Food for the Journey
As a child my mother used to tell me the fascinating story of a German mystic, Therese Neumann (1898-1962) who had many heavenly visions and saw many scenes from the life of Our Lord. Like St Padre Pio and St Francis of Assisi she bore the stigmata – the wounds of Christ on her body. Although bedridden for many years due to an accident, she physically relived the Passion of Christ every Friday and would clinically die at 3pm (the traditional hour of Our Lord’s death), meaning that all the vital signs of life would disappear from her only to return a short time later. Countless bishops, priests and laity would visit her each year and witness all this first hand, including the fact that for twenty years she took no food or drink and lived only on Holy Communion. Many doctors and even some priests thought it a hoax, and so on one occasion she was closely examined for fifteen days, never being left alone for an instant, during which time she took no nourishment except for Holy Communion. But her health and weight remained the same as before. When asked how this could be Therese replied, “The Saviour can do all things. Did He not say that, “My Flesh is real food, and My Blood is real drink?”
God sometimes allows miracles like this to verify the fact that His Son truly is the Bread from Heaven and that we really receive Him in Holy Communion. When Our Lord says in today’s Gospel that He is the living bread come down from Heaven and whoever who eats this bread will live forever, this is the Holy Eucharist (John 6:41-51). Just as the prophet Elijah in the First Reading (1 Kings 19:4-8) couldn’t complete his journey without the nourishment miraculously provided by God, similarly we cannot complete our earthly journey without the supernatural food given us by Christ. This is why He instituted the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper, because He knew we would need it for our journey towards eternal life in Heaven.
We have a great privilege as Catholics to be able to receive JESUS in the Holy Eucharist so we must thank Our Lord profoundly for this great gift and we must strive for great purity of soul in order to receive Him worthily. St Padre Pio once said with great trepidation, “God sees stains even in the angels. What must He see in me?” Therefore he was very diligent in going to Confession frequently. St Thérèse of Lisieux, if she was aware of the slightest venial sin on her soul, would refrain from receiving Holy Communion until she had been to Confession. This was one of the main reasons Pope St Pius X lowered the age of First Holy Communion to seven years to allow JESUS to enter the innocent hearts of children. So we should not receive if we are aware of any unconfessed mortal sin, because otherwise as St Ambrose said, “we enter church with a few sins and leave it burdened with many.”
One of the most consoling things for a Catholic has to be our final Holy Communion or ‘Viaticum’ which means ‘food for the journey’ when death is approaching. It’s a great grace when this happens. When our earthly life is failing we look to JESUS, the life of our immortal souls and remember His promise, “He who eats this Bread shall live forever” (John 6:59).
Fr Paul Gillham, IC