My good friend Father Bernard J. Ezaki sent me a homily he had preached about the Eucharist. I had recently blogged on a similar theme in my series "Snippets from Thomas a Kempis."
St. Bonaventure said that when we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, we are impregnated with the Holy Spirit and Fr. Ezaki uses that as a basis for his insightful homily here:
The Ultimate Contraception by Fr. B. Ezaki
"While studying philosophy in seminary, my classmates and I were taught a Latin dictum which, in hindsight, has proven to be extremely useful:
Quidquid recipitur secundum modum recipientis recipitur.
Translation: Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver. What does it mean? It means precisely this: Whatever we receive in life depends, not only on what is given to us, but also upon our openness to receive. A very powerful insight indeed! I think this is partly what Jesus meant when He said (Luke 6:38), “The measure you measure with will be measured back to you.” Let me give you an illustration.
When I was about seventeen years old, my sister Carol was about eleven. She was, at that time, not what you would call a happy camper. She was, in fact, rather miserable on many occasions, and the rest of us in the family were not exactly sure why. All we knew for certain was that she was not someone we wanted to be around.
Well, that year for Christmas, I gave Carol a stocking stuffer. It was a little booklet of gift certificates from Friendly’s Restaurant. The booklet contained five certificates, and each certificate was worth one dollar. (OK, so I’m not a big spender!) Some clever advertising expert at Friendly’s had entitled the booklet Five Ways to Be Friendly. There were five gift certificates, and thus there were five ways to be friendly.
When my little sister looked into her stocking on Christmas morning and saw what I had given her—a booklet entitled Five ways to Be Friendly—what do you think she did? She jumped to the hasty conclusion that I had given her a booklet on etiquette! The poor girl immediately flew into a hissy-fit: “Bernard, why would you give me something like this on Christmas?” she cried. “Are you trying to tell me I’m not friendly? Who are you to tell me how to behave?” I thought to myself: “Cased closed! If the shoe fits, Honey, wear it!” (Incidentally, this was one of those “Ahah” moments in my life, and I’ve had many, when I realized that maybe celibacy wouldn’t be all that bad after all! Perhaps I have my sister Carol to thank, at least in part, for my priesthood.)
Here is the point: I had given Carol a Christmas gift that I intended to be an occasion of joy for her. Yet because of her sour disposition, it became an occasion of anger, bitterness, and accusation. Quidquid recipitur secundum modum recipientis recipitur. Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver. What we receive in life depends, not only on what is given, but also on our disposition to receive.
By the way, I have five siblings; and of those five siblings, I am now closest to my little sister Carol. She had to go through a whole lot of suffering in her life, but she is a really good person today.
Now let me say something about the Holy Eucharist, and we shall see how our Latin dictum applies. In John 6:54-59, Jesus says:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has life everlasting and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, abides in me and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, and as I live because of the Father, so he who eats me, he also shall live because of me. This is the bread that has come down from heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and died. He who eats this bread shall live forever.”
It is clear that Our Lord intends the Eucharist to be a source of life for us. He has a good intention, just like my intention to give my sister Carol a nice gift for Christmas. Yet I wonder: How often does my disposition to receive Jesus render my reception of Holy Communion, not an occasion of life, but, rather, an occasion of sin and even of death? Am I like my sister Carol? Do I take Jesus’ good intentions in the Eucharist and twist them to my own undoing?
Do you remember the words to the old Communion hymn?
And humbly I’ll receive thee,
The Bridegroom of my soul,
No more by sin to grieve thee,
Or fly thy sweet control.
The mystics tell us that Christ is the Bridegroom of every Christian soul. When we receive our Lord Jesus in Holy Communion, we have the opportunity to be impregnated by Jesus and bear His life. That’s how Saint Bonaventure puts it. He says we are “impregnated” by the power of the Holy Spirit. When we receive Jesus worthily in the Blessed Sacrament, Our Lord comes to us in a manner more intimate than any husband ever could. He offers the privilege of being impregnated by the Holy Spirit and of bearing His life.
Now listen up, mes ami: Here I must confess that I have very much in common with couples who practice birth control, and with the women who go to abortion clinics. Like them, I am afraid of being pregnant. I am afraid to take on the responsibility of bearing Christ’s life within me. Thus I practice a kind of spiritual birth control, what I call the ultimate contraception. How have I done this? To be blunt, I have allowed myself to embrace Jesus in Holy Communion: (1) while using a barrier, (2) after having taken the pill, (3) while being sick in my soul, and (4) while intending to have an abortion.
First: the barrier. Every time I make material possessions and the cares of this world my primary focus, it is as if I allow Christ to embrace me in Holy Communion all the while keeping possessions and worries as a barrier between the Spouse of my soul and me. How shall I ever bear Christ’s life if I allow possessions and worries to act as barriers between Him and me? I am like a foolish bride who, on her wedding night, piles the bed high with wedding gifts and wedding bills! Thus I make true nuptial union with Christ utterly impossible.
Second: the pill. Did you know that the contraceptive pill was discovered by accident? Scientists had originally intended to create a new kind of insecticide, and they ended up creating the birth control pill! The pill is, in reality, a kind of poison. If I allow my very soul to be poisoned by the thinking of this world—by the junk I see on television and on the internet, by the garbage I hear on radio or read in books or magazines—is it any wonder that the life of Christ fails to implant itself within me?
Third: my poor health. Any woman who wishes to become pregnant tries to take good care of herself—through proper diet and exercise. Yet I often fail to take proper care of myself spiritually. I do not allow myself to be properly nourished by prayer or the sacraments. I fail to exercise my heart in charity. Then should I be surprised if the life of Christ does not grow within me?
Finally: abortion. If I receive Holy Communion while in a state of mortal sin, it is as if I deliberately abort the life of Jesus within me. How then can the life of Christ ever enter into the depths of my being? I make up all sorts of excuses for myself as to why I can sin seriously and still receive the Eucharist; but there is no excuse for doing this.
So here I ask you for a favor: When you pray for couples who are using birth control, when you pray for women who are contemplating abortions, pray also for me. For I, too, am afraid to be pregnant with the life of Christ. I, too, am frightened at the prospect of bearing Jesus’ life within me. And if what I have said about myself rings true with you—if you, like me, permit created things and worries to act as barriers between you and Jesus, if you, too, have poisoned your soul with the junk of this world, if you, also, have not maintained yourself in good spiritual health, if you, too, have aborted the life of Christ by receiving Him in Communion while in a state of mortal sin—then let us pray for one another.
Saint Paul (1 Corinthians 11:27-30) underscores the danger of receiving the Eucharist unworthily. Saint Catherine of Siena, the patroness of our diocese, echoes this concern. In her Dialogue, she tells us that, when we receive Holy Communion, it is as if our souls are candles of varying sizes. Those whose love for Christ is great have souls like very large candles. The flame of Jesus’ Eucharistic presence remains long with them. Those whose love for the Savior is slight have souls resembling very tiny candles. The fire of Christ’s love remains with them only a short while. What about those who receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin? Their souls are like candles whose wicks have been soaked in water. The flame of Jesus’ Eucharistic love is extinguished the very moment it touches these souls! Saint Catherine sees this as the worst sort of affront to Divine Love.
In the Most Blessed Sacrament, Our Lord promises to give us life. He says, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever.” May we receive the Eucharist as Christ meant us to receive. May this Sacrament be for us an occasion of life, not an occasion of sin and death. Quidquid recipitur secundum modum recipientis recipitur. Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver. It is not only up to Jesus. It is also up to us.
God bless you."