Holy Hour Reflection: Mercy & Eucharistic Renewal
by Diocese of Des Moines | April 21, 2021
By Bo Bonner
I work at Mercy College of Health Sciences, whose very reason for existence is our mother and foundress, the Venerable Catherine McAuley. She began the Sisters of Mercy in Dublin in the 19th century, and we exist because of her renewal of the Works of Mercy in Church life. Known popularly as the “walking nuns,” her sisters would comb the streets looking for those in need of being brought in from the trials and pangs of this life.
As such, it is no wonder that what often comes to mind in reflections regarding Mother McAuley involve institutes and charitable works involving education, medicine, and social justice. But anyone who has the great fortune to read her works knows that she had a great devotion to the Eucharist, and implored those who would spread the Works of Mercy of Our Lord Jesus Christ to consider this: they would find no better source of that mercy than here, before the Holiest Sacrament.
And thus in imitation of Mother McAuley, I will consider once more the call to Eucharistic renewal, and imagine two types of pilgrim souls who might have reservations about coming back to the Eucharist after facing more than a year full of weary toil.
The first person to invite back in from the elements is someone near and dear to me: the scrupulous, whose own inner voice convinces them that they should bar themselves from this sacrament of mercy. How many loved ones and friends and students have I had that are afflicted by this trial? And here I hope the words of Mother McAuley can help persuade them to come back under the shelter of the Most High.
“If faithful to all our duties, we will never be deterred from Holy Communion by our imperfections or faults; on the contrary, as long as they are not deliberate, we should be the more anxious to communicate, that we may thereby obtain strength to overcome them,” she said. “Jesus Christ did not say, 'Come to me, you that are free from faults,' but 'Come to me all you that labor and are heavy laden and I will refresh you.'” In fact, to effect this union was the end of his life and passion. Knowing our weakness as he did, the greatness of his love caused him to leave us this sovereign remedy. All his previous miracles were, as it were, preparative to this greatest of all miracles.”
In other words, Christ did not create a sacrament for a small elect. He knew before he suffered in this world that he would be betrayed. Still, he came not for the healthy, but sinners.
And yet, I want to say there is something that the scrupulous get absolutely correct that we who do not suffer from such trails quite often miss. It is absolutely the case that none of us deserve to be even before the Eucharist, to lay eyes on the Eucharist, let alone, receive the Eucharist. The scrupulous are right in this, only they don’t carry the point to its fullest extent. Because none of us deserve it, we do not rely on our strength alone to receive it. It is God’s grace that brings us to the altar, and therefore, one can neither earn a place before it, nor deny themselves access to it. We cannot merit such a gift, but as it is a gift, we have no right to refuse it either.
And yet what does the approach of the non-afflicted look like toward the Eucharist? Do we receive it like the gift it is? Or do we presume that it is our possession? Do we complain when it is not “delivered” in a way we like? Do we receive it irreverently and presumptuously, as if it is a wage earned rather than grace freely bestowed? No my friends, on this note, the scrupulous have much to teach us.
The second person I seek to invite in out of the cold of the world, back to the Eucharist, are those for whom a deliberate decision has been made to stay away. Perhaps this is out of certain fears—from the virus, from social issues dividing the Church, from scandal—but whatever might motivate them, for many it is or at least seems to be a matter of principle, a matter of conscience.
Why come back if I am not welcome? Why come back if I have been hurt before? Why come back if it is not safe for me? Why come back if my heart has been broken? For those who have experienced pride, or coldness, or arrogance, or even malice at the hands of those who make up the Body of Christ, can we not admit in due charity, that there are at least reasonable arguments why they might decide to stay away?
And once more I appeal to our Mother McAuley, who exhibited mercy in her life so well, and what she says about the medicine of mercy that is the Eucharist, a medicine that can heal the wounds of our hearts and at the heart of the Church. “Nothing is more worthy of our admiration than the poverty and simplicity our Savior gives us an example of in the Blessed Eucharist. He leaves no difficulty in the way: the matter being only bread and wine, the poorest country can procure sufficient for the celebration of those Mysteries, and the simplest priest can perform the ceremony. Although the discipline of the Church has been altered and the divine mysteries are performed with more pomp than when our Savior instituted them (through respect for these great mysteries), yet the matter of this sacrament has never been altered.”
Indeed it is something radical that she teaches, a heavy price indeed she counsels, but one that pays off in grace abounding: “Consider too the example of obedience Christ gives us in the Adorable Eucharist. He is indifferent as to what part of the world he is offered up in, or what kind of houses, whether a stately church or a poor cabin. How at the voice of a weak man he changes the bread and wine into his own Precious Body and Blood, but not until the moment that man utters the awful words. It is not wonderful that the creature should obey the Creator, but it is most wonderful that the Creator obey the creature; yet behold his submission and his indifference in being employed in whatever way man pleases, whether he is offered as a sacrifice of thanksgiving or atonement, to be employed in visiting and comforting the sick, or to lie concealed in the tabernacle. Learn from this example a perfect obedience and indifference to all employments, and as water assumes the form of whatever vessel it is put into, so do you form your heart and will to love and fulfill whatever shall be assigned you, for the love of him who has ordered it so.”
This is the counsel of our Mother McAuely. This is not easy to proclaim, so I am guessing it is not easy to hear. This sounds like one more demand for those who have felt the bruises and pangs of this world, that what we have to offer is only more sores and tears. But before the Eucharist, our wounds and the wounds of Our Lord come together, and in this Medicine of Mercy, we can hide our wounds in the wounds of God. This is not a platitude—this is sacrifice. A medicine that heals our wounds, but only as medicine that burns the very wounds it treats. But in a weary world, to whom else shall we turn but the Lamb who was slaughtered? To whom else shall we share our sorrow and have it redeemed?
But woe to us who would demand this of the wounded when we ourselves do not face the same pain. We who are here now, who have felt safe to return, who have not felt far away from the Eucharist, woe to us if we would act in such a way as to keep these wandering hearts out from the canopy of the Church. Once more, those who are away have something to teach us who are already back. Those with wounds have something to teach us who already feel healed.
How are we to act toward those who have not come back? If we ask them to imitate the Lord in the sacrament of the Host, then in justice we must imitate the monstrance, and wrap them in a welcoming spirit like precious gold, and hold them as high as a possession prized above all others. May we marvel at them, these, the one sheep from the 99 that our Lord himself went after to save. May we adore the mercy of God like Mother McAuely, whose life and words give us a sure path to follow. Like her, may we praise Mercy himself, who brings back those who have not returned. May we show their brokenness the same tenderness that we show the broken body and blood of our Lord.
- Do my faults and imperfections cause me to avoid Jesus and his unmerited grace, or do they draw me closer to the fount of love and mercy?
- Do I mirror Jesus’ passion in seeking the one lost sheep, and do I show the wounded and lost the same tenderness that we show the “broken body and blood of Our Lord?”
- We pray for those who have not yet returned to Jesus in the Eucharist, that we may all draw close to God himself, who first draws close to us, we pray…
- By God’s grace may we more fully recognize the unimaginable gift of Jesus’ presence among us, so that we may respond to his presence with greater humility, reverence and joy, we pray…
- That the Eucharist may inspire in us apostolic zeal to seek the lost sheep, so that we may celebrate with God in their return, we pray…