Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing true

Corpus Christi 2017

One of the most famous and, for me, indisputably the most beautiful of Eucharistic Hymns is the Adoro te Devote, popularly but inadequately rendered in English as “Humbly we adore Thee.” The writer of this hymn is St Thomas Aquinas, whose whole life is worth reading, but for me, this one episode really stands out. Towards the end of his life, when at Salerno, he was labouring over the third part of his great treatise, Against the Pagans (Summa Contra Gentiles), dealing with Christ’s Passion and Resurrection, a sacristan saw him late one night kneeling before the altar and heard a voice, coming, it seemed, from the crucifix, which said, “Thou hast written well of Me, Thomas; what reward wouldst thou have?” To which Thomas replied, “Nothing but Thyself, Lord.”

A brief homily could never do justice to the monumental Eucharist theology of this Great Doctor of the Church. One can pour over his treatise on the Eucharist in the Summa Theologiae, or one can figuratively sit at the feet of St Thomas by reading his magisterial Commentary on the Sixth Chapter of St John’s Gospel, the “Bread of Life” discourse. However, even for St Thomas, theological explanations, in the end, have to give way to poetry, to hymnody, as in the great Eucharistic hymns he composed for the Divine Office for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Adoro te Devote, being among them.

One would soon come to realise that this hymn is born of years of contemplation on St Thomas’ part, of countless Masses he celebrated fervently, of hours spent sitting before the Tabernacle; they are born of a heart caught up in love and wonder. Here are the first two verses of my favourite translation of the original Latin by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at your service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God you are.

And in the second verse, we are given the basis, the foundation for our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived:
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed;
What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.

The profound words of St Thomas are most fitting for us today as we listen to the words of John 6 at this Mass. When we encounter Christ in the Eucharist, we are faced with a choice; it is not just to eat or not to eat, but rather to believe or not to believe.  There is no middle ground. We can’t 'sort of believe' the Eucharist is Jesus’ Body and Blood. And this can put many of us at a quandary, we are either blown away by God’s inconceivable love for us in this Sacrament, or we struggle to understand how this works … and thus, struggle to believe.

St Thomas, a man of sharp intellect and impeccable reason, came to understand the Mass not in just a dry intellectual way, but he let himself be drawn into the very depths of this mystery of encounter with Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. For him, to believe in Christ’s presence, body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist wasn’t unreasonable, it simply exceeds the capacity of our reason. The last phrase of the second paragraph gives us a peek into why St Thomas believes:
“What God's Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly or there's nothing true.”

Yes, truth exists and is knowable through reason. But here’s the trouble: we are not big enough to grasp the entirety of truth through reason alone.  Why?  Because we have limited minds, as we have all found out one time or another.  So why should I need someone to tell me what truth is?  Because I’m not big enough to come to it myself!  Who is?  Who can fully comprehend truth?  Who can speak with utmost reliability on the fullness of truth?  Well, Truth himself.  And our name for Truth is Christ. “Truth Himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.”

It is not that we figure out Jesus and His ways, but simply that Jesus is the witness par excellence worth believing. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Even if we don’t fully understand all there is to know about the Eucharist, we can fully believe in the Eucharist because Jesus is credible, “Truth Himself speaks truly.” And this is what Truth Incarnate tells us: “I am the Bread of Life.” “This is My Body; this is My Blood.” And “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you do not have life within you.” And “For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” And you and I have faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist precisely because Jesus told us so. St. Cyril confirms this by saying: ‘Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Saviour in faith, for since He is the truth, He cannot lie.’ “Truth Himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true.” If He’s not worth believing then there is nothing worth believing.

Every time when we make regular acts of faith in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist by genuflecting reverently before the Sacramental Presence on our altars, spend Holy Hours in the presence of Our Eucharistic Lord exposed for our adoration, point to the Tabernacle and instruct our young children that, “Jesus is there,” and whenever, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, we once again reaffirm our faith, the faith of the Church, in professing and believing that the whole Christ is “truly, really, substantially present,” body, blood, soul, and divinity, under the appearances of bread and wine. Our faith in the reality of Christ’s presence is based on objective reality, and not on the manner by which the Eucharist affects us subjectively. In other words, we say we believe that Christ is really present in the Eucharist despite how we may feel or think about it. The objective reality of Christ’s presence is based on the truth of His words which we hear at every Mass: “This is my Body … This is my Blood.” For this Truth Himself speaking truly “or there’s nothing true.”

In an age where we can no longer trust the ability of our senses to abstract reality, where man no longer trusts in his ingenuity and in his ability to find solutions to the global problems, where we have lost trust in our institutions and structures, the Church holds up the Body and Blood of Christ as that beacon of stability, of objective reality, of objective Truth. The Truth of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is not just a philosophical concept among the many philosophies that propose ways of examining knowledge and reality. When we gaze upon the Blessed Sacrament, we see God’s endearing love, His fidelity to the promise that He will always be with us till the end of time. When we look upon the Blessed Sacrament, we see the Incarnate Son of God, who gave up His life on the Cross for our redemption. When our eyes pierce the sacramental veil of this Great Mystery, we see our salvation. And all this is true -not just a product of our minds, a figment of our imagination, or a fevered delusion. It is True, “or there is nothing true.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that “the Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet Him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for the serious offenses and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease.” (CCC #1380)  

And I pray and hope, that if the Lord were to ask us that very same question He asked St Thomas, “What reward would you have of me?” Our only answer would be, “Nothing, but Thyself, Lord! Nothing but Thyself.” Yes, everything in this world will come to an end — except the presence of Christ. As Ronald Knox describes it:
“All the din and clatter of the streets, all the great factories which dominate our landscape are only echoes and shadows if you think of them for a moment in the light of eternity; the reality is in here, is there above the altar, is that part of it which our eyes cannot see and our senses cannot distinguish. . . . When death brings us into another world, the experience will not be that of one who falls asleep and dreams, but that of one who wakes from a dream into the full light of day. Here, we are so surrounded by the things of sense that we take them for the full reality. Only sometimes we have a glimpse which corrects that wrong perspective. And above all when we see the Blessed Sacrament enthroned, we should look up towards that white disc which shines in the monstrance as towards a chink through which, just for a moment, the light of the other world shines through”.

1 comment:

  1. Glory and praise to you Lord in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. God bless you, Father Michael.


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