July-August 2019

Post date: Oct 28, 2019 1:38:45 PM

Before a recent baptism, a passage from the Gospel according to John came to mind:

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever” (Jn. 6:53-58).

Baptism is the sacrament of entry into the Church. Historical documents show us that the sacrament used to take part in the context of the Divine Liturgy, the entire body of the local church being a witness to the entry of the new person(s) into that body. That Liturgy also marked the first time that the baptized person received the Eucharist. If the prayers of baptism ask that the newly illumined be united with Christ in His death and resurrection, in holy communion the sacrament of baptism fulfills its purpose: we receive within us and are united with the body and blood of Christ.

I have heard of a practice wherein the parents and godparents are reminded to bring the newly baptized to receive communion for three Sundays after baptism. It is perhaps a pious practice, but it missed the point of Christ’s words above. Christ compared His body and blood to the manna which fed the Israelites in the desert. He used the word “feed”: “He who feeds on Me.” The manna fell daily for the Israelites. Feeding is a habitual activity, something that happens repeatedly and often. So Christ insists that for us to truly have life, we need to partake of Him. This is because God is the only one who has life in Himself. He is, as the prayer says, “the giver of life.” A refusal of communion with Him is but a journey to chaos and non-existence.

In a recent article Fr. Stephen DeYoung writes that God, in His creative work, gives order to the world. He states that “Human persons are created to continue this work of giving order to the creation and filling it with life. This ordering of the world forms the scriptural understanding of justice and expresses itself in the Torah in the form of commandments, through the keeping of which human life will bring that structure to the world as a whole. Sin as a force is opposed to this order and seeks to destroy it, reducing human life to chaos and death. It is only through these structures, however, that life can have meaning and purpose” (“Being and Chaos” at blogs.ancientfaith.com).

Fr. Stephen argues that a rightly-ordered life, lived in the light of the commandments, is transformative not just of the world at large and but also of ourselves and our relationships with God and one another. That transformation is essential, because “what it means to “live” or even to “exist” is to participate in these correctly ordered relationships with other human persons, the rest of the creation, and preeminently with God, the Holy Trinity [...] the breaking of these relationships through sin, the disintegration of good order, or exile constitute death and non-existence” (“Being and Chaos” at blogs.ancientfaith.com).

So, as Christians, we understand that true life requires that we be united with one another through Christ’s presence in us, as He Himself proclaimed (cf. Jn. 17:23). An instinctual example of our perception of the truth of that understanding is that saying that the saints seem “more alive.” The saints have united themselves to Christ in such a way that His life shines through them. As a result, the encounter with a living saint can be unsettling, as it reveals to us that which is lacking in our lives. In the book for our summer reading club, Mat. Constantina Palmer says of such an encounter: “His gaze was piercing. I couldn’t look him in the eyes” (The Scent of Holiness, p. 96). Despite its unsettling nature, encountering a saint is also life-giving, full of peace and grace.

The saints show us the heights to which we can ascend. Their union with Christ began just like ours, “being planted in the likeness of Your death through Baptism, [to] become a sharer of [His] Resurrection” (prayer of the blessing of the water from the sacrament of baptism) and was sustained through the communion of His precious Body and Blood. May God grant us the grace to follow their example. As for us, let us prepare our hearts for that grace through frequent participation in the sacrament of communion, being made ready through the sacrament of confession.

With love in Christ,

+Fr. Peter