The world of believers and non-believers alike had been waiting with eager longing and expectation for the Divine Mercy Sunday, 27th April, 2014. St. Peter’s square and different parts of the historical city of Rome were filled with countless number of people coming from every corner of the world to participate in the joy of the canonization of one of the great saints of our times, at whose death the young people had cried out in one voice “santo subito” – “a saint soon”.
That cry from the four corners of the world reached heaven and the Lord granted the required miracles both for the beatification (1st May, 2011) and the canonization (27th April, 2014) done though his intercession. He thus has joined the list of the countless number of blessed in heaven, including the mother of the poor, St. Teresa of Calcutta, whom St. John Paul II himself beatified on Mission Sunday, 19th October, 2003, on the silver Jubilee of his pontificate, and was canonized by Pope Francis on 4th September, 2016.
These two great saints of our time have left behind a very rich heritage of profound faith and unforgettable example of the great and undefeatable love of God. What was the secret of their life? Who inspired them, giving them the grace, courage and strength to realize and to accomplish what they have realized and accomplished? Their memory is still fresh, as so many of us had the inestimable privilege of walking and working with both or at least one of them. Both of them drew their strength, renewing their capacity of love of neighbour, particularly the poor, the last, the least and the lost, from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord and vice versa.
We cannot then simply pass by without giving some thought to their devotion to the all important and ineffable gift and mystery that is the most holy Eucharist. Here we limit ourselves to a few of their writings on the Eucharist, which express and explain the power that worked through their lives.
St. John Paul II and St. Teresa of Calcutta were firmly convinced that the centre of their life was rooted in Jesus in the Eucharist. The Eucharistic Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary little by little took possession of them, so much so that they both became “such powerful magnets”, who were able to draw souls to God and God to souls. Both were outstanding in their devotion to the Eucharist and have left such incredible patrimony to the Church. Both of them loved Jesus in the Eucharist, loved and served him in their neighbour, particularly in the very poor. “How could it be otherwise”, wrote St. John Paul II, “since the Christ encountered in contemplation is the same who lives and suffers in the poor?” (cf. V.C. 82/3).
We read the following words in the Constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity Brothers Contemplative:
“…We are called to be contemplative missionaries and missionary contemplatives for twenty-four hours each day; from the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament we go to the presence of Jesus in the poorest of the poor, and vice versa…
“The person of Jesus whom we contemplate, listen to and adore in the Bread of life is the same person of Jesus to whom we give whole-hearted free service in the distressing disguise of the least, the last and the lost, the lonely, the aged, the unloved, the abandoned, the AIDS patients, etc. Jesus is present in all of them, for he said: ‘As long as you did to one of the least of My brothers you did it to Me’ (Mt 25: 31-46)”.
St. Teresa M.C. wrote to the archbishop of Kolkata back in January 1948: “The work that we will have to do will be impossible without His (Jesus’) continual Grace from the tabernacle. He will have to do everything. We have just to follow” (Loreto Covent, Calcutta, 28.01.1948).
We cannot therefore exist nor can we work with the poor without the proper understanding of the twofold presence of Jesus. They are inseparable, like the two wings of a bird. We all know that no bird can fly with one wing alone. The more we love Jesus in the Bread of life, receive him in holy Communion and adore him with fervour, the more we love him and serve him in the poorest of the poor. It is impossible for anyone who really loves Jesus in the Eucharist not to love his neighbour at the same time and not to try to help him in every way possible.
The Christian communities are meant to be Eucharistic communities, which means Jesus in the Eucharist is the centre of their life in community and in their pastoral care.
St. Albert Hurtado, one of the saints of our time, from Santiago da Chile, was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday 23rd October, 2005, during the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His motto was: “My Mass is my life and my life is a prolonged Mass”. Jesus gives himself totally to us in the holy Eucharist.
St. Augustine writes: “Although God is all-powerful, he is unable to give more; though supremely wise, he knows not how to give more; though vastly rich, he has not more to give”.
Often we feel an apparent tension between the active and the contemplative life. St. John Paul II wrote in his Apostolic exhortation ‘Redemptoris Custos, the Guardian of the Redeemer’: “In Joseph the apparent tension between the active and contemplative life finds an ideal harmony that is only possible for those who possess the perfection of Charity”. The most holy Eucharist keeps alive and active the virtue of Charity in us.
In the original Rule for the Sisters, St. Teresa M.C. wrote in 1947: “The Sisters must use every means to learn and increase in that tender love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament” (R. 34). Here St. Teresa M.C., inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit, used two absolute words: “must” and “every”, i.e. we must, according to her, which I believe she did herself in the first place, use every means to learn and increase in that tender love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament so that our tender love for Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor may also grow and increase.
From the very beginning of her M.C. vocation our holy Foundress was very aware, clear and convinced that without a special and tender love for Jesus in the Eucharist she, her Sisters and her Brothers would be unable to love and serve Jesus in the poor. It is clear from the letter to the archbishop of Kolkata when she says: “One thing I request you, your Grace, to give us all the spiritual help we need. If we have our Lord in the midst of us with daily Mass and Holy Communion I fear nothing for the Sisters nor for myself. He will look after us. But without Him I cannot be, I am helpless” (Feast of Corpus Domini, 1947). This was then the life of St. Teresa of Calcutta, and her work was an extension and a continuation of not only Jesus’ work, but Jesus in person worked with her. She, her Sisters and her Brothers are meant to have this conviction, and only then is their life going to produce more and more fruit.
Her intimacy with Jesus started at an early age, as early as five and a half, which became stronger and deeper with years. Here once again we have the authentic text written by her to the archbishop of Kolkata: “From the age of five and a half years, when I first received him in Holy Communion, the love for souls has been within. It grew with the years until I came to India with the hope of saving many souls. In those 18 years I have tried to live up to His desires. I have been burning with longing to love Him as he has never been loved before…”(25th January, 1947).
This burning love continued to burn her heart and soul for the salvation and sanctification of the souls, particularly of the poorest of the poor. Each Mass and holy Communion for her was putting more wood in the fire, for she writes: “These desires to satiate the longing of our Lord, for souls of the poor, for pure victims of his love go on increasing with every Mass and Holy Communion. All my prayers and the whole day, in a word are full of this desire” (3rd December, 1947).
Whenever people asked St. Teresa M.C. of the secret of her power, strength and vitality, especially when she was considerably old, she used to point to the tabernacle. Even when she was admitted to various hospitals, she asked for the tabernacle in her hospital bed-room, where she wanted a priest to celebrate the holy Mass daily and give her holy Communion, plus an hour of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament exposed.
In Kolkata, when she was in the Woodlands Nursing Home, it was a Hindu doctor who told the Sisters to bring “that box” from the Mother House of the M.C. Sisters. The doctor did not know how to call this box, which we call the tabernacle – tabernaculos means God’s dwelling among us. The doctor said that St. Teresa M.C. would feel better and less restless if the Sisters brought the “Presence of Jesus” in the Eucharist; and it was done and she showed herself to be exceptionally at peace and graceful.
St. Teresa M.C.’s life, then, was a Eucharistic life. In two of the most important letters she wrote, she says: “One day at Holy Communion I heard the same voice very distinctly…”, and then she enumerates the kind of members she must have, and their qualities. He dictated, so to say, everything to her. He defined in very clear and simple terms the M.C. vocation, namely “to love and suffer and save souls”. He spoke of the kind of habit she and her nuns should wear, the kind of people they should serve, the name of the Congregation she was called to found, etcAlso, her locutions and visions took place in such a context: “In all my prayers and Holy Communion He is continually asking: Wilt thou refuse? When there was a question of your soul, I did not think of myself but gave myself freely for thee on the Cross and now what about thee? Wilt thou refuse?…” (Feast of St. Francis Xavier, 1946).
In his message to the young people of the world St. John Paul II wrote:
“Dear friends, if you learn to discover Jesus in the Eucharist, you will also know how to discover him in your brothers and sisters, particularly in the very poor. The Eucharist received with love and adored with fervour becomes a school of freedom and Charity in order to fulfil the commandment of love…This Eucharistic school of freedom and Charity teaches us to overcome superficial emotions in order to be rooted firmly in what is true and good; it frees us from all self-attachment in order to open ourselves to others. It teaches us to make the transition from an affective love to an effective love. For love is not merely a feeling; it is an act of will that consists of preferring in a constant manner the good of others to the good of oneself.
“It is with such inner freedom and burning Charity that Jesus teaches us to find him in others, first of all in the disfigured faces of the poor. Blessed Teresa of Calcutta loved to distribute her ‘visiting card’ on which were written the words: «The fruit of silence is prayer; the fruit of prayer is faith; the fruit of faith is love; the fruit of love is service; the fruit of service is peace». This is the way to meet Christ…The world is in urgent need of great prophetic signs of fraternal Charity! It is not enough to speak of Jesus. We must also let him be seen somehow through the eloquent witness of our own life” (St. John Paul II).
Our love for Jesus in the Bread of life and our love for the poorest of the poor are inseparable. They form one single reality. In order that we may feed the hungry and quench the thirsty, Jesus first of all feeds us with his own Body; he satiates our thirst with his Word and his Blood.
Pope Benedict XVI writes in his first encyclical letter ‘Deus Caritas Est’: “Only if I serve my neighbour can my eyes be opened to what God does for me, and how much he loves me. The saints – consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta – constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbour are inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first” (18).
This twofold love can be compared to the water that goes into a tank through a pipe. The tank receives water through one pipe and then the same water goes out through another pipe to be distributed to all those in need. The tank, as we know very well, does not produce water, nor does the tank drink or absorb the water. The purpose and function of the tank is to collect water through one pipe and distribute it to all those around through another. There is a saying in Latin: “Nemo dat quod non habet” (None can give what he or she does not have). We give and share what we receive from the good God in prayer. That is why Jesus said to St. Teresa M.C. that she, the Sisters and the Brothers must be so united to Him as to radiate his love on souls. The more we receive, the more we give and share with all those in need, and the more we share, the more we receive. Love grows through love. The source of this invincible love is the most Holy Trinity, which is an inexhaustible fountain. We connect ourselves to this fountain of love through prayer, especially through the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. In this way we always live in love for love. The holy Eucharist continually nourishes, strengthens, keep alive and active our love. Thus our love becomes more and more effective.
In the words of St. John Paul II:
“Proclaiming the death of the Lord until he comes” (1Cor 11: 26) entails that all who take part in the Eucharist be committed to changing their lives and making them in a certain way completely Eucharistic.
“…Significantly in the account of the Last Supper, the Gospel of John relates, as a way of bringing out its profound meaning, the account of the ‘washing of the feet’, in which Jesus appears as the teacher of communion and of service” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia No. 20).
St. John Chrysostom writes:
“Do you want to honour the body of Christ? Do not ignore him when he is naked. Do not pay him homage in the temple clad in silk, only then to neglect him outside where he is cold and ill-clad. He who said ‘This is my body’ is the same who said ‘You saw me hungry and you gave me no food’ and ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers you did also to me’…What good is it if the Eucharistic table is overloaded with golden chalices when your brother is dying in hunger. Start with satisfying his hunger and then with what is left you may adorn the altar as well” (St. John Chrysostom, In Evangelium S. Matthae, hom 50: 3-4).
Our Mother Church and all its members draw their life from the Eucharist for the most holy Eucharist contains our entire spiritual wealth (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia 1). It can be said that the most holy Eucharist builds our Church and makes it to grow. The celebration of the Eucharist is at the centre of the process of the Church’s growth:
“Mindful of the command of the Lord: ‘Do this in memory of me’ (Lk 22: 19), persons in authority will assure that the holy mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ is celebrated and venerated as “the source and summit” of communion with God and among brothers and sisters.
“Celebrating and adoring the gift of the Eucharist in faithful obedience to the Lord, the community draws from it the inspiration and strength for its total dedication to God, in order to be a sign of its gratuitous love for humanity and an efficacious pointing toward future goods” (Service of Authority and Obedience 13b).
The Constitutions of the Missionaries of Charity Brothers Contemplative say:
“We should never forget that the heart of the Eucharistic celebration is the self-giving of Jesus in the Bread of life and in the broken, imprisoned, sickly, lonely, bodies of the poor. The sacrifice of ourselves with Jesus in the Eucharist for the sake of the others – our Brothers and the poor – is the single foundation of every community. We unite ourselves with the Lord in a fruitful and acceptable sacrifice for the life of the world.
“Each day we are nourished at the Lord’s Table and filled with His Word and Bread. So we should be ever ready to break “the Bread of life” for the poor and the hungry everywhere in the world. We keep nothing for ourselves but share with the poor in joy and in gladness of heart all we have received from God’s tenderness.
“Our whole life must be worship in Spirit and truth. ‘Jesus waits for us in this sacrament of love. Let us be generous with our time in going to meet Him in adoration and contemplation that is full of faith, and ready to make reparation for the great faults and crimes of the world. May our adoration never cease!’ “ (St. John Paul II, The Holy Eucharist, 24th February, 1980).
I would like to conclude this discourse on the ineffable gift of the Eucharist by quoting again St. Teresa M.C., who wrote:
“The attraction for the Blessed Sacrament at times was so great. I longed for Holy Communion. Night after night the sleep would disappear, and only to spend those hours for his coming. This began in Asansol. Now every night for one hour or two, I have noticed it from 11.00 p.m. to 1.00 a.m., the same longing breaks into the sleep” (St. Teresa M.C. to Fr. Van Exem, 08.08.1947).
This was St. Teresa of Calcutta’s life and her daily experience. Let this be our life and experience as well. Let all long for his coming in the Bread of life to receive him in holy Communion with burning love, adore him in the Eucharist with great fervour and enthusiasm and serve him in one another, particularly in the very poor.
“Let our adoration never cease” (St. John Paul II), and our love for the poor never fall short.
God bless you.
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C.