Imitation of Christ: This is the final area of reflection on why Christ instituted the Real Presence. We have already seen that He gave us the Blessed Sacrament to communicate His graces to us and to give us the opportunity of professing to Our Lord our faith, hope and love.
But there is one more profound reason why God became man and remains man on earth in the Blessed Sacrament. He did so and He does so in order that we might imitate Him. In the following meditations we will examine the specific virtues which Christ wants us to imitate in His Real Presence. But in this reflection, we will first ask some basic questions:
- Why did God become man?
- How are we to imitate Christ as He lived during His visible life in Palestine?
- How are we to imitate Christ as He is now present in the Holy Eucharist?
Why did God become man?
As we have discussed more than once, God became man that He might, as the God-man, regain the human race by His passion and death on Calvary. We speculate if we ask whether the Incarnation would have taken place if man had not sinned. Maybe yes, maybe no. But we are certain that God indeed became man and that He did have a body which did die and a human will with which He did tell His Father, “Not my will, but thine be done.” This is the first and elemental reason for the Incarnation — our redemption.
But we know that our redemption is not some automatic effect which Christ produced in spite of us or independent of our cooperation. Christ did indeed win for us all the graces a sinful human race needs to be saved. And yes, Christ is the one and only mediator between sinful man and the Heavenly Father, but we’ve got to do something. That’s why we have a free will. The graces have been won for us, but we must have access to these graces and cooperate with Christ by using the graces we receive.
We believe the principle source of our redemptive graces is the Holy Eucharist. As we said earlier in this retreat, the Eucharist is a sacrament three times over: as Sacrifice Sacrament, Communion Sacrament and Presence Sacrament. But how are we to cooperate with the graces Christ is giving us? We do so by putting into practice the teachings of the Savior, such as those found in the New Testament in the Sermon on the Mount, in the eight Beatitudes, in Christ’s long discourse at the Last Supper found in St. John’s Gospel and in the scores of parables Christ preached. We must believe and put into practice all of Christ’s teachings.
But is that all we have to do to cooperate with Christ’s graces? No, it’s not enough just to follow His teachings. We must also follow His example. We believe Christ was the living God Who walked the streets of our earth. Therefore, His human actions were also the actions of the infinite God revealed in the finite humanity which God assumed. Thus, we see the necessity to meditate on the Gospels and study step-by-step how Christ lived during His visible stay on earth, so that by imitating the virtues He practices as man, we might become more and more like the God who wants to make us holy.
All the language we are using here only makes sense to those who want to become holy. What is holiness? Holiness is God-likeness, and since God has become man, holiness is Christ-likeness. All this is the essence of Christian sanctity. Thus, it is no surprise that the most widely-read book in the world after the Bible is The Imitation of Christ, in which we are told, quoting the Savior, “He who follows me walks not in darkness, but he will have the light of life.” By these words, Our Lord tells us to follow His teachings and His manner of life.
Imitating Christ’s visible life
To imitate is to become like that which you are “imitating.” St. Irenaeus, the second century Church Father, speaks of “reduplication” — reduplicating the way Jesus lived. The way Christ spoke — the way He did not speak. The way He acted — the way He did not react. Jesus is the divine model become man, telling us “follow My example as man, and you’ll become more and more like Me, Who am God.”
How do we imitate Christ in His visible stay on earth? Here are some examples: Meditate on Christ’s poverty at Bethlehem and put His example into practice as far as we can with His grace. Reflect on how for thirty years, He lived a life of hiddeness at Nazareth. How this needs to be imitated by our self-displaying, proud, vain, sophisticated world! Consider His patience under duress, His kindness under provocation, His humility under humiliation, His charity under demonic cruelty. All of these are to be thought about, reflected on then imitated in our own lives.
All the while, we are responding to Christ’s directives that no one “comes to the Father except through Me,” which here means through the imitation of His virtues that justify the Savior to say, “I am the way.” The key word is “the”. He meant “I, Who am God, have assumed a human nature to show you by My way of life the way you are to live, so that by living in this way, you will be on the way to Heaven.”
Imitating Christ in the Real Presence
All that we have said so far has prepared the way for understanding how Christ not only was the way during His life in Palestine, but is also the way now in the Holy Eucharist.
But before we reflect on how we can imitate Christ in the Real Presence, let’s remember what we said in previous meditations about “development of doctrine.” All that we’re saying in this retreat only makes sense if we understand that in 2,000 years, the divine revelation Christ gave us has not quantitatively increased by one iota, but qualitatively has become more and more clear and meaningful. Through the Holy Spirit, the Church grows in understanding the mysteries of Christianity. Among these mysteries, none is developed more meaningfully than the doctrine of the Real Presence.
Over almost two millennia of Christianity, the masters of the spiritual life have referred to the virtues which Christ not only practiced (past tense) during His first century in Asia Minor, but now practices (present tense) in His invisible and inaudible presence in the Blessed Sacrament. However, it was not until relatively recent times that the need for imitating Christ in His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist has been brought to the attention of the Catholic faithful as sharply as never before. Two saints especially stand out for their contribution to this Eucharistic development of doctrine: St. Margaret Mary Alacoque and St. Peter Julian Eymard. In their own ways, both saints gave great impetus to what we may now call the Imitation of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament.
We must always keep our minds focused on the fact that Christ in the Holy Eucharist is present in the fullness of His humanity, which as God cannot be imitated. That’s why God became man, that He might be “reduplicated” both in His mortal life on earth and in His glorified humanity invisibly present in the Blessed Sacrament. Therefore, when we speak of imitating Christ in the Real Presence, we are not speaking symbolically. We are not talking metaphorically. Christ is really, truly and fully present with a human nature, a human body, a human soul, and a human heart. Christ in the Real Presence is the real Christ. And He is present here in order not only to teach us by His illuminating grace or to move us by His inspiring grace. He is living in our midst also to show us how we are to follow Him. This understanding of the Real Presence will be important over the next three meditations as we reflect on how we can imitate Christ’s humility, poverty and charity in the Holy Eucharist.
I believe a good way to close this meditation is to quote from St. Peter Julian Eymard, where he is speaking of the Eucharist as the “Hidden God.” It will serve as a prelude to the following meditations on the Imitation of Christ in the Real Presence.
“We can understand why the Son of God loved man enough to become man Himself. The Creator must have been set on repairing the work of His hands. We can also understand how, from an excessive love, the God-man died on the cross. But something we cannot understand, something that terrifies those of little faith and scandalizes unbelievers, is the fact that Jesus Christ after having been glorified and crowned, after having completed His mission here below, wanted still to dwell with us and in a state more lowly and self-abasing than at Bethlehem, than on Calvary itself. With reverence, let us lift the mysterious veil that covers the Holy of Holies and let us try to understand the excessive love which our Savior has for us.”