Written By: Raphael Ma
When Padre Pio was studying theology for the priesthood, he was struck with a mysterious illness that lasted seven years. No doctor could figure out what caused it, and he looked healthy to anyone who saw him. But his illness got so bad that he was sent back to his home to recover.
On top of this physical suffering, there were spiritual trials too. This period in Padre Pio’s life was a time of intense spiritual progress. Later in life, Padre Pio would say this about the temptations that assaulted him then, and throughout his life: “The devil wants me for himself at all cost”.
Padre Pio would have liked the Lord to exchange these temptations for more physical suffering, because he was afraid that he would fall into sin. But nevertheless, he said: “…let His will be done, it is enough for me that it is all wanted by God and I am content just the same”. And he found the strength he needed daily in Holy Communion.
“…How could I live, my dear Father, if I were to fail even for a single morning to receive Jesus?” – from a letter by St. Pio of Pietrelcina to his spiritual director
For those of us who are blessed with schedules that allow for daily Mass, receiving Holy Communion daily can and should be our source of the strength we need daily too. But can we honestly say that we always prepare for receiving Holy Communion?
The word receiving can mean “getting”, like getting a package in the mail, or it can also mean “welcoming”, like welcoming a guest into your home.
Of the two kinds of receiving listed above, I think “welcoming Jesus” is better than merely “getting Jesus” in Holy Communion. That’s because Jesus’ real presence in the Holy Eucharist is veiled under the forms of bread and wine, and it is only too easy for us to think of Jesus there as an abstract “holy thing”, rather than recognizing a Divine Person.
Certainly there is nothing wrong with “getting Jesus”, the many fruits of Holy Communion – such as the increase of union with the Lord, forgiveness of venial sins, preservation from future mortal sins, the increase of charity, the strengthening of the unity of the Mystical Body of Christ, to name a few – are NOT denied to us when we receive Holy Communion, even when we don’t consider at all the personal dimension of this sublime encounter.
But there is a risk, that by receiving Holy Communion in this way habitually, never thinking of the personal dimension of those precious moments, our efforts to grow in holiness may become more focused on ourselves than on God. Isolated from its proper context of our relationship with God, it is possible that our quest for “holiness” can become just another of our own personal projects, like going on a diet, or going to the gym, and receiving Holy Communion would then be reduced to something like a supplement. Things we usually associate with growth in holiness – turning away from sin and growing in virtue – are good things, but they are only means to an end, and that end is to be perfectly united with God.
We should be on our guard against this possibility of growing distant from our Lord by not spending much time or effort preparing to receive Him in Holy Communion. Just like in any human relationship, we can grow distant from someone even if we greet them every day, but spend no time or effort to get to know them better. And eventually, we might even stop greeting that person altogether.
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” – Revelation 3:20
Check out these books and MP3s about the EucharistEucharist, Jesus, by Catholic Chapter House.