“Because I always sin, I should always have a remedy.”
These practical words of St. Ambrose, fourth-century bishop of Milan and doctor of the Church, point us to the unique relationship of the Eucharist to sin — a relationship that the Catechism of the Catholic Church pithily sums up by saying “holy Communion separates us from sin” (CCC 1393).
At first reading, it might be tempting to dismiss this as some kind of superstitious nicety. In fact, critics and skeptics of the power of eucharistic grace often choose such an erroneous, dismissive explanation. This can perhaps be easy to do when — like many aspects of our faith — claims can often be made without much understanding.
But when we come to truly understand the grace made available to us in the Eucharist, it makes perfect sense to call it a remedy. Again, the catechism puts it clearly: “As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity” (CCC 1394).
We know Christ is the remedy to Adam’s disobedience. His way reverses Adam’s way, for those who choose to follow it. As our own needed remedy, however, Christ does not wave a magic wand. He offers an invitation that is accepted when we take up His cross, when we walk His way of charity, truth and obedience. That means that our hearts, minds and wills must be shaped and defined by His own.
Blessed James Alberione — an Italian priest, founder and visionary — articulated the significance of adoring Christ in the Eucharist as a constitutive element to the Pauline spirituality he was inspired to establish. He explained that a daily visit with Christ in the Eucharist was essential, calling it “the meeting of our soul and of all our being with Jesus.”
One of the more well-known passages in Alberione’s writings is his use of several images to explain the reciprocal nature of that very meeting. Among these descriptions, it’s particularly relevant here to consider our encounter with Christ in the Eucharist as “the patient with the Doctor of souls” or “the heart led astray who finds the Way.”
We can’t begin to accept the call to discipleship without understanding our relationship to Christ like this. For if we don’t see ourselves in need of a remedy to sin, then it follows that we don’t consider ourselves in need a savior.
But if we can begin to recognize that Jesus is truly, as He tells us, “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6), then we not only take up the task of following Him, but of conforming ourselves to Him. As a patient, we see in the Divine Physician the remedy for what ails us. As Alberione explained so clearly, in our reception of the Eucharist and in the time we spend with Christ in the Eucharist, we will evermore become like Him. If we want a remedy to our sin, we must allow our hearts to be made like Christ’s, our minds to be formed like Christ’s and our wills to be shaped into Christ’s.
All of this — truly the antidote to the poisonous effects of sin — becomes remedy to our ailments. In the Eucharist, we have the means to see to it that Christ may dwell in us, and we can live His charity, truth and obedience in our lives. We have the means to heaven and eternal life — the remedy to the fires of hell. May we never take this for granted, and may we find frequent recourse to the Doctor who will heal our every ill.
Michael R. Heinlein is author of “Glorifying Christ: The Life of Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I.” and a promised member of the Association of Pauline Cooperators.