Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saints and the Eucharist

"The instinct of faith: The saints and the Eucharist"

By Susan Brinkmann

The Catholic Standard & Times
Issue of March 2, 2006

Shortly after the death of her husband, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton sought a moment of comfort in her local church. Not yet Catholic, she took a seat in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in New York City.

She later wrote to a friend: “I got in a side pew in which I was positioned in such a way that I was facing St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in the next street. And I found myself speaking to the Most Blessed Sacrament in the Catholic Church, instead of looking at the naked altar where I was.”

Long before she became a saint, or even a Catholic, Elizabeth Ann Seton already had an instinct for God in the Eucharist.

“The saints were fully aware that Christ in the Blessed Sacrament was a reality,” writes the Catholic author and speaker Louis Kaczmarek, “that in the Blessed Sacrament, His heart is living, beating, waiting. …”

Kaczmarek’s book, “Hidden Treasure,” captures some of the most remarkable examples of that instinct in the souls of our best- known saints.

St. Ignatius of Loyola would pray for two hours after Mass. No one was permitted to speak to him during that time unless it was absolutely necessary — which it frequently was. Father Lewis Gonzales, who worked under the saint, said: “As often as I went to him at that time … I always saw his face shining with an air so bright and heavenly that, quite forgetting myself, I stood astonished in contemplating him.”

St. Rose of Lima was so in love with Jesus in the Eucharist that when she knelt before Him, one could see a kind of fire in her eyes. Afterward, asked to describe what was happening to her during these intense moments of prayer, she would stammer and say there were no words to express it. She said she “seemed to pass entirely into God,” and described herself as being so inundated with happiness that nothing in life could compare to it.

The raptures of St. Philip Neri before the Blessed Sacrament were even more extraordinary. Sometimes, he would be so filled with divine love and joy that he would roll upon the floor exclaiming “Enough, enough, Lord! I can bear no more.”

Friends once scolded St. Thomas More for wasting so much time going to Mass every day. “Your reasons for wanting me to stay away from holy Communion are exactly the ones which cause me to go so often,” he told them. “I have very much important business to handle; I need light and wisdom. It is for these very reasons that I go to holy Communion every day to consult Jesus about them.”

Centuries later, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen would have the same answer for why he was so successful in his various ministries. It was not because of the time he spent at work, he said, but because of the hour a day he spent in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Many of our saints relied on the instinct of faith to tell them God was really present in the Eucharist.

St. Louis IX, the devout, Catholic king of France, was once interrupted by a messenger who cried, “Your majesty! Hasten to the Church! A great miracle is occurring there. A priest is saying holy Mass, and after the Consecration, instead of the host there is visible on the altar Jesus, Himself, in His human figure. Everybody is marveling at it. Hurry before it disappears.”

As Kaczmarek describes it, the saintly monarch turned to the messenger and said, in part: “Even if I saw Jesus on the altar in His visible form … I should not be more convinced that I am now that He is present in the consecrated Host. The word of Christ is sufficient for me. I need no miracle.”

He was not the only king to be convinced of the Real Presence. St. Wenceslaus, the King of Bohemia, was so enamored by the gift of the Eucharist that he insisted on making the altar bread with his own hands: Not only did he mix the proper ingredients, he personally directed the plowing, cultivating, sowing and reaping of the field where the grain was grown. He ground the grain himself, sifted out the finest particles of flour, baked the bread, and then presented it to the local priests.

But it is not only great clerics or saintly political figures that have had an instinct for the Eucharist.

Consider Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, a simple Mohawk maiden who converted to the faith in the mid-17th century. She would kneel in the snow for two hours every morning before the church opened for Mass. She received the Lord with such reverence and bliss that people actually fought over who would sit next to her.

Young Matt Talbot, known as the “saint in overalls,” also knelt outside the doors of his church for hours every morning. Once inside, he would prostrate himself on the floor in the form of a cross before entering his pew. Every Sunday, he spent seven hours in Church without moving, “his arms crossed, his elbows not resting on anything, his body from the knees up as rigid and straight as the candles on the altar,” Kaczmarek writes. He did this every Sunday for 40 years.

The instinctive understanding of God’s presence in the Eucharist was also what made St. Peter Maldonado Lucero fight to the death to protect the Blessed Sacrament in 1937. A promoter of nocturnal adoration in Mexico during a time of great persecution of the Church, Father Maldonado was in hiding, like most priests at the time, and would spend many hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

When he was finally discovered by the authorities, rather than allow the soldiers to desecrate the Blessed Sacrament, he put the sacred Hosts in a pyx and held it close to his chest. The soldiers beat him with their rifles, screaming blasphemies at the “thing in his chest.”

According to Kaczmarek’s account, they beat him until all of his teeth were broken, his left eye destroyed, his right arm fractured and a leg dislocated. In spite of his agony, he held onto the pyx with what was left of his might.

Finally, his persecutors cut the cords of his hand with a knife so he could no longer clasp the pyx and it fell to the ground. One of his tormentors, a dormant Catholic, was so moved by the priest’s heroic faith in the Blessed Sacrament, he hurriedly consumed the hosts rather than let them be desecrated.

Even the sinful can have an instinct for God. Charles de Foucald, who was declared blessed in November 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI, is a perfect example.

Born into great wealth, he once described himself as being so wicked he was only one step away from insanity. One day, while on a religious quest, he stopped in St. Augustine’s Church in Paris where he experienced a profound conversion of heart during the consecration of the Mass. From that day forward, he was a changed man and the Eucharist became the center of his life.

He never stopped encouraging people to seek and find God in the tabernacle, and composed a prayer to say for that purpose: “Oh Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament in our churches, You give us solace and refuge; You give us faith, hope, love and hospitality. You build for us an inner retreat, an ardent repose. Help us to seek You and find You in the tabernacle.”