Monthly Archives: May 2011

St Louis de Montfort on Mary and the Holy Eucharist

The following is found at the end of St Louis de Montfort’s True Devotion to Mary, concerning how we ought to receive Holy Communion in union with Our Lady.

Before Holy Communion

266. 1) Place yourself humbly in the presence of God.

2) Renounce your corrupt nature and dispositions, no matter how good self-love makes them appear to you.

3) Renew your consecration saying, “I belong entirely to you, dear Mother, and all that I have is yours.”  [Note: this is where Blessed John Paul II got his motto—“Totus tuus”]

4) Implore Mary to lend you her heart so that you may receive her Son with her dispositions. Remind her that her Son’s glory requires that he should not come into a heart so sullied and fickle as your own, which could not fail to diminish his glory and might cause him to leave. Tell her that if she will take up her abode in you to receive her Son—which she can do because of the sovereignty she has over all hearts—he will be received by her in a perfect manner without danger of being affronted or being forced to depart.  “God is in the midst of her. She shall not be moved.”  Tell her with confidence that all you have given her of your possessions is little enough to honour her, but that in Holy Communion you wish to give her the same gifts as the eternal Father gave her. Thus she will feel more honoured than if you gave her all the wealth in the world. Tell her, finally, that Jesus, whose love for her is unique, still wishes to take his delight and his repose in her even in your soul, even though it is poorer and less clean than the stable which he readily entered because she was there. Beg her to lend you her heart, saying, “O Mary, I take you for my all; give me your heart.”

During Holy Communion

267. After the Our Father, when you are about to receive our Lord, say to him three times the prayer, “Lord, I am not worthy.” Say it the first time as if you were telling the eternal Father that because of your evil thoughts and your ingratitude to such a good Father, you are unworthy to receive his only-begotten Son, but that here is Mary, his handmaid, who acts for you and whose presence gives you a special confidence and hope in him.

268. Say to God the Son, “Lord, I am not worthy”, meaning that you are not worthy to receive him because of your useless and evil words and your carelessness in his service, but nevertheless you ask him to have pity on you because you are going to usher him into the house of his Mother and yours, and you will not let him go until he has made it his home. Implore him to rise and come to the place of his repose and the ark of his sanctification. Tell him that you have no faith in your own merits, strength and preparedness, like Esau, but only in Mary, your Mother, just as Jacob had trust in Rebecca his mother. Tell him that although you are a great sinner you still presume to approach him, supported by his holy Mother and adorned with her merits and virtues.

269. Say to the Holy Spirit, “Lord, I am not worthy”. Tell him that you are not worthy to receive the masterpiece of his love because of your lukewarmness, wickedness and resistance to his inspirations. But, nonetheless, you put all your confidence in Mary, his faithful Spouse, and say with St. Bernard, “She is my greatest safeguard, the whole foundation of my hope.” Beg him to overshadow Mary, his inseparable Spouse, once again. Her womb is as pure and her heart as ardent as ever. Tell him that if he does not enter your soul neither Jesus nor Mary will be formed there nor will it be a worthy dwelling for them.

After Holy Communion

270. After Holy Communion, close your eyes and recollect yourself. Then usher Jesus into the heart of Mary: you are giving him to his Mother who will receive him with great love and give him the place of honour, adore him profoundly, show him perfect love, embrace him intimately in spirit and in truth, and perform many offices for him of which we, in our ignorance, would know nothing.

271. Or, maintain a profoundly humble heart in the presence of Jesus dwelling in Mary. Or be in attendance like a slave at the gate of the royal palace, where the King is speaking with the Queen. While they are talking to each other, with no need of you, go in spirit to heaven and to the whole world, and call upon all creatures to thank, adore and love Jesus in Mary for you. “Come, let us adore.”

272. Or, ask Jesus living in Mary that his kingdom may come upon earth through his holy Mother. Ask for divine Wisdom, divine love, the forgiveness of your sins, or any other grace, but always through Mary and in Mary. Cast a look of reproach upon yourself and say, “Lord, do not look at my sins, let your eyes see nothing in me but the virtues and merits of Mary.”  Remembering your sins, you may add, “I am my own worst enemy and I am guilty of all these sins.” Or, “Deliver me from the unjust and deceitful man.” Or again, “Dear Jesus, you must increase in my soul and I must decrease.” “Mary, you must increase in me and I must always go on decreasing.”  “O Jesus and Mary, increase in me and increase in others around me.”

273. There are innumerable other thoughts with which the Holy Spirit will inspire you, which he will make yours if you are thoroughly recollected and mortified, and constantly faithful to the great and sublime devotion which I have been teaching you. But remember, the more you let Mary act in your Communion the more Jesus will be glorified. The more you humble yourself and listen to Jesus and Mary in peace and silence—with no desire to see, taste or feel—then the more freedom you will give to Mary to act in Jesus’ name and the more Jesus will act in Mary. For the just man lives everywhere by faith, but especially in Holy Communion, which is an action of faith.

Terrifying Mysteries

There’s a rather startling phrase in one of St Ephrem’s prayers to our Lord Jesus Christ. He refers to the Body and Blood of Christ as “Your all-pure and terrifying Mysteries.” While I don’t think that Jesus wants to us to be literally terrified when approaching the Holy Eucharist, it seems to me that, since so many people today approach in casual or even irreverent manner, immodestly dressed to boot, a little pious terror might actually not be a bad idea—at least to get the pendulum to swing back a little.

We have a little sign at our monastery that reads, quoting psalm 95(96): “Worship the Lord in holy attire,” which we then clarify by saying, “Worship the Lord wholly attired.” After a few specifics, we sum it up by saying, “Don’t wear anything you wouldn’t wear on Judgment Day.” While the main issue of this reflection is not the way one dresses, that still is a symptom of the lack of the holy “fear of God” which one should have when coming to receive our Lord in his sacramental Mysteries. The deacon, to underscore the proper attitude, says just before Communion is distributed: “Approach with the fear of God and with faith.”

The “terror” that St Ephrem speaks of is not that which we might experience in the presence of a terrorist. It is rather the devout “fear and trembling” one feels in the presence of the Mysterium Tremendum, the awe-inspiring holiness of God. Every theophany in the Scriptures evokes this fear/awe/terror/wonder in the presence of God. It is that which gripped St Peter when he first met Jesus in the act of working a miracle: “He fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man’” (Lk 5:8). One of the first things we notice when we are in the presence of the Holy One is that we are not holy. We see our sins in the all-pure, searching Light of Divinity. “Woe is me!” cried the Prophet Isaiah as he beheld the glory of the Lord, “I am a man of unclean lips, and…my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Is. 6:5).

In our prayer just before Holy Communion, we have several penitential expressions, like: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner. O God, cleanse me of my sins and have mercy on me. O Lord, forgive me, for I have sinned without number.” We realize we are wholly unworthy to approach, but since He calls us we come, but with fear of God and trust in his merciful love. On Holy Saturday we sing: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence, and in fear and trembling stand…”

It is not just the lay folk who have to approach thus. The priests also make repeated confessions of unworthiness before daring to offer the Holy Sacrifice and to receive the Flaming Ember of Divinity. “No one who is bound to carnal desires or pleasures [that eliminates most of us] is worthy to approach You or to draw near to You, or to minister to You, O King of Glory. For to serve You is great and awesome, even to the heavenly powers… Look upon me, your sinful and useless servant. Cleanse my heart and soul of the evil that lies on my conscience. By the power of your Holy Spirit, enable me, who am clothed with the grace of the priesthood, to stand before this, your Holy Table, and offer the Sacrifice of your holy and most pure Body and precious Blood. Bending my neck, I approach and petition You: turn not your face from me nor reject me from among your children, but allow these gifts to be offered to You by me, your sinful and unworthy servant…”

If the all-holy God by his very nature commands such an approach, why is it that we do not see and feel this trembling reverence in most churches today? Why isn’t the atmosphere of holiness and transcendent reality palpable? Why do we not feel like we are standing at the gate of Heaven? Is it because of the celebrant’s casual greetings, one-liners, or insipid homilies? Is it because of the drum set and electric guitars in the “choir”? Is it because most people are dressed as if they were going to the beach or the grocery store instead of going to a sacred encounter with the King of Glory? Or is it simply because nobody really believes anymore that the Holy Eucharist is truly the precious Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ?

I read recently where a (so-called) Catholic bishop actually stated publicly that the Mass was not supposed to evoke an experience of eternity, or the transcendent or supernatural, but that its main purpose is to create “communal sensitivity.” (Can you see my finger down my throat?) If people are taught such drivel, it’s no wonder that they no longer believe, and then act accordingly.

I prefer to approach the Holy Eucharist with love and longing rather than “terror,” but the latter is still much to be preferred to apathy, disdain, irreverence, or unbelief. We need to have a balance of reverence and intimacy—reverence for the awesome and all-holy Mystery of the Son of God present in our midst, and the intimacy of opening our mouths and hearts to receive Him in that everlasting love by which He wishes to abide in us and we in Him. St Ephrem, pray for us! I’d rather see people terrified than blasé, prostrated rather than chatting while sauntering up to Communion. The Lord will not be insulted forever. “I will vindicate the holiness of my great name…which you have profaned among the nations, and the nations will know that I am the Lord…” (Ez. 36:23).

So, approach with the fear of God and with faith. Receive the “all-pure and terrifying Mysteries” only after prayer and preparation and repentance. And then rejoice in the love of the Lord, who so graciously welcomes those who reverently recognize his presence in the overflowing grace of this wholly unmerited Gift of God—for to them He grants eternal life.

The Mystical Supper

I draw heavily here on Pope Benedict XVI’s reflection on the Eucharist as the “Sacrament of Transformations.” At the Last Supper (and at every Divine Liturgy and Mass) bread is transformed into Christ’s body, wine into his blood. God nourishes us with this transformed Bread and Wine in a way that transcends earthly life, which prepares the Resurrection and even initiates it. The Lord could have turned stones into bread to satisfy his physical hunger, but He turned bread into his body to satisfy the spiritual hunger of the whole world.

To transform the bread into his body, there is more to say than “this is my body”; He has also to say, “which is broken, given up for you.” The same with the wine: not only “this is my blood,” but also “which is poured out for you.” Thus the transformation of bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood is inseparable from his sacrificial death, which itself is a transformation.

What happens to Him during his passion is a series of acts of violence and hatred which result in his suffering and death. But Christ transforms, from within, men’s acts of violence against Him into an act of self-giving, an act of love. He does not counter violence with violence but puts an end to violence by transforming it into love; violence is conquered by love. By Christ’s loving acceptance of the Father’s will, forgiving those who killed Him, Jesus showed that love is stronger than death. This is soon manifested when death is transformed into resurrection.

At the Last Supper Jesus anticipates and interiorly accomplishes the essence of the Calvary event. He accepts suffering and death, and by this acceptance transforms it into self-giving love. For the inner core of his sacrifice is his “yes” to the Father; its external manifestation we see on the Cross. The mystery of the Cross is accepted and interiorly transformed at the table with his disciples.

Because the essence of his bloody sacrifice is a transformation—transforming evil into good, the murder of the Son of God into the redemption of mankind—and because the essence of this sacrifice is interiorly accomplished at the Last Supper, another transformation that is necessarily related to this is also mystically present at the Last Supper: mortal body into glorified body, with the power that makes possible the transformation of bread into body given, wine into blood poured out. So when Jesus says of bread, “this is my body,” and of wine, “this is my blood,” He makes of them an external manifestation of the interior essence of his redeeming sacrifice.

What is happening, then, at every altar where the Holy Mysteries are offered? Christ is present through those He commanded to do what He did, in memory of Him. Not just anyone can do this, but only those whom He has chosen as instruments of that same transforming power. The essence of the same sacrifice that Christ interiorly accepted and accomplished at the Last Supper, and then finally accomplished in a bloody manner on Calvary—the essence of that same sacrifice is manifested here; his act of self-giving is perpetuated till the end of time. He doesn’t just give Himself to us once. Of course, He doesn’t have to suffer the bloody immolation of the Cross repeatedly, as Hebrews says, for that dimension of his sacrifice happened at a certain time and place and was once for all.

But the essence of his sacrifice, the redeeming power of his total self-offering, is perpetual; it stands before the face of the Father forever, and hence is always fruitful, always available, and that is what we ritually and mystically make present on our altars. He never ceases to love us, to give Himself to us, so the transforming power of his sacrifice is available to us as it was to the first apostles, when Jesus said: take, eat, this is my body; drink, this is my blood, shed for the forgiveness of sins.

So when the priests say his words, this is my body broken, this is my blood poured out, and when the Holy Spirit is invoked upon the gifts, Jesus is giving Himself to us, here and now, with the very same power of transforming love by which He reconciled the world to his Father from the Cross. That power is so great that it transforms the bread and wine we offer into the body and blood He offered on the Cross. Everything is transformed in the gift of Himself for our salvation. What Jesus gives is Himself; He cannot do otherwise. It is of the very essence of the Trinity that each divine Person exists in the gift of himself to the others, and in receiving the self-gift of the others. So when Jesus wants to give Himself to us and says, eat and drink—the bread and wine are transformed because He is giving Himself; the bread and wine become Himself in the very act of His giving them to us. We offer them to Him in the liturgy as humble gifts; He returns them to us as Himself, because at his command we have lifted them up into the sphere of his transforming sacrifice, the love that is stronger than sin and death, the power of his Cross and Resurrection. The inner divine energy of that sacrifice changes bread and wine into his body and blood, takes away the sin of the world, and will raise us up on the last day.

All this shows that the consecration of the Eucharist is not a kind of magic act, or a display of sheer divine power to work a miracle simply because He can. The Eucharist is not a thing that is invested with a certain power to achieve a specific effect, like a drug that one takes, which infallibly produces some effect through chemical reactions. That is why some people benefit from Holy Communion and some don’t. It is Someone who is giving Himself to us, and we have to be open to receive Him. We have a part to play; it depends to a great extent on us whether or not the Eucharist will bear the fruit of sanctity within us. Perhaps we’re not sufficiently aware that we are being drawn into a momentous encounter with the living God, who wants us to be caught up in the great heavenward movement of worship and thanksgiving, who wants us to enter the divine mystery of his everlasting love. Like the wise virgins we have to go out with joy to meet the Bridegroom, for He comes!  He is here!

We have to have faith and love and a commitment to do His will. Only then will the next transformation take place. We are transformed by Holy Communion. When we receive the Holy Eucharist, we are meeting Christ in the act of his self-giving, we are sharing in the mystery of the love that neutralizes the power of evil, that makes all things new. If we come as repentant sinners He sanctifies us—his divine grace meets our weakness and suffering and He transforms it, gives it meaning, invests it with the power to transform the lives of others, to conquer their evil with love, for we are now members of the Body of Christ, called to love as Jesus loves.

Let us then be more aware of the incredible gift God has given us, and never take the Holy Eucharist for granted. It is Jesus Himself giving Himself, that the fruit of his Cross and Resurrection be borne in us: reconciliation with the Father, the forgiveness of sins, the sanctification of our souls and bodies—unto life everlasting.

The Exaltation of the Mother

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[The following are excerpts, slightly edited, from a homily I gave on the feast of the Dormition (Assumption) of the Mother of God in 2007.]

St. Paul mightily proclaims in the epistle for this feast (Phil. 2:5-11): “Jesus Christ is Lord!” We say today: “And Mary is his Mother!” There is a text in the Office of Matins which was worded powerfully as it called Mary the “Mother of the Master of the Universe.” That’s incredible: you can’t really get higher than the Master of the Universe; yet, the Master of the Universe has a mother! And today we’re celebrating her exaltation into the kingdom of her beloved Son, the Master of the Universe.

Jesus is spoken of by St. Paul as the one who had humbled Himself, who had become obedient to the Father’s will, obedient even unto suffering and death. What did the Father do? The Father highly exalted Him, and gave Him the name above all names. Mary is a parallel to this, too—not that she was in the form of God and all the rest, but in how she did what Jesus did, in her own way, in her own life, according to her own vocation; how she also humbled herself; how she effaced herself, surrendered herself to God’s will; was obedient in all things, even unto suffering at the foot of the Cross, standing there and bearing it all with Him, insofar as she could. And so what happens? The Son, whom the Father exalted before, comes and exalts his Mother. When it’s time for her to die, He comes and says, “You, like me, were also humble; you were obedient; you accepted the hardships of your vocation, even unto suffering; and you gave up your life, you gave your soul back to the One who gave it to you. So now I come to you and lift you up; as my Father exalted Me, so I exalt you!”—we can perhaps hear Him saying that to his Mother. That’s the pattern that we also should follow.

On this feast there is so much theology of the mystery of the Mother of God in this celebration, but I decided I’m not going to talk to you about it. There is a great mystery there: the mystery of the glorified body, assumed into Heaven; the mystery of Mary as the first-fruits of redeemed and resurrected humanity, and as the icon, the personal embodiment, of that pure and undefiled Bride of Christ which she anticipates in herself, in the Kingdom to come. Sometimes the theological profundity of something like this either escapes us or it holds our attention just long enough for us to give our nod of approval during the Liturgy, and then we go back to our petty, selfish, mediocre little lives—totally unaffected by it. If you’re lucky, it stays in your head, and doesn’t go in one ear and out the other.

We’re not going to really know the Mother of God just by knowing the theology of her life, although that helps, and can help very much. But for many people, to know her is a very different experience, and in order to know the Mother of God, we don’t have to just read the catechism: that’s only the very beginning. What we have to do is to welcome her into our lives; we have to give her a place in our lives. Only then we will come to know her, then everything else will come to make more sense, because it will be something that comes from inside. It will be something that resonates with the truth that is expressed in theology. “Oh, yes, that makes perfect sense to me, because I know her, and everything fits together now.”

So we have to open ourselves to her, and realize, whether we are aware of it or not, that she is there—she is with us! She is walking with us; she is praying for us; she is protecting us; she is blessing us. She is with us just as a mother is, and we have to somehow come to that realization—that for your whole life she has been there, with you and for you, as a mother, as somebody who loves you and whom God has given to you to be a companion, a friend, a guide, a protectress, an intercessor, for your life. And when we give her that place in our life, things begin to change.

I remember a couple years ago when we celebrated the Office of the Paraclisis at Matins, as part of the pre-feast; it’s an Office that’s dedicated to the Mother of God. There was something very special about that Office—it was very peaceful, and very pleasant, and there was a spirit about it that was unusual. I am usually like Martha: anxious, stressed out about many things, and I’m always running around doing stuff and not having the time or the presence of mind to sit at the feet of Jesus, but during that Office something was happening, something sweet and different; the spiritual “environment” had somehow been enhanced. I was thinking, “What is going on here?” Then I said, “I know! The Mother of God must be here!” It’s something one can’t put into words: a feeling, an experience through which, all of a sudden, something’s different, something’s better, and you know what? She’s there! This is the gift of God to us—and we should receive it and allow ourselves to be blessed by that and to come to her as children—not gurgling infants or bratty five-year-olds, but as simple people who love her and have no “baggage” (whether emotional or theological) to get in the way of a simple, loving, childlike relationship.

I think she wants us to be like that with her. It’s not enough to just offer her perfunctory obeisances and make your dutiful bows and sing the prescribed hymns—so there, that means you’re devoted to the Mother of God. Well, those things can be a vehicle of devotion, but if there’s no inner devotion, those things are just an empty shell. There has to be something that moves you in your heart to her, to run to her. She wants that from us, too: she doesn’t need all this incense and stuff. That’s nice, but it doesn’t connect us to her personally. What mother would want her little child to just honor her from across the room? She wants the child to come and run into her arms, and she doesn’t care if the kid slobbers all over her, because it’s her child, and she loves him or her, and so we should do the same! Not slobber all over her, but go to her like children, just run to her and wrap our little arms around her neck like Jesus in the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir: be close to her.

Even though the icons are rather stiff and stylized in their presentation, they are still a means for us to connect to her. What do we do to the icon? We kiss it! A kiss is something that’s very precious: it’s meaningful, it’s personal. And so, since we don’t see the Mother of God face-to-face and have to live by faith, the image that the Church offers to us is something that says, “Here: this is your mother—kiss her.” We should do that. It should be something that comes not just from the rubrics, but from our heart, that we should just come to her like that.

Once you have that relationship, all the other stuff doesn’t really matter. There is so much “stuff” in all the polemics, all these people who don’t accept the Mother of God, and they’re always saying, “Where is that in the Bible?” and all the rest.  We don’t need to get into all those arguments. But if you do want to have one little argument that covers them all, here it is. If they say something like, “Where in the Bible does it say…,” first you have to ask them, “Is the Bible the pillar of truth?” And they will say, “Of course!” And you ask, “Where in the Bible does the Bible say that the Bible is the pillar of truth?” “Well, nowhere.” “What does the Bible say? The pillar of truth is: the Church!” (1Timothy 3:15).

So, the Bible has just given us permission to venerate the Mother of God! Because the Bible tells us that the Church is the pillar of truth, and when the Church—especially speaking as Church, as the Body, the Bride, of Christ, with the authority of Christ and the Holy Spirit, and defining something solemnly, that this is the revelation of God—well then, the pillar of divine truth has spoken! And we can, gladly and joyfully, believe and accept and live in that mystery.

We don’t have to give in to polemics or controversies, and all the stuff that unfortunately in so many places surrounds the Mother of God. Let’s just love her! Let’s just open our hearts to her. Let’s be like children before her. There’s a kind of paradox in Christianity that we’re called to be children, without being immature; we’re called to be sweet, without being sappy and sentimental; and we’re called also to endure suffering and hardship for the sake of the Gospel, without becoming bitter, angry, and resentful for what life is doing to us.

So, let us celebrate this feast, this mystery, with joy, and with thanksgiving, that God has given us such a Mother. And let us choose the good part, the best part, which is sitting at the feet of Jesus—and know that the good part is not often the easy part. Sometimes it may be, because God is generous with his grace and his gifts, but we have to realize that sitting at the feet of Jesus is not only sitting there and listening to him speak about the Heavenly Banquet and all of the other sweet, beautiful things of the Gospel—his easy yoke and light burden. It’s also sitting at the foot of the Cross of Jesus, when He’s saying, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” That’s another place we have to be at the feet of Jesus. But it’s all part of the same mystery. Mary was with Him in Bethlehem, and in the peace and joy of the home of Nazareth, and she was also with Him at the Cross. Where she is, she’s going to carry us with her, and when we entrust ourselves to her, we’re going to know the joy of Bethlehem, and the joy of Nazareth, and we’re going to know the agony of the Cross, but in the end we will know the glory of the Resurrection and the Kingdom of Heaven—the ultimate “good portion” that no one will ever take away from us.

Resurrection and Eucharist

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[The following is an excerpt from an Easter homily I gave a few years ago, which helps make the connection between Resurrection and the Holy Eucharist]

…Today we’re celebrating this great mystery, this power of the Resurrection that is something new in the whole universe: when He rose from the dead, something new happened that had never happened before, which has transformed the universe and the future of the whole universe forever, because what happened in Christ is not just someone dying and coming back to life; it’s not just an organism functioning, then ceasing to function, and then starting to function again.  It’s a completely new life, a life that is taken up into a new level of being.  Now this new power is at work in the universe, his power to elevate humanity up into the level of divine life and divine glory.  This is the gift and the power of the Resurrection.  What underlies this great, divine power to change everything and to transform everything into a shining image of God?  Well, of course it is love: it’s the divine love which makes all things new.  The love that Scripture says is stronger than death; God’s love alone is stronger than death.  We struggle here on earth with our mortality, and we do love, but of ourselves we can’t love in the same way that God loves, in this effective way that overcomes death.

I was reading a certain book, and it said that when we say “I love you” to someone, we’re saying, on a very fundamental level, “I want you to live forever.”  But the thing is that in our human condition we cannot make that happen.  We cannot make our loved ones live forever.  It’s a wish, a desire, but it’s one that we cannot accomplish of our own power.  We say, “I love you, I want you to live forever,” yet our loved ones die.  But it’s different with God.  See, God can say, “I want you to live forever, because I love you,” and He makes it happen: we see that first in the life of Christ, in the death and resurrection of Christ, as we sing the psalm, “You will not let your Beloved know decay.”  So, the Father says to Christ, “I love You, and therefore You are going to live forever,” and so in his humanity He raises Him up into that glory. Now Christ has that same power to love us unto life: his love for us is stronger than death, and He can tell us that same thing—that He loves us, and wants us to live forever.  This is something that He’s already begun to do in the first-fruits of redeemed and resurrected humanity, the Mother of God.  Jesus said to her, in effect—when He raised her up and assumed her body and soul into Heaven—“I love you, and I want you to live forever!  Now, rise from the dead!”  And she did!  This is the love that is stronger than death, the love that we celebrate in the Resurrection of Christ that transforms the whole universe.

There’s another side to the coin here, of love being stronger than death, because if love is going to be stronger than death, it first has to be stronger than life.  Now, what does that mean?  This is something that we can actually share in ourselves.  For love to be stronger than life, it has to be willing to die.

Jesus’ love was first stronger than life because He was willing to sacrifice his life for those whom He loved—He was willing to give it up.  He gave us that message in the Gospel:  “Whoever would save his life, will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”  That’s something that Jesus has shown us first, and gives us the example.  Do not love life more than God, and do not hold on to this passing life in such a way that would make you lose the life that’s true life in God.

Jesus’ love was stronger than life: He was willing to give up, to lay down, his life for his beloved.  But then, being the divine Son of God, and having the power to lay down his life and take it up again, He proved that his love is stronger than death, and He rose from the dead, and entered into that new, divine, glorified life that He promises to all of those who believe in Him and who love Him.  And we’re the ones who can benefit from that promise and that power of his love that gives us life, and gives us life eternal.

Now, one of the ways, and one of the most beautiful ways that this power of Christ’s presence—his love stronger than death, his divine life—is with us, is in the Holy Eucharist. This is the presence in our midst of Christ, slain and risen, and when we receive the Holy Eucharist, we take into ourselves the love that is stronger than death, the love that promises eternal life, because He said, “He who eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood abides in Me, and I in him….”   And what else?  “…and I will raise him up on the Last Day!”  Why?  Because the love that He puts in us through the Holy Eucharist is stronger than death and is going to make us rise from the dead on the Last Day, when He comes for us, his beloved.

There’s something that I read recently which I found to be a very beautiful insight into the mystery of the Eucharist and the Resurrection.  This is from a book by François Varillon.  He says, “When Marc Oraison was a surgeon in Bordeaux, every day he would see people die, people cease to exist.  He decided to become a priest so that he could celebrate the Eucharist in the midst of a universe bound to death and so that, through the Eucharist, he would make the Resurrection present at the very heart of this universe in which everything is mortal.  The Resurrection is the life beyond all deaths; it is the breach without which we would be forever enclosed in the circle of universal mortality.”

So this is what we’re doing here when we celebrate the Eucharist, and especially today, on the Feast of Christ’s Resurrection: we are making the Resurrection present at the very heart of this universe in which everything is mortal. But Jesus says: not everything is going to be mortal, because I am going to raise you—as we heard from Saturday’s Matins reading of Ezekiel’s prophecy of the dry bones—“I am going to raise you, my people; I’m going to raise you from your graves.  Don’t say, ‘We’re lying here dead and our bones are dried up, and God has abandoned us.’  I am going to put my Spirit in you, and I’m going to raise you from your graves.”  This is read as a prophecy of the general resurrection at the Last Day.

Let us resolve to love God more than life, more than we love life itself, so that we are willing to make whatever sacrifice we need to be faithful to God—even the ultimate sacrifice—so that our love will be stronger than life, and then, when we finally pass from this life, we will hear that voice of Christ, as in chapter five of John He says: “An hour is coming when the dead in their graves are going to hear the voice of the Son of God.”  What is He going to be saying?  What are you going to hear?  You’re going to hear Christ say, “I love you!  I want you to live forever! My love is stronger than death.  Now rise, and live forever!”