FROM TH LETTERS OF FATHER PÍO: THE EUCHARIST IN TIME OF NEED
Written by Br. William Trauba Capuchin
Dear Friends of Padre Pio,
Peace, health, and goodwill to each of you!
Four months have gone by and due to Covid-19 we are still in a quarantine situation. As a result of these necessary means of ‘social distancing’ we have no public masses. This, in turn, implies that people make a ‘spiritual communion’ rather than a sacramental one. Although making a spiritual communion is good it is not equal to sharing the experience of receiving Christ incarnate directly. Moreover, we run the risk of getting used to this imposed abstinence and little by little lose our hunger for this ‘food of the strong’ as Padre Pio calls it in his letter to his spiritual daughter, Raffaelina Cerase.
Only recently, in the last few days has permission been given to celebrate mass open to the public, although with a restricted number of people attending and under many conditions. In this way the Church hopes to satisfy the spiritual thirst of her sons and daughters after this prolonged fast while respecting the integrity of their health. Hopefully, those who may have become accustomed to this fast and have adapted themselves to the cheap and easy fast-food diet of a worldly life will find a needed refreshment in their soul through sacramental communion.
Padre Pio, more than one hundred years ago, recognized the central role of the Eucharist and the frequent reception of Holy Communion as indispensable for a healthy development of the spiritual life. He offers some thoughts on this topic in his letter to his spiritual daughter, Raffaelina Cerase dated May 19, 1914:
In these sad times when so many souls are turning away from God, I cannot convince myself that anyone can live the true spiritual life without the food of the strong. In these days in which we are continually surrounded by people who harbor hatred for God in their hearts and who blaspheme continually, the sure means of remaining immune from this pestilential disease is to strengthen ourselves with the Eucharistic food.
Now, to remain immune from sin and make progress on the path to perfection is not possible for those who remain for months on end without partaking abundantly of the immaculate Flesh of the divine Lamb. I do not know what others think about this, but to me it is very clear that in the circumstances in which we live at present, for those who limit themselves to receiving Communion once or twice in the year, it is illusory to want to convince themselves that they can take even one step towards perfection.
We note that a hundred years ago the custom of frequent Holy Communion was not as common as it is now. To receive Holy Common once or twice a year was the practice of many people. But what is important to capture from his words is his profound hunger for Jesus. Padre Pio speaks of the frequent reception of Holy Communion not as a rule to follow for a closer union with our Lord, but as a heart-felt desire and need to be united to Him. For Padre Pio, to receive our Lord in Holy Communion was as necessary as inhaling air we breathe. Just as our body needs appropriate food for its nourishment, our spirit too has its need for its proper food: Holy Communion, Jesus Incarnate within us.
Although Jesus presents Himself to us in Holy Communion under the form of a basic food that is assimilated by our body as every other food, at the spiritual level the opposite takes place. The encounter of our spirit with God, who is spirit, results in a co-penetration in which our spirit is assimilated into the spirit of God, that is, into God Himself. This co-penetration is subtle, profound, and lasting. It is a prelude to our heavenly life with God. This encounter is delicate because a spirit is simple and does not have sensors like our body enjoys that facilitate our selection of food, its consummation and healthy digestion. Our spirit is disposed and sensitive to this delicate encounter when it is pure and attentive. Despite the importance and far-reaching consequences of this union of spirits, we are seldom sufficiently sensitive to our own spirit and even less sensitive to the spirit of God to be able to perceive and appreciate this miracle. Unfortunately, we are often distracted and ill-disposed at the time of Holy Communion and the routine of receiving Holy Communion can make us insensitive to the ineffable delight of this encounter. The exquisite taste of this spiritual food is then lost for the present.
If receiving this ‘food of the strong’ is in fact an anticipation of our future life with God, it behooves us to dispose ourselves to receive it well. A meditation on the meaning of this encounter, how it occurs, and where it leads can serve to enrich immeasurably the quality of this spiritual union with Jesus. Also important is a thanksgiving after receiving Holy Communion. Thanking Jesus for his arrival into our soul in this way expands our spirit to receive his infinity more fully in the future. How can this be but a top priority for the person seriously seeking Christ?
The appreciation of the Holy Eucharist, or mass, is distinct from this consideration of Holy Communion, but falls under the same context. God incarnate among us, with a passionate love, intimate and delicate and lasting is present in each Eucharist, but his presence in concretized in a particular way when we receive Him in Holy Communion. I repeat, it is awesome that when one receives Holy Communion sincerely, one is receiving a real prelude to eternal life. This introduction to eternal life is not only conceptual but also experiential in the soul of the pure and fervent person.
Well then, let us take heart! We are in troubled times and the food we most need is scarce. Let us hasten to mass and receive our Lord in Holy Communion with renewed fervor. We are made by God and for God and let us relish the taste of his divine breath refreshing our soul.
Your brother in Christ,
Fray Guillermo Trauba, Capuchin