A Spiritual Life Hack

A quick internet search reveals that 'lifehack' is “a strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one's time and daily activities in a more efficient way.”  Not a perfect definition, but it will do in a pinch.

Right now we are in a very strange situation.  Never before have public celebrations of the Mass been suspended on such a wide scale. It is very difficult and sad that so many of the faithful are deprived of receiving Jesus in the Eucharist.  But in this situation, as in every situation God gives us, there are many hidden graces.  One, and no small one at that, is a chance to deepen our love for the Eucharist.  One way of doing this is by taking some time to consider the consoling and beautiful teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas on Spiritual Communion. This teaching is a true spiritual 'lifehack' to help maintain our spiritual life when we are unable to receive Sacramental Communion.

The practice of Spiritual Communion is built on the truth that the Eucharist is the food of our spiritual life.  The Eucharist does for the soul what food does for the body; it keeps it alive.  More specifically food serves to preserve the unity of human nature by keeping body and soul together.  Furthermore, if we are healthy and have good food, it also refreshes us and brings us some legitimate pleasure.  In short, food both keeps us alive, and refreshes us.

Unity and refreshment, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, are also the principal effects of the Sacrament of Our Lord’s Body and Blood on our spiritual lives.  By the grace of the Eucharist we are more deeply united to Christ and also more united to all those who are living members of his Mystical Body, the Church.  The Mystical Body of Christ is preserved, and grows in unity by eating the spiritual food of the Eucharist much as our human body becomes stronger and healthier, more integrated or united in itself, by eating good physical food.  So we, by the food of the Eucharist, become more deeply united to Jesus, to the saints in Heaven, to the souls in Purgatory, and to our fellow Catholics here on Earth.

It is because of deeper unity that the Eucharist refreshes and strengthens the soul, for He is the Heavenly Bread, and the true Living Water.  When we draw closer to the source of our strength we are greatly refreshed.  But this good effect need not only occur in the soul of one.  Since all those in the state of grace are united with each other in the Mystical Body of Christ, each one is benefited by new strength in others.  When one part of our body hurts it can absorb the attention of our entire body.  So also when that pain goes away, when it is reinvigorated and refreshed, the whole body benefits.  A glass of cold water on a hot day does not refresh just our throat, it refreshes the whole of us!  The whole body rejoices in that water.

So many now thirst to receive Communion and are very disappointed that they have been deprived of this gift.  But if your disappointment arises from a true desire to be united to Jesus, and not anger or resentment, the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas will be a lifeline for you during this time when you cannot receive Him sacramentally.  In a line his teaching is this: you do not have to receive Communion physically to gain the effects of Communion.

First of all St. Thomas reminds us that we know that it is possible to receive Holy Communion physically without receiving the good effects of spiritual unity and refreshment.  Such is the sad case of one who receives but who has cut himself off from the life of sanctifying grace in Christ's mystical body by mortal sin.  Conversely, he teaches, one who is unable to receive communion physically, but is united to the Mystical Body as a living member in the state of grace, can still receive the spiritual effects.  “The effect of this sacrament can be secured by anyone, if he receive it in desire, even though it is not received in reality.”  He compares receiving in desire with Baptism for those who desire to be baptized before they die, but are unable to receive it.  God is not going to leave them out to dry.  It is in a similar way, St. Thomas writes, “some eat of this sacrament spiritually before they partake of it sacramentally”(IIIa pars, q. 80, ar. 1 ad 3). And this happens when we form a deliberate and true desire to receive the sacrament itself, though we are unable to do so.  In this way we eat spiritually of the Eucharist though we are unable to eat physically.

It is in this spirit that in the prayer after Communion for the Saturday of the third week of Lent, the Church prays: "We beseech You, almighty God, that we may be numbered among the members of Him, Whose Body and Blood we receive in Communion."


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