The Real Presence: Profession of Love

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.
Week 5
Reading 3 of 3

“Why did Christ institute His Real Presence in the Eucharist?” For our profession of faith, hope and love. This meditation will focus on our profession of love.

What is Divine Love?

Surely, no single monosyllable is more common in the literature of the human race than love. And by now, there are as many meanings of love as there are human beings. But what does it really mean to love? To love means to will good to someone, velle bonum aliquis. It also means to please someone either by sharing with that person what one possesses or by doing what someone wants.

Basically, there are two kinds of love. They are not mutually exclusive, but they are distinctive. With self-interested love, I love another person, but for my own sake — for my sake as something useful or pleasant: “I love you. You are good to me. You satisfy me.” But there is another love much higher, the love of friendship. With this love, I have a selfless love for another person, for that person’s sake, for his or her good. To please that person is a love of benevolence.

But how is divine love different from human love? Human love is the love of human beings, out of human motives and in a human way. On the other hand, divine love is the love for God or the love for others out of love for God in a divine way.

First, let’s look at divine love for God Himself. When we say divine love is the love of God, we include both levels of loving God. On one level, self-interested (but not selfish) love of God is really the virtue of hope. Indeed, we love God, but we love Him with the expectation He will reward us for our love by blessing us with His gifts in this life and with the gift of Himself in the life to come. On another level, totally selfless love of God is more than just a higher degree of the self-interested love. It is really an elevated, higher kind of love. It means I love God, not precisely because I expect to be rewarded for my love, but because God is so good, so great, so lovable in Himself that I want to please Him and do whatever He wants, just because He wants it and not because I will get anything from Him in return. The highest form of love of God is loving Him without looking for or expecting any recompense.

Let’s also remember that divine love includes love for others out of love for God. But we must stress that this love of others is always based on our love of God, flowing from our love of God, expressing our love for God, putting into practice our love of God, proving our love of God and living our love of God.

Finally, as with faith and hope, divine love is impossible without divine grace. Divine love is supernatural love and is impossible to practice naturally. It must be nourished and sustained by the grace of God. In fact, divine love doesn’t even begin to exist unless it first has been touched by grace. Christ’s statement at the Last Supper “without me you can do nothing” is especially true when it comes to divine love. Nowhere is this statement more real than when it comes to loving God as He wants to be loved. We cannot do it without Him. It can only be done with the divine grace which comes from Christ as God and through Christ as man. Call this the alphabet of faith, but we have to explain what this alphabet is before we use it to penetrate more deeply into the mystery of the Holy Eucharist.

When must we profess our Love?

We must profess our love for God whenever there is a question of divine law binding under the penalty of sin. These two words should always go together: law and love. The basic obligation of every human being is to love God by doing what He tells us we must do. We see immediately that professing our love for God is not merely verbal profession, telling God “I love you.” Of course this verbal profession should be made, but it cannot stop there. I profess my love for God when I do the will of God. That should be burned into the mind of every human being. It is what Christ told us: “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

And among the commandments God Incarnate gave us, one stands out with blinding clarity. In Christ’s own words it is His commandment which He called the New Commandment. It is the one commandment by which we show, and others can recognize, that we are His followers — we must love one another, even as He who is God has loved us. That’s why God became man — that He might be able to show His love for us by suffering and dying on the cross out of love for the creatures He didn’t even have to make. It should be stressed that this practice of Christian charity toward others is a commandment. It is our obligation and no mere option. This is where Christianity is elevated out of sight beyond all the religions of mankind. In my years of teaching comparative religion, I have always told my students Christianity is higher than any religion in making the love of others a commandment on which our salvation depends. In the language of the world, many people distinguish between practicing justice and charity as though justice were mandatory and charity optional. That’s O.K. if you’re a Hindu or a Buddhist, but not if you’re a Christian. It is not only justice which is binding; it is charity.

When should we profess Divine Love?

The immediate answer is easy. We should profess our divine love whenever divine grace inspires us to do so. This will differ with different people. And even with the same person, it will differ at different times and different occasions as the circumstances provide the opportunity for loving God beyond the call of duty. Thus, God will give some people the grace of a vocation to the consecrated life or the priesthood or a life of virginity in the world or of dedicated widowhood. God also will put into our lives certain persons who are a special trial, or burden as we are tempted to say. But these so-called “burdens” are divine invitations to profess our love of God beyond what, absolutely speaking, would be necessary to keep out of sin.

To discover the difference between professing our love for God as a duty and our love for God as generosity is to have come upon a great treasure. It is the treasure of sanctity; it is the secret of holiness. It is the foretaste of Heaven on earth. In the down-to-earth order in which we live, it is here especially that the petition of the Lord’s Prayer is being so constantly verified when we ask, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” In heaven, everyone loves everyone selflessly, and the nearest thing to Heaven on earth is for human beings to love one another selflessly.

How do we profess our love in the Real Presence?

This is the hub of our prayerful reflection. What does it mean when we say we profess our love for God in the Real Presence? We mean any one or all of the following three “P’s”: prayer, practice and promotion.

Prayer: We profess our love for God in the Real Presence when we come to pray before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. This will mean telling Our Lord with our lips, and especially, in the depths of our hearts, that we love Him. What follows is crucial to understanding what we’re saying. Remember in Matthew’s Gospel when Christ said, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul and with your whole mind”? Christ added the closing words “with your whole mind” because the God whom we are to love is the God who became man. And we are to love this God become man with our whole mind believing with the intellect that Jesus Christ is God, that Jesus Christ our God became Man and that Jesus Christ the God-man is on earth in the Blessed Sacrament. And if we believe in His Real Presence, we will naturally want to come to Him in the Eucharist, professing our love for Him with our minds in prayer.

Practice: We also profess our love for God in the Real Presence by putting into practice what we profess with our lips or even profess in the depth of our hearts. Remember what we had said before. Our love for God is to be lived. And our love for Him is to be lived in the real world in which He has placed us — in these circumstances, under these conditions, with these people, at this time, so we might put into practice what we may be sincerely telling Our Lord in prayer. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, we may say, is the soul of our love for God. But this soul is alive; it is to express in action what it professes in thought and desire and sentiments of our hearts.

Promotion: Finally, we profess our love of God in the Real Presence when we promote devotion to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament according to the limits of our state of life and the opportunities God’s Providence provides in our lives. We can become apostles of the Real Presence, missionaries of the Real Presence or promoters of the Real Presence. This is so important today. We live in a world which is so immersed in selfishness, even to the point of cruelty with millions of people being mercilessly destroyed. How this world of ours needs to discover the truth that God is love, that God who is love became man, and that this God who is love and became man died on Calvary and is on earth today. We believe this Love who became man is still on earth in the Blessed Sacrament in order to provide us an opportunity to show how much we love Him and to allow us to obtain from Him what He alone can give us: the ability to love in a loveless world.

Blessings of professing our love in the Real Presence

All that we said tells us that the great blessings which come from fervent faith in the Real Presence and faithful prayer before the Blessed Sacrament is the blessing of opening the human heart to give itself to God. Of ourselves, we are all naturally self-centered, self-preoccupied, self-interested and self-opinionated. We are all naturally self-concerned, self-indulgent, self-satisfying, self-admiring and self-attentive. In a word, we are all profoundly and deeply self-willed. There is one idolatry to which every human being is constantly prone, and that is the worship of oneself.

Yet we know, on faith, that selfish people will not reach Heaven. We also know from faith and experience that selfish people are not really happy. What then is the secret of acquiring selflessness? The secret is to obtain the light and strength we need to win the one war in which we are all engaged — the war against self. Self-conquest is impossible by ourselves. We need the grace that only Christ can give, and that’s why He is on earth, present in the Holy Eucharist. That’s why Love became man — so that Love Incarnate might enable us to become like Him in selfless love for Him and for all those whom He puts into our lives.

Closing Prayer

Lord Jesus, none of us has any illusion of what it really means to love You. To love You means to love what You want, and You told us You want us mainly, constantly to love You by loving those whom in Your mysterious, unexplainable Providence, You have placed into our lives.

Dear Jesus, we have all lived long enough to know we cannot do this without You. That is why You are here with us, near us, constantly available to us, so that when we come to You begging for Your help, You enable us to do with Your grace what is impossible for us to do by our own self will. Dear Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, enlighten our minds so that with every human being who enters our lives, we will see You telling us, “love me.” And by loving those whom You place into our lives, we might more deeply love You. Amen.

Used with permission from Inter Mirifica.