The first step: We have to find out who we truly are.
“Omay we all one bread, one body be,
Through this blest sacrament of unity!”
What really unites us in life?
There’s a line from the television series Justified that I love. The protagonist is a U.S. Marshal tasked with keeping the law in rural Kentucky. However, he and the principal antagonist have a long history. As Marshal Givens says, “We dug coal together.”
In the show the marshal and the criminal are bound together. Even though their relationship could not be described as friendship, they share the deep common experience of the danger and hard work of the mine. They have been united, inextricably.
But there’s a more profound natural union to be had in this life. For any of us, joining a common cause is exhilarating. There’s real momentum when fighting for justice or truth. The bonds of soul that are forged in shared struggles and victories express some of the highest and most noble facets of our human condition. Such pursuits are manifestations of friendship.
We long to be united. We crave it. We were made for it. Whether we’ve simply known a quiet respect for another, dug coal together or become friends, unity alone will satisfy the human heart.
But the natural level still leaves us wanting. We know that only the supernatural union, that only friendship with God will satisfy us. That’s what the Eucharist is, that’s what this amazing sacrament offers.
The Dominican friar Marie Vincent Bernadot describes this union saying, “A wonderful union is established at that moment [the moment of reception of Holy Communion]. Even the most intimate unions of the world cannot be compared to it.” At the moment of receiving the Eucharist Jesus is so totally united to us that all our own thoughts and affections may be said to be His own!
The Eucharist makes this union to occur. By the power of the sacrament we are united not only to Christ but also to the entire body of believers. The Catechism says,
The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit (CCC 1325).
Why don’t we always feel united though? If it’s true that the Eucharist binds us to Christ such that He thinks and feels our thoughts and affections, why might we feel distant from Him? If the Eucharist binds us to the Church, why might we find ourselves at odds with other believers?
Again, the Dominican Bernadot leads us to the heart of the mystery. He writes, “If a soul has only a little love, Jesus is forced to accommodate Himself to the narrow limits of that soul and to restrain his gifts.” Christ does not restrain Himself. Rather it is we who restrict and obstruct the movements of grace he intends for us.
What unchains us? What is the primary spiritual virtue we can cultivate? Detachment. As Fr. Bernadot says, “To the communicant, however, who is detached from both himself and creatures, who gives himself unreservedly with a pure heart, Jesus in exchange gives Himself as only God is able to do.” Detachment fosters union. Detachment unites us to our God.
To be detached, we have to first severe ourselves from our own vision of ourselves. Catherine of Siena speaks of our need to “enter the cell of self-knowledge.” To be alone with God, to let down our guard, to be honest about our strengths and our sins… this allows us to be who we truly are. We must be detached from any mask, from any false vision of our own identity.
Then we have to be detached from others. In fact, we have to be detached from any earthly thing which occupies our affection, from any earthly thing which limits us. We have to cast off the shackles of our own plans and allow God in His providence to lead us.
Detachment fosters union. We do not, by being detached, fade into nothingness or some state of tranquility. We become more bound to Christ. We become bound to the Church. Only the Eucharist makes this way of life possible. Only the Eucharist offers here and now a taste of the supernatural union for which we were made!
“O may we all one bread, one body be,
Through this blest sacrament of unity!”