Thursday, November 17, 2005

The Call of the Gospel: Communion

We come now to the conclusion of this series on the call of the Gospel. Everything that I’ve written up to now finds its fulfillment here. The call of the Gospel is ultimately a call to communion with God, and all the various elements serve that purpose and tend toward that goal.

The call to communion may be expressed in many ways, the most clear and simple of which is “Come to Me” (Matthew 11:28). There is no true communion with God without coming to Christ, for He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one goes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). In the farewell discourse and high-priestly prayer in the Gospel of John, several more images of communion are given: Jesus and the Father making their home with us (14:23), the indwelling Spirit (14:16-17), Jesus the vine and we the branches (15:1-6), the Trinitarian communion into which we are invited (17:20-26). That is why God created us in the first place—not primarily to build complex civilizations (with their inevitable “towers of Babel”), to discover the secrets of the material universe, or (still less) to live for the indulgence of our disordered passions. He made us for Himself, and for our fulfillment in Himself, so that Creator and creature could live in an everlasting communion of love, as the Three Persons have been doing for infinite ages past. God made us free, so that we could freely choose to respond to his offer of love and eternal salvation—thus choosing the fullness of joy as well.

But our Lord was not content with giving us metaphors about mutual abiding, since He is not, for example, a literal vine and we are not literal branches. So He devised a most wondrous means of communion, which the Church has rightly called Holy Communion. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven,” He said. “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (John 6:51). He repeats this several times, in clear, graphic terms, so we’ll be sure to “get it,” to realize that this is no mere metaphor: “My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him… He who eats this bread will live forever” (6:55-58). (Jesus certainly wouldn’t have risked the loss of many disciples—see 6:60-69—merely over a misunderstood metaphor.)

The Holy Eucharist is true communion with the Son of God; this is the most precious and intimate way in which He can abide in us and we in Him. It is a sign of the true faith and a pledge of resurrection unto eternal life: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (6:54). Thus our sacramental communion with Him paves the way to our total and eternal communion with God in the Kingdom of Heaven, in the glory of the final resurrection.

We must put all our energies into hearing and living the call of the Gospel of Christ, in all its dimensions. There is nothing more worthy and noble to do with one’s life, and it promises ineffable delights in an everlasting Paradise far beyond our wildest dreams. Heaven is worth the repentance and the sufferings required by the Gospel; it is worth the sacrifices that belong to living by faith and love. So be faithful and loyal to the Lord, in good times and bad, in sorrows as well as joys, and live for that day when the heavens will open and this announcement will be heard by all creation: “Now the salvation and power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come!” (Revelation 12:10). Then the divine communion for which we have longed and labored, and of which we experienced a foretaste through prayer and the sacraments, will be given us—in fullness, forever.