We now begin our reflections on why Christ instituted the Eucharist as His bodily presence on earth. In this meditation, we will see that Christ did so in order to manifest His divine attributes of wisdom, power, love and mercy.
Of course we know that even before the Incarnation, God had manifested Himself through the world He created. The human mind could come to some knowledge of the existence and attributes of God by reasoning on the marvels of His creation. But not all people recognize God in His wonderful creations. St. Paul tells us the pagan world of his day, specifically the Roman world, was so ungodly in its conduct because it was so godless in its mind. They did not merely fail, but refused to recognize God from the work of His hands. Paul says these people are blameworthy for not seeing God. “Since the creation of the world, His [God’s] invisible attributes of everlasting power and His divinity have been understood through things that He made. And so they have no excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
What more could God do to reveal Himself? In His infinite goodness, God became man by His Incarnation. This is the cardinal truth of Christianity on which everything else depends and from which everything else derives. As we have been saying, the Holy Eucharist — the Real Presence — gathers all of its meaning from the fact of the Incarnation.
But why did God become man? For two basic reasons. First, God became man so that He might assume a human free will and by His death on the cross, freely sacrifice His human life for our salvation. It is both that simple and that profound. God became man so that He might have a body and a soul that could separate at death. And He became man not only that He might be able to die, but that He might die willingly, using His free will and thus voluntarily sacrificing His human life for the salvation of a sinful human race.
Secondly, having become man, God wanted to not only be man long enough to die on the cross and redeem the world. He became Incarnate so He might remain Incarnate for all eternity. The first reason for the Incarnation was satisfied, in time, on Calvary. The second reason will go on forever. Not only did God want to die for us; He wanted to live as one of us — the God-man as the object of our veneration and the continuing cause of our salvation.
The Incarnation Now on Earth
Before we take up each one of the four attributes of God, we should say something about the Real Presence as the Incarnation now on earth. Faith tells us that Christ, who is God Incarnate, was crucified, died, was buried, rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven. But our Catholic faith tells us much more. It tells us that the same Incarnate God, who is at the right hand of His Heavenly Father, is also on earth in the Holy Eucharist. That’s it. To know that is to know the meaning of the Holy Eucharist. Not to know that, is not to really understand what the Eucharist means.
What we’re talking about was beautifully expressed by Pope Pius XII a year before he became Pope. As Cardinal Pacelli, he went to Hungary to represent his predecessor, Pius XI, at the International Eucharistic Congress in Budapest in 1938, just a year before the outbreak of the Second World War. The theme of Cardinal Pacelli’s address at the Congress was that Christ had indeed left this earth in visible form at His Ascension. But He is emphatically still on earth.— the Jesus of history, continuing to dwell among us in the Sacrament of the Altar. I came across the text of this address while I was in Rome during my graduate studies. I read it. I reread it…it changed my life. That’s the Real Presence. On these premises, we must say Christ is in the Holy Eucharist as the Incarnate second person of the Trinity. Therefore, in the Real Presence, He is the Incarnate manifestation of His divine attributes of wisdom, power, love and mercy. We’re now ready to take up each one of these four attributes.
The Real Presence is the manifestation of the wisdom of God. The theme of St. John’s Gospel is that the Word of God, which is the wisdom of God, became flesh and dwelt among us. St. Paul told the Corinthians, “Christ [is] the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:24). Paul urged the Colossians to know, “the mystery of God, the Father of Jesus, in whom are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3) Since Christ is the Incarnate Wisdom of God, then the Incarnate wisdom not only dwelt (past tense) but dwells (present tense) among us. When St. John tells us the God made man “dwelt” among us, the inspired Greek word for “dwelt” means to dwell geographically, spatially, being with or among those with whom someone dwells. If St. John said Christ dwelt among us during His visible stay in Palestine, we must say the same about Christ dwelling among us today in the Real Presence. Christ is not “dwelling” among us in heaven but here on earth in the Holy Eucharist.
This dwelling is crucial. In other words, because of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom of God, is present to us as we are present to Him. For example, you would have no doubt if you were to say to yourself, “I am here.” That’s a safe statement. Well, in the same profound sense, Christ is here in the Eucharist. The all-wise God who became man is on earth so that He might be the object of our constant adoration.
As we enter into this phase of the retreat, let’s make sure we know we’re making a retreat not just above the neck, talking to the mind. These truths are to be put into practice. Christ is here in the Holy Eucharist to receive from us the humble submission of our proud minds to His infinite wisdom. There is only one condition: that we acknowledge His presence in our midst as the Incarnate Son of God. Adoration before the Blessed Sacrament means many things, but its primary meaning is the veneration of what looks like bread but we recognize is the infinite wisdom of God who became man and now lives in our midst as the all-wise ruler of the universe. That’s a lot of adoration!
In the Eucharist, we adore Him with our minds and our wills because we cannot dissociate our body from our souls. Not yet. As we sadly know, we can come before the Blessed Sacrament in body, but the mind can be anywhere. But to adore Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, we should submit both our minds and our wills to the Almighty Wisdom of God made manifest to us today in Christ’s Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
Christ also instituted the Holy Eucharist in order to manifest His divine attribute of power. Running as a theme throughout the New Testament is the fact that Christ was indeed the all-powerful God who became a helpless child to redeem us. In the closing verses of Matthew’s Gospel, Christ made it clear that “all power is given to me in Heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18) The miracles Christ performed were all manifestations of His divine power. Jesus spoke with human lips and touched with human hands, but the power behind those words and hands was the almighty power of God. That is why Christ worked miracles. By His divine power, He calmed the storm at sea with a single word. He healed the blind, the deaf and the dumb. He cured paralytics by a touch of His human hand. He walked on the waters and gave Peter the power to do the same for as long as the apostle trusted in that power. Christ called the dead Lazarus from the grave. And as the crowning proof of His divine power, He raised Himself from the grave.
That same Almighty Jesus is present in the Holy Eucharist. The Real Presence is Incarnate Omnipotence. If there is one act of faith we should make as we adore Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, it should be the absolute, unswerving confidence in His Divine power. One reason He allows us to make fools of ourselves and fall flat on our faces is that we might pick ourselves up and go to Him and tell Him, “Dear Lord, thanks for humiliating me. But You, being my God, have the power to do what You want with me. Bend my will to Your will.” We can always turn to His divine power manifested in His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
We now reflect on why God became man and instituted the Eucharist as a manifestation of His divine love. First, we turn to St. John’s unforgettable definition of God: “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) Again in his Gospel, John tells us “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that those who believe in Him may not perish but may have life everlasting.” (John 3:16) God, who is love, became man so that Love may live among us — not only as a grateful memory, but as a present reality. This is the meaning of the Real Presence.
We return to the Eucharist as the manifestation of divine love. We ask, “Could God in His infinite wisdom have been more inventive?” To love someone means to become as much as possible like the one who is loved. God became man, like human beings in all things but sin. And this God become man is here on earth today in the Blessed Sacrament. To love someone means to want to be near the one who is loved. Proximity of place is a sign of intimacy of love. Could God who became man be closer to us in space than He is in the Eucharist?
Moreover, to be present is much more than being near or close to someone. To be present means to think of the one and to love the one to whom you are present. God became man so that as man with human thoughts, He might be thinking of us here on earth. He became man with a human will so He might be loving us here on earth. The obvious implication is to evoke our corresponding response in return. It is not pious fancy but a mystery of faith that God chose to take on human flesh and blood and take a human mind and human will in order to be with us, near us, close to us, geographically, in the Holy Eucharist as a manifestation of His love for us.
Over the centuries, the Church has been teaching that of all the divine attributes, the mercy of God is the crown. It is the highest, the deepest and for us, the most important divine attribute. Let us remind ourselves what mercy is. Mercy is love indeed, but much more. Mercy is love that forgives. Mercy is love that endures. Mercy is love that suffers. Mercy is love that loves those who do not love. Mercy is love that gives to those who do not deserve to be loved. Mercy is love that is ready to die for those whom it loves.
Given this framework of our faith, it is clear that Christ is the Incarnation of Divine Mercy. Incidentally, this is our present Holy Father’s favorite definition of Christ. This is why God became man — in order to be able to practice mercy in His own person by suffering and dying on the cross out of love for a sin-laden human race. And when we say that, we need to make sure we don’t think of that sinful human race in abstract terms. Always include yourself. God became man and died for me. The Incarnation of Divine Mercy died for me.
It is this merciful God Incarnate who instituted the Holy Eucharist on the night before He died in order that He might remain with us on earth until the end of time. The conclusion for us is obvious. Yes, we are to adore our Lord really present in the Blessed Sacrament. But this adoration should be very clear. The Christ whom we worship in the Eucharist is the God of mercy, who shed His blood on the Cross to make the Eucharist possible. The one whom we are adoring is God who became man so He might have human blood in His veins — blood now glorified, but blood that dropped to the ground on Calvary as proof of His merciful love.
Anytime we forget that Christ in the Holy Eucharist is here with His human blood, we fall short of really understanding the Real Presence. The reality present on earth is the wisdom of God. The reality here on earth is the power of God. This reality is the love of God. And this reality is the mercy of God, who became flesh and blood and lives among us so that we might live with Him here in this valley of tears by faith and in the blessed eternity of seeing Him in the life to come. Amen.