world, and made heaven open. They that partake of it are built up with heavenly virtues, and arrayed in the royal robes of Christ; yes rather clothed upon by the King Himself.”
O how great is the Mass! Not in which the Sacrifice on Calvary is repeated, as to lessen its effect, but in its true authenticity, before all who are called to the Supper of the Lamb, in the fullness of its power, in the vastness of its eternal glory!
St. John Chrysostom:
“What are you doing, O man? When the priest says: ‘Let us lift up our mind and our hearts,’ why do you not affirm and say: ‘We lift them up to the Lord?’ You are not afraid? You are not ashamed of being found a liar at this terrible moment? Bless me, what a wonder! The Mystical Table is prepared, the Lamb of God is sacrificing Himself for you, the priest is struggling on your behalf, spiritual fire is gushing forth from the undefiled Table, the Cherubim are standing by and the Seraphim are flying, the sixwinged creatures are covering their faces, all the bodiless powers together with the priest are interceding on your behalf, the spiritual fire is descending, the blood from the Immaculate Side is emptying into the vessel for your purification, and you are not afraid, you do not blush, and you are found a liar at that terrible moment? The week has 168 hours and God set aside for Himself one hour only, and you spend it in worldly and ridiculous affairs and in company? With what boldness do you later approach the Mysteries? (On Repentance and Almsgiving, Homily 9)
Do you seek to love God, but do not feel loved? Then you love God. But where is the feeling? It is not love that is missing; it is consolation that is absent. Just as it is folly to seek consolation in a war, it is also, likewise, foolish to seek rest in the struggle for the salvation of our souls. Be always aware of what is invisible around you, “For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.” (Eph 6:12)” Always hold your shield of faith, which is to be aware of the presence of God at all times. Always hold your sword of the Spirit, of charity, the blade that is sharpened by meditating on the love of God most exemplified by His Sacrifice on the Cross.
“Just as Christ, after his baptism, and the coming upon him of the Holy Spirit, went forth and defeated the adversary,” St. Cyril says, “so also with you after holy baptism and the mystical chrism, having put on the panoply of the Holy Spirit, you are to withstand the power of the adversary and defeat him, saying, ‘I am able to do all things in Christ, who strengthens me’” (Catechetical Lectures). We must see this great King of ours charge valiantly and follow His lead. We must not look away. Always upon our lips should be the sweet words of “My Lord and my God. My Lord and My God.” (John 20:28)