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The Christian family: Eucharistic missionaries of God’s mercy

Rev. Eutiquio  B. Belizar, Jr., SThD

By the roadside

 

EVER recall the feeling when it is a fiesta? The emotional and physical “high”, the many acts of preparation and the details of festivity that come with it? How about three fiestas in one?

Brace yourself. This year the Church in the Philippines celebrates three important milestones: The Year of (the Divine) Mercy, The Year of the Christian Family, and the Year of the Eucharist. All three realities seem mere happy coincidences. But the question that also seems inevitable is: Are they in any way related? All at once I find it striking how positive the answer is. First, the Christian Family is the Domestic Church or “the Church in the Home”. Second, in completion of our Christian initiation begun at Baptism, the Eucharist makes our families that gather around it more fully incorporated members of Christ’s Body. Third, in the Eucharist we also receive in his Body and Blood the whole person of Jesus Christ, the “face of God’s mercy”. Fourth, from the Eucharist we are also “sent” to share what we have received.

 

The Christian Family is the Church in the Home

            Don’t we often hear parents ask: “Did you go to Church?” And what about priests who declare to us: “We are the Church”. Do we ever care to inquire: “What are we talking about here by ‘Church’?” The Catholic faith teaches us that the reality called “Church” does not simply mean a place or building of worship. It also means the people themselves who worship. It is a reality that does not exist only in the many members who compose particular communities of worshippers or “Christifideles” (disciples of Christ), such as the diocese or the parish. It also exists in the home, in each family that professes faith and life together in Jesus Christ. In the decree Perfectae Caritatis (Of Perfect Charity), Pope St. John Paul II teaches us that there are “many profound bonds linking the Church and the Christian family and establishing the family as a ‘Church in miniature’ (Ecclesia Domestica), in such a way that the family is a living image and historical representation of the mystery of the Church” (PC 49). For this reason the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines calls the Christian Family “the Church in the home” (PCP II 421).

What are we saying here? Let me put it simply. Just like people, the Church comes to us in different shapes and sizes. It even comes to us in the shape and form of our own families as we profess together, pray together, love together, and struggle together to follow Jesus in word and in action.

 

The Eucharist Makes the Christian Family

I hope you are not shocked if I tell you this: Sometimes nutritionists do the most profound theology. Why? For instance, it is from them that we hear the words: “We are—or we become—what we eat”. What makes that so profoundly theological? Consider this: What do we come to the Eucharist for? To eat the Bread of Life. In the Gospel of John, particularly in chapter six, the “Bread of Life” means two things. First, it means the teachings of Jesus himself as object of faith. To illustrate my point let me refer you to what he says in verse 35: “I myself am the bread of life. No one who comes to me shall ever be hungry. No one who believes in me shall ever thirst”. Second, it also means the Eucharist as sacrament of his Body and Blood. Let me also illustrate that by means of verses 53 to 55: “Let me solemnly assure you, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drink my blood has everlasting life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood real drink”.

Two things are clear here. First, eating the Bread of Life means believing in Jesus’ words, and we have Jesus’ words for it. He declares himself the Bread of Life and says that anyone who “believes” in him will find satisfaction for their spiritual hunger and thirst. Second, eating the Bread of Life also means “feeding” (in the original Greek, the more literal translation would be “munching” or “pagsupa” in Waray) on the “flesh” and drinking the “blood” of the Son of Man. That this cannot refer to Jesus’ teaching anymore is illustrated not only by the impossibility of eating Jesus’ teachings but also by the quite graphic word of “feeding” or “munching” that Jesus uses. Add to that his strong affirmation: “For my flesh is real (not symbolic, let’s take note) food, and my blood real (not symbolic, let’s take note again) drink”.

I was told in high school seminary that “serendipity”’ means happy fate or chance. It is beyond serendipity that the first meaning of Bread of Life coincides with the Liturgy of the Word where we read and listen to the teachings of Jesus through the Scriptures and the preaching of the priest, and its second meaning to the Liturgy of the Eucharist where the bread and wine are transformed by the Holy Spirit at consecration into the Flesh and Blood of the Savior that we receive in Communion. It is Christ that we receive. It is Christ we must become. For in the Eucharist we truly and more fully become his Body. This happens to us not only as communities but even as families. Ergo, the Eucharist makes the Christian Family.

 

In the Eucharist We Receive Christ, the Face of God’s Mercy

I once heard a mother, remembering the life of sacrifice she has lived for her family, say to me, “I have given my flesh and blood to them [her husband and children]…” I wondered if she purposely used these words because she was speaking to a priest. But I got her message plainly. She has given her whole self to her family. It is also the whole person of Jesus Christ that we receive in his Body and in his Blood made available to us in the Eucharist.

The awesome truth about receiving Jesus Christ is that he does not take us only to himself. He also takes us to the Father. “Whoever sees me sees the Father,” he declares to Philip the Apostle in Jn 14:9. The reason is also clear in his own words: “The Father and I are one” (Jn 10:30).

It is because Jesus fully reveals the Father to us that Pope St. John Paul II teaches us in his encyclical Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy): “He (Jesus Christ), in a certain sense, is mercy” (DM 2). In the Bull of Indiction of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, Misericordiae Vultus (The Face of Mercy), Pope Francis puts it in a way you and I can easily see: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy” (MV 1).

What this tells us staggers the imagination. If it is the whole person of Jesus Christ that we receive in the Eucharist, then it is also the face of the Father’s mercy that becomes part of us. Nay, rather we become part of the Father’s mercy.

In the Eucharist the Christian Family is Sent to Share God’s Mercy

            Remember the commercial about a fast-food chain where a customer, having eaten its fried chicken, acts and sounds like a chicken? That not only tells, in a jest, the message of one becoming what he/she eats. It also helps us realize the tremendous truth that follows from receiving Christ’s Body and Blood.

If Jesus is the face of the Father’s mercy and it is this same Jesus that we receive in the Eucharist, then, like Jesus, we must also be “FACES OF THE FATHER’S MERCY”. We must become what we eat. This is where the missionary character of the Filipino Family celebrating the Eucharist comes in. Jesus himself says it to us after he rose from the dead: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21).

At the end of the Mass, the celebrant (bishop or presbyter) says: “Ite, missa est (Go forth, the Mass is ended)…” One of my classmates in the seminary, after ordination, during Mass, wanting to heighten the connection between this concluding declaration and Jesus’ missionary charge to his disciples, said: “The Mass is ended. Your mission begins.”

The heart of the Eucharist is sharing. It is first and foremost Jesus Christ who shares himself with us by giving us his Body and Blood. But it does not stop there. He also shares with us his mission of revealing the Father’s mercy.

Pope Francis urges us to open “our hearts to those living on the outer fringes of society: fringes modern society itself creates … How many are the wounds borne by the flesh of those who have no voice because their cry is muffled and drowned out by the indifference of the rich?” (MV 15).

How do we respond to this, we ask. The Holy Father answers by pointing to the practice of the “corporal and spiritual works of mercy”. Corporal because they answer to our neighbor’s bodily needs; spiritual because they address spiritual needs. Says the pope: “Let us rediscover these corporal works of mercy: to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. And let us not forget the spiritual works of mercy: to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offenses, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead” (MV 15).

After Jesus, Mama Mary is our prime model. In the Visitation, she does a series of corporal works of mercy in behalf of her cousin Elizabeth. Even if we are not given the details, it is not so hard to realize the feeding, caring, and other acts she must have done to express her love for her cousin and her child. But she also does a spiritual act of mercy by sharing the strength of her faith. It is Elizabeth herself who points this out: “Blessed are you who believe that the Lord’s words to you will be fulfilled” (Lk 1:45).

The Father whom Jesus reveals to the Christian Family in the Eucharist is “rich in mercy”.

Would Christian Families be truly children of the Father if they are otherwise?

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