Sunday, July 24, 2011

Conformed to the Image of Christ

In the second reading for today’s Liturgy of the Word (17th Sunday in Ordinary Time), St. Paul tells us that God has predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son, and that the end result of His work in us is a sharing of His glory (Rom 8:28-30).

In order to be conformed to the image of Christ, we need to be filled with Christ. That is why God uses the Word and Sacraments as the primary means of transforming us. The Scriptures change us because Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is present in them and it is He who changes us. The same is true of the Sacraments. God changes the ordinary everyday things in our lives so that they might become the means by which He pours His grace into our lives. What makes the Sacraments effectual is not some magical power imbued in them; but it is the Word of God that makes them effectual. It is Christ who is present in the Sacraments who changes us by the Sacraments.
As Catholics we affirm that the greatest Sacrament – the Sacrament of Sacraments – is the Eucharist because it is the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  What starts out as simple bread and wine is transformed by the Word of God when the priest, acting in persona Christi, utters the words of Christ “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood”.

Herein is the wonder of the Eucharistic celebration – when we bring our offerings of bread of wine in thanksgiving to God, we are offering ourselves to Him; and as we offer ourselves, He receives and unites it to the offering of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross when our gifts are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. After this transformation, the Body and Blood is then given back to us to receive so that we can be changed by Christ as He fills us with Himself in the Sacrament.
St. Bonaventure reminds us of this when he says:

“With the external mouth we receive Him sacramentally, with the inward mouth we receive Him spiritually”.

In other words, although what we receive is physical, the change that takes place in us transcends the physical, and permeates to the spiritual. St. Jerome, referring to St. Elisabeth’s words “Blessed is the Fruit of thy womb”, says that this was the whole reason that God the Son had to take on a human form when he says that “the Flower of Mary became fruit that we might eat of it”.
There is an old saying: “You are what you eat”. So, when we worthily eat and drink of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, it is not an empty ritual or symbolic exercise. When we share in the Eucharist, God is using the Blessed Sacrament to conform us to the image of Christ.

If we realise this, the only reasonable response is to fall on our knees in thanksgiving to God for the great and undeserved gift that He gives to us in the Blessed Sacrament. May God grant that we would grow in our realisation that what we receive in Holy Communion is nothing less than the God the Son, and that as we grow in this realisation may we more freely to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him in a deeper pursuit of His holiness.

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