By Father Thomas Esposito
Special to The Texas Catholic
Two of the sacraments of initiation, Baptism and Confirmation, are one-time events in a Catholic’s life, not to be repeated again. They are certainly spiritual milestones, and the graces conferred through the signs of water, oil, and the laying on of hands grant the person receiving them a beautiful beginning to the life of faith. The freely flowing and never failing fountain of grace is opened at these sacred times, and no lid or cover, symbolic of sin or indifference to the work of God in the soul, should ever seal the source of divine love. Tragically, both of these sacraments are often treated as a coming-of-age ceremony (and photo-op!) allowing lukewarm individuals and families to punch their spiritual tickets and think that they no longer have to be bothered by the Holy Spirit.
The third sacrament of initiation, Holy Communion, has nothing of one-and-done ritualism about it. The first gift of Christ in the Eucharist is designed to be the initial taste of the spiritual sustenance we must return to and rely on for the duration of our lives. The Greek of the Our Father prayer features Jesus imploring us not to ask for “our daily bread” that nourishes the body, but for the bread that would sustain our very being. The word we translate as “daily,” epiousion, should literally be rendered “for being itself” or, more creatively, “super-substantial” (Matthew 6:11; Luke 11:3). The Eucharist, read in light of this petition, is the new manna, the perfect form of that bread from heaven that the Israelites ate in the desert. The implication is that our Lord begs us to return constantly, even daily, to receive this bread of life. No one who perceives in the Eucharist the very proof of Christ’s love and friendship would willingly starve themselves or their children of this spiritual sustenance for long.
If a parent needs any reassurance on this point, I would enlist the exquisite advice imparted by an English father to his son about 70 years ago:
“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament . . . There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves on earth, and more than that: Death.
“By the divine paradox, that which ends life, and demands the surrender of all, and yet by the taste—or foretaste—of which alone can what you seek in your earthly relationships (love, faithfulness, joy) be maintained, or take on that complexion of reality, of eternal endurance, which every man’s heart desires.
“The only cure for sagging or fainting faith is Communion. Though always itself, perfect and complete and inviolate, the Blessed Sacrament does not operate completely and once for all in any of us. Like the act of Faith it must be continuous and grow by exercise.”
The letter’s author is J.R.R. Tolkien; his fame happily ensured that his private letter to his son Michael gained a public audience after his death. Tolkien’s love for the Eucharist led him to understand the beautiful logic at work in Christ’s death. The Eucharist is the memorial of Christ’s death, and that death is our requisite passageway to true and eternal life. Absolutely everything in our life must be ordered to that death which destroys death; anything else is simply incomplete and ultimately futile. The death of Christ on the cross, his supreme act of sacrificial love, is the pattern we must imitate. Just as Christ offered the first Eucharist the night before he died, so too we receive that same Eucharist constantly so that we might prepare now, both for our own death and for our never-ending holy communion with him.
Editor’s Note: This is one in an occasional series highlighting the sacraments.
Father Thomas Esposito, O.Cist., is a theologian and monk at the Cistercian Abbey of Our Lady of Dallas in Irving. His column appears occasionally in The Texas Catholic.