Lent in Practice: The Bread of Life

Man must eat to live. God created him under this necessity: it is a law of physical life. To make sweet the burden and light the yoke of maintaining life, God gave appetite, or desire for food, and taste to find it agreeable. Loss of taste begets loss of appetite; loss of appetite indicates ill-health. Or we may have a morbid appetite and a perverted taste, craving certain things out of proportion, or things injurious to life. We call this condition morbid, because it is opposed to life; it makes for disease and death: it is opposed to law. Man must eat to live, man does not live to eat. There is much food for penance in subjecting appetite and taste to law and order; in using these gifts of God according to His will: to maintain life in full health and efficiency, in so far as in us lies, for His service. How may we tonic our souls for such penance?

Food is no less a necessity in the spiritual life; spiritually man must eat to live: "Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you shall not have life in you." (John 6:54) For, our Lord solemnly asserts, "My flesh is meat indeed and My blood is drink indeed." (John 6:56) That, in the order of grace, appetite and taste for this heavenly food, the Bread of Life, are given to us, is no less certain, for Our Blessed Lord assures us that He came to give us "abundant" life; He urges us to "come" unto Him; to "taste and see that the Lord is sweet." If we have no appetite for the Bread of Life, our souls are sick; if we have no taste for It, it is because it is cloyed with material things. Spiritually this is a morbid, a wrong condition of soul. We are too apt to think appetite and taste for God are unnatural, extraordinary: They are supernatural, to be sure - above nature, but they are not unnatural - against nature, for God made man for Himself, and Jesus Christ, the God-Man was "lifted up" to "draw all men unto Him." By every wile and device of love He has poured Himself out to fill and to satisfy our every want and craving. We must indeed be unnatural ingrates, if we are devoid of some measure of desire for Him. If a strong appetite for the heavenly Bread be extraordinary, it is not because God wills it so, but rather because we have "gone aside into our own way": because we do not eat to live.

For is it conceivable that Jesus Christ should have so "emptied Himself" as we have seen in the Holy Sacrifice; that He should assume the appearance of bread and wine and dwell with us day and night in order to nourish our souls, and then not give us the ability to desire and to seek Him? Would He stay there if He wished us to stay away?

No. Frequent, daily Communion should be the complement of daily Mass in our practice of Lent.

If this is already our practice, we may still cultivate a stronger appetite, a greater taste. Asking the Holy Spirit to give us a "love and relish" for the Bread of Life, our devotion should increase, until we find this heavenly banquet more savory than all the feasts of earth. Our soul will be filled with "brightness," the "Brightness of His Glory" (Hebrews 1:3), and we shall indeed be "a fountain of water whose waters shall not fail." "I live, not I, but Christ Jesus liveth in me," exclaimed Saint Paul. This is the Catholic life: for this Christ came into the world.

How may we attain to it? By feeding and feeding again; by overcoming all obstacles that would hold us from this perfect Communion of our whole selves, body and soul, with Jesus Christ, whole and entire. Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. It will cost something to wash oneself cleaner and cleaner in the sacrament of penance; to adorn ourselves more and more with true charity, for our Lord said if we came to the altar and our brother had something against us, we must go back first and be reconciled to our brother. We will have the humility to go to Him in spite of our unworthiness, because of our absolute necessity. We will have the courage to let Him shape our thoughts by His thoughts, to look at ourselves by His effulgent Light, yet not to die of shame; to seek His glory, not our satisfaction.

In the strength of this Bread we will be able to mortify the false appetites and tastes of the flesh, to mold our wills to the divine will; in its strength we will walk unto the mountain of God and speak with Him heart to Heart.

- text from Lent in Practice: The Spirit of Penance, by Father John J Burke, C.S.P.; printed by "The Missionary Society of Saint Paul the Apostle in the State of New York"