As we gaze upon the Most Holy Eucharist, the true Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, these words from Our Lord’s last discourse to His Apostles before His Passion in the Gospel according to St. John have a particular significance. When we look upon the Eucharist, exposed in the monstrance under the appearance of the host, we see God Himself, because we see Jesus Christ, the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, present under the appearance of bread, but really, truly, and substantially present. We must never forget this reality: To gaze upon the Eucharist is to gaze upon God Himself. When our Holy Father announced the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy that we are currently celebrating and which is the occasion for our pilgrimage to our diocesan cathedral today, he did so in a document titled, “Misericordiae Vultus,” the face of mercy. The document takes its name from its first line: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” Since, my brothers and sisters, the Eucharist that we behold this evening is Jesus Christ Himself, I would like to reflect with you on the relationship between the Eucharist and Divine Mercy.
Mercy, according to St. Augustine, is “heartfelt sympathy for another’s distress, impelling us to help him if we can” (De Civ. Dei ix, 5). The Latin word for mercy considered by St. Augustine and the other doctors of the church, misericordia, means, “a heart that is compassionate or takes pity.” This sorrow over the ills of another, or pity, is a natural response by which we grieve over the sorrows of another as if they were our own. The merciful person grieves over the sorrows of another because in some way he has taken on the sufferings of another – otherwise he would not grieve. The merciful person then has begun to imitate Christ who took upon Himself the sins of all in His Passion, the greatest act of mercy there could ever be.
What is it, then, that creates this union between the merciful person and the other upon whom she takes mercy? The first is love. Someone who loves another looks upon the other as another self. This is why the greater you love another person, the more you experience his sufferings as your own. In this regard, St. Paul tells us in the book of Romans, “Rejoice with them that rejoice, weep with them that weep,” (Rom. 12:15).
The second reason for which one experiences another’s sufferings as one’s own is because of real union. In this way, the evil experienced by another seems to pass into us. In human persons, this happens because we consider ourselves to be like the person suffering. We realize that we could suffer the same evil, and thus our participation in the other’s suffering is intensified. For example, someone who has an elderly father who is sick attends the funeral of the father of a friend. Her sharing in her friend’s suffering will be all the more intense because she will easily imagine experiencing her friend’s grief when her own father dies. Her mercy for her friend will be increased by the union she experiences with him.
These two types of union between persons are also present in the Most Holy Eucharist, and they show how the Eucharist is a most excellent sign of God’s mercy for us. The presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist is a sign of His love for us because it shows how He desires to draw near to us. The same Jesus who wept for the sorrow of His friends Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus weeps still today for the many sorrows that we experience, and especially for our sins, which if we saw all things as God does, should be the source of our greatest sorrow. This is always true of the Saints, who suffered more at having offended God by their sins than over any human sorrow. Thus in the Eucharist, in Christ’s drawing near to us, we see the Father’s mercy in God’s great love for us.
The second type of union that prompts mercy is real union, and this is even more eloquently expressed in the Eucharist. Whenever we receive the Eucharist worthily, our hearts are brought into union with Christ, a union that is real through the power of the Sacraments. When you consume ordinary food, your body turns that food into your own bodily tissue. But when you receive the Most Holy Eucharist in a state of grace, it is you yourself who are transformed into Christ. Receiving the Holy Eucharist, both sacramentally at Mass and even spiritually during adoration, increases God’s mercy for us because we enter into union with God as we are transformed into the image of His beloved Son Jesus.
When God the Father looks upon those who have been thus transformed by receiving His Son in Holy Communion, He sees not only you, but He sees Christ in you. How then could His mercy for you not increase when you receive Holy Communion? Receiving the Eucharist ought to lead us into a virtuous circle of receiving the Lord’s mercy and returning to His Heavenly Banquet of the Eucharist to be united more closely to Him, by which the Lord will look upon us with increasing favor and mercy.
As you continue to spend this time in adoration of our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament, ask Him to increase in your heart your desire to receive His mercy. Without that mercy we are nothing but poor sinners; with it, we are citizens of the kingdom of Heaven.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Ft. Wayne, Ind.
Holy hour sermon for a pilgrimage to the diocesan cathedral for the Jubilee Year of Mercy