History’s greatest leaders influence people from the outside in. With their speech, their ideas, their example, and even their presence they move and motivate those around them, drawing others and stirring them to action. Jesus, however, goes much deeper, influencing us also, but from the inside out. He not only calls us from the outside, through the voice of the Church, the actions of Providence, and the example of his faithful disciples but he also unites himself to us so intimately, so inside of us, that his very life flows through our veins.
Our Lord says, “I am the vine, you are the branches,” and through the sacraments, the Eucharist especially, his divine life, his divine sap, flows through our veins. Our Lord then goes on to say, “Remain in me and you will bear much fruit.” This is First Communion weekend and I have a story of a man who through the power of the Eucharist remained in our Lord and as a result bore much fruit.
His name is Manuel Garcia born in Seville Spain in 1877. His vocation to the priesthood came very early in life. He entered the seminary when he was just 12 years old, and later on in life he would often say, “If I was born a thousand times; a thousand times I would be a priest.” Manuel was an excellent student. He excelled at his studies and was held in high regard by his teachers. He went on to earn two doctorates. He was ordained at the age of 24.
Manuel’s first assignment was to preach a mission in a small remote village. As he made his way to this far away site on the back of a horse he dreamed of what the mission would be like. The church would be packed with men, women, and children all eager to hear his learned preaching. There would be standing room only at all the Masses he would celebrate. Lines to the confessional would stretch out into the street and down the block. Such were his dreams. But when he got to town and found the church no one was there. No crowd of children to welcome him as was the Spanish custom of the time. He was all alone. So he went inside.
The church was dark and dirty, the windows so grimy that very little light entered. The murals on the walls were un-recognizable due to the flaking, and mildewy plaster. Statues were cracked
and peeling and falling apart. The pews were splintered and broken down. Fr. Manuel made his way to the high altar. It was no better. The sanctuary lamp had leaked oil all over the floor. The altar linen was torn, scorched and covered in wax. And finally, the tabernacle was tarnished and covered in dust and cobwebs.
No one came to Fr. Manuel’s very first mission, no one heard him preach, no one received absolution, and no one received the Holy Eucharist. Fr. Manuel would later write that as he kneeled in front of that neglected tabernacle and as depressing as that moment was, it was also a mystical moment of grace. He would later write, “My faith was looking at Jesus through the door of that tabernacle, so silent, so patient, so good, gazing right back at me…His gaze was telling me much and asking me for more. It was a gaze in which all the sadness of the Gospels was reflected; the sadness of “No room in the Inn”; the sadness of those words, “Do you also want to leave Me?”; the sadness of poor Lazarus begging for crumbs from the rich man’s table; the sadness of the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter, of the soldier’s slap, and the abandonment of all. All of this sadness was there in that tabernacle.” Kneeling in front of that dusty tabernacle a vocation was born, a vocation within a vocation. Then and there Fr. Manuel decided to dedicate himself to Eucharistic works, Eucharistic works in praise of Jesus Christ. His personal motto became, “Here is Jesus! He is here! Do not abandon him!”
Fr. Manuel would go on to write many beautiful books about the Eucharist, and to found the Eucharistic Missionaries of Nazareth, the Children of Reparation, and the Disciples of Saint John, all groups dedicated to teaching and promoting Eucharistic adoration, and still going strong today. Fr. Manuel would eventually become a Bishop. He died in 1940; he had asked to be buried next to a Tabernacle saying, “So that my bones, after death, as my tongue and my pen in life, are saying to those who pass; “Here is Jesus! He is here! Do not abandon Him!” This wish was carried out; he’s buried in the Cathedral of Palencia Spain, right below the tabernacle. Fr. Manuel was canonized in 2016. Much of his beautiful works remain to be translated from the original Spanish.
St Manuel made the Eucharist the center of his life and he became a saint. When you look at the lives of all the saints there is this one common factor. The Eucharist is always the center of their life. And making the Eucharist the center of one’s own life is something that we can all do. And it doesn’t have to be difficult. And it doesn’t mean spending all of our time here in Church, not everyone is called to that way of life. But for most of us, to make the Eucharist the center of our life, to make Jesus the center of our life, means receiving Communion regularly and worthily, going to confession regularly. It means trying to get to Mass more than just on Sundays. It means including Mass and Holy Communion on birthday and anniversary celebrations and other special occasions. It means carving a few minutes out of our busy schedules to come and sit with our Lord, to drop by the Tabernacle, where Jesus is always waiting for us, our Divine Prisoner, keeping the gifts of his grace, ready just for us.
In our Gospel today Jesus repeats five times, “Remain in me.” And to receive the Eucharist is the easiest way to do this. But in doing this we have to know the person we are receiving. We have to pay attention. When I was first ordained I was told to celebrate each Mass as if it were my first Mass and at the very same time to celebrate it as if it were my last Mass. In these two instances a priest pays attention to what is happening, he’s totally aware of what is happening and who is present and who is received. We could say the same about Holy Communion. Receive every Communion as if it were your First Holy Communion and at the very same time receive as if it were your last Holy Communion. Know who you receive. Never taking for granted the divine life, the divine sap that flows through our veins. The Eucharist is life giving, without Him we wither.
Let us be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley