Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Body and Blood of Christ

It happened almost one hundred years ago in a small village in Portugal.

On Holy Saturday 1918, a young girl, Alexandrina da Costa, was knitting with a neighbor when three men broke into her home. Finding no way to escape, Alexandrina ran up the stairs to the second floor and jumped out a window. The twelve foot fall left her with many injuries which eventually left her paralyzed and bedridden.

At first, she prayed that God would work a miracle to heal her. However, through much prayer, she came to accept her suffering and offer it up for the sanctification of young people and the salvation of souls. She came to see it as her mission to join her sufferings to that of Jesus on the cross.

Because of her life of intense prayer and devotion, in 1938, she began to have mystical visions every Friday of the death of Jesus. In her body and soul, she would re-live every moment of Jesus’ passion from His agony in the garden to His death on the cross. She had given herself so totally to God that her paralyzed body became one with the body of Christ.

Then, in 1942, another miracle took place in her life. For the next thirteen years until her death in 1955, she stopped eating and drinking completely. Her only nourishment was the Eucharist.

Word spread quickly throughout the country of this incredible young woman. Many people would come to visit her and to be inspired by the joy she radiated in her suffering. However, many others criticized her and claimed that her visions of Jesus were made up. They doubted that she lived only on the Eucharist and spread the rumor that she was being fed secretly by her family.

Her case was looked into by the local Church authorities, and they required her to undergo testing in a hospital for forty days. During that time she was under careful watch by doctors who often mocked her. However, they were able to confirm that during those forty days she had no other food than the Eucharist. The hospital’s report stated: "It is absolutely certain that during forty days of being bedridden in the hospital, the sick woman did not eat or drink… and we believe such a phenomenon could have happened during the past months, perhaps the past 13 months… leaving us perplexed."

Alexandrina died on October 13, 1955. Her parting words to those who had gathered around her bed were:  "Do not sin. The pleasures of this life are worth nothing. Receive Communion, pray the Rosary every day. This sums up everything." She was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2004.

Today we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is the greatest treasure we have as a people of faith. It is a great sign of God’s love. Every Sunday - indeed, every day - we witness the miracle of bread and wine being transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus. Not only do we gaze on this wonder, we are able to receive it into our own bodies. Jesus comes to each one of us, enters our heart and makes His home there. There is no greater mystery in all the world.

Just as Jesus worked many miracles during His lifetime, there are many miracles connected to the Eucharist. The story of Blessed Alexandrina da Costa is just one of them. There have also been many miraculous healings and mystical visions attributed to the Blessed Sacrament. Most importantly, many sinners encountering God’s love in Holy Communion have repented of their evil ways and found new life through faith. Jesus continues to be active in the world, working miracles, strengthening the faithful and bringing about conversions through the gift of His Body and Blood.

Jesus makes an astonishing promise in today’s gospel. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life... Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” We know that Jesus is talking about a life that is different from our physical, biological life. The life He is offering is His own divine life, the life of Heaven. Though we will not experience it in its fullness until our physical death, we who believe in Jesus and have partaken of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist already have that life within us. It is at work in us when we are joyful in our suffering as Blessed Alexandrina da Costa was. It shows forth in our lives when we bear insults patiently and forgive those who harm us. It is the life of Jesus renewing our spirit and refreshing our soul.

The only way to experience this life is through the Eucharist. Receiving communion as frequently as possible is vital for our spiritual lives in a world that is so hostile to the gospel message. And if we believe that it is Jesus really present in the Eucharist, would we not want to make every effort to receive Him often? What else in all the world could be as important as welcoming our Lord and Savior into our very bodies? What else could take precedence to encountering our Risen Lord in the Blessed Sacrament?

Blessed Alexandrina da Costa became so united with Jesus through her suffering that, at the end of her life, the only nourishment she needed was the Eucharist. We have many other pressing needs that distract us and steal our attention away from the God who loves us and provides for us. But during this hour we gather to witness the miracle take place once again. We come here to listen to Jesus’ words and to receive His Body and Blood. We give our lives over to Him so that His life can pulse through us. We are expecting miracles to take place at this altar. Touched by Jesus, we can never be the same again.

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