Editor’s note: The following is an article written by Msgr. David Page that was published in the Florida Catholic Nov. 15, 1963. Then Father Page served as executive editor of the Florida Catholic from September 1966 to June 1990. The monsignor is currently retired and assists at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Indialantic. The text is an excerpt of a sermon then Father Page gave at the 1963 Diocesan Eucharistic Congress in Jacksonville, which focused upon the Eucharist as a source of Christian piety and justice.
ORLANDO | Amen, Amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you (Jn 6:53).
Anxiety and sadness: These are the predominant sentiments of all true followers of Christ as they contemplate the spiritual decay and growing indifference of the modern world. All serious thinkers are deeply concerned with the gradual abandonment of the traditional Christian principals and consequent persistent rise in crime rate.
Excessive drinking, and its twin companion, sexual immorality, have become common place between young and old.
Marital unfaithfulness and its inevitable result, divorce, are now acceptable to a frivolous and soft society.
While in theory we are all children of God in daily life, however, large minorities though no fault of their own, are social outcasts and in their bitter lot suffer glaring, though oftentimes intangible injustice and cruelty.
Like a contagious disease, injustice has found its way into almost every sphere of human activity. Many nominal and even some church-going Christians have become so steeped in the prevalent pagan atmosphere that, in their standard of values, selfishness has taken the place of justice. Christ’s principal of giving to others what is their due has been replaced by that which says: “Grab for yourself whatever you can get away with.”
Thus, false insurance claim, doctored income tax returns, padded expense accounts, and unpaid debts are regarded as clever business manipulations rather than gross injustices.
On every side God’s good and wise laws are openly flouted. Even many so-called good Christians are indifferent to the morass of evil all around them, and little concern as to the spreading of Christ’s knowledge and love. Truly, spiritual decay, apathy, and indifference are the keynotes of our age.
Today, when so many are ready to give up the practice of their faith for mere bodily pleasure or convenience, our minds naturally turn back to the heroic Christians of the early Church.
We ask ourselves the question: “What exactly is the secret medicine that enabled these new Christians to overcome bodily inertia and spiritual indifference?”
“What made them so vigorous and courageous in the practice of their faith?” It is a historical fact that within three centuries from the founding of the Church, the vast Roman empire had changed its allegiance from Paganism to Christ.
Under God this can largely be attributed to the vigor and zeal of the ordinary lay Christian.
Why were those early followers of Christ so steadfast and zealous in their religion and why are we so weak? What was the secret of their sanctity and success?
Without the least hesitation we can answer: their secret lay in their devout practice of frequent and devout Holy Communion.
If we look to the history of the early Church, we will see that the ordinary Christian offered up the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood each day because he realized that Communion is a part of the sacrifice, he received the Eucharist at his daily Mass.
To the early Christians it was almost unthinkable to go to Mass and refuse to receive Christ’s body in the sacrificial meal.
Thus the Apostles and first Christians, daily fortified with the body of Christ, went forth into the hostile pagan world to meet persecution and oftentimes death.
All the martyrs, beginning with St. Stephen, relied for their strength and courage on the heavenly bread.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, while in prison waiting to be devoured by lions and tigers prayed, that as Christ became food for our sake, so he also might become the food of wild beasts for Christ’s sake.
Yes, frequent partaking of Christ’s body gave nourishment, strength, and zeal to the early Christians. It will do the very same for you and me.
The greatest and noblest effect of the Eucharist is that it will unite us intimately with our loving Savior. We become one with Christ.
We can say then, with St. Paul, “I live now not I, but Christ lives in me.”
Being united so closely with Christ necessarily strengthens our union with our fellow man. For we are all the brothers of Christ and the sons of God. It is impossible to grow in love with the Eucharistic Christ without, at the same time, strengthening our love for fellow man.
Frequent Communion will consequently and inevitably lead to a growing sense of justice and fair play, a lessening of racial tension and national prejudice, fewer neighborhood jealousies and family quarrels. Christ in the Eucharist is the source of piety and justice.
Of ourselves we are weak and helpless in the struggle against sin and evil. But the early Christians and even martyrs were also weak and fickle by nature. They too were surrounded by ever present inclinations resulting from self-love and unruly passions. But they realized that, left to itself, human nature was too weak to overcome the alluring snare of the world, the flesh, and the devil. So they relied on the Eucharist, not only to purify their souls from the habitual faults of the past, but to nourish and strengthen them for the hard, hard struggle of the future.
Today, it is nothing short of tragic that those very people who need Christ the most, receive Him the least.
We must bear in mind, the reception of the Holy Communion is not just a pious practice, it is a necessity for our spiritual life. This bread of angels is as necessary for our souls as ordinary bread is for our bodies.
Yet, sad to say, in every parish, a large contingent receive the body of Christ once or twice a year, and then mostly as a matter of obligation, to avoid committing sin. Do such people really think Jesus gave us His body merely to impose on us a new obligation and thus test our obedience?
Nothing could be further from His intention. Listen to His words in Jn 6:53, 56. “Amen, amen I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in him.”
This is not legal language imposing an obligation – it is the language of love.
By Monsignor David Page, Special to the Florida Catholic, July 12, 2023