Before the Cross | Eucharist, the anticipation and promise of heaven on earth
Pope Benedict XVI has observed that the mission that was given to the apostles by our Lord contains a paradox. On the one hand, they were invited to remain with Him, to stay close to Him as intimate friends and companions. On the other hand, they were sent out to the whole world to proclaim His Gospel and to baptize in the name of the Holy Trinity. "Staying close" and "being sent away" is the paradoxical mission given to each of us who seek to follow Jesus Christ as His disciples.
This paradox is reflected in the Church's designation of patronal saints for the missions. The two universal patrons for those who carryout the Church's missionary activity are: St. Francis Xavier (1506-1552), a Jesuit missionary who gave his life in an effort to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the peoples of the immense continent of Asia, and St. ThÃ©rÃ¨se of Lisieux, the Little Flower (1873-1897), a Carmelite virgin and doctor of the Church who never left her cloister. Francis was sent by his superiors to travel throughout the known world. ThÃ©rÃ¨se was called to stay home within the confines of her Carmel so that she could grow closer to Christ. Both saints were called to carry out the apostolic mission of the Church. Both shared with others their love for Jesus and their dedication to the Good News of our salvation in Him.
St. ThÃ©rÃ¨se of Lisieux and St. Francis Xavier were both declared saints by Pope Pius XI in the early years of the 20th century. They shared a passion for proclaiming the Gospel of Christ, but they carried out their apostolic work in profoundly different ways. Francis sought to "open new ways of access" to people of diverse cultures and religious backgrounds. ThÃ©rÃ¨se labored by her prayer and her writing to bring all of us closer to Christ through her "simple way" to holiness and the exercise of Gospel charity.
What do these two saints have in common in spite of their very different vocational callings and the three-and-a-half centuries that separated them in time?
Love is what they had in common: generous, self-sacrificing and wholehearted love -- modeled on the life, death and resurrection of their savior and ours, Jesus Christ. We see this love in their prayer and in their works. We see it, above all, in their devotion to the holy Eucharist and in their charity.
In her autobiography, St. ThÃ©rÃ¨se of Lisieux shares with us the importance that reception of holy Communion assumes in her simple way to union with Christ. For ThÃ©rÃ¨se, heaven is not some faraway place. It is wherever we are (in the cloister or the Far East), and we experience heaven whenever we allow the Lord to come into our souls through the mystery of His divine presence in the Eucharist. In order for us to carry out effectively the paradoxical mission of "staying close" and "being sent," we must first open our hearts to Him, and receive Him joyfully, as both the anticipation and promise of eternal life with Him.
Jesus gives us a taste of our heavenly home each time we welcome Him into our hearts during holy Communion or during eucharistic adoration. Although our problems and difficulties remain, Christ gives us the power to endure them. He also offers us hope that the day is coming when all pain and sadness will be wiped away. On that day, the Little Flower assures us, "we shall see our joy never coming to an end; there will no longer be the sadness of departings, and ... His home will be ours for all eternity."
St. Francis Xavier gave his life for the Gospel. So did St. ThÃ©rÃ¨se of Lisieux. Her way was different. She "stayed close" while he was sent to the ends of the earth. Both stayed close to Jesus through their reception of the holy Eucharist. Both proclaimed His Gospel, near and far, through their witness to His love and truth.
I love the saying of St. ThÃ©rÃ¨se of Lisieux, "The best means to reach perfection is through receiving Holy Communion frequently." ThÃ©rÃ¨se and Francis are both considered the patronal saints of missionaries because they allowed their frequent reception of the Eucharist to inspire their teaching and sustain their practice of His way to perfection.
Receiving our Lord in the Eucharist -- frequently -- is the best way to gain a foretaste of heaven here on earth. It is also the anticipation and promise that we will join Him after our deaths in the heavenly home that He is preparing for each of us and for all His disciples.
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