Sometimes we can look at the pursuit of sanctity as all the things we need to do on our end to grow in holiness. Whenever God calls us to anything, however, he always provides the means for us to be able to achieve it.
The plan of life we've been describing is the spiritual game plan designed to help us respond in practical ways to God's call for us to become not just "good people" but saints, those who live our faith with heroic virtue.
Sometimes we can look at the pursuit of sanctity as all the things we need to do on our end to grow in holiness. Whenever God calls us to anything, however, he always provides the means for us to be able to achieve it. Growth in holiness is not our laboring up a 10,000-step staircase to heaven, but, to use St. Therese of Lisieux's famous image, it's more like an elevator on which God comes to us and asks whether we'd like a ride to the top.
The greatest of all the graces God gives us to make us holy as he is holy is, without question, the Mass. It's in the Mass that God seeks to unite us in Holy Communion to Himself. How can we fail to grow in sanctity when we hunger for and actually enter into existential communion with him who is "holy, holy, holy"?
The Second Vatican Council described the Mass as the "source and summit of the whole Christian life," which means it's meant to be the starting point from which everything flows and the goal toward which everything is meant to be directed. A life that's truly Christian finds in the Eucharist its font and apex. A genuinely Christian life, in short, is a Eucharistic life.
To live a Eucharistic life means, basically, that we cannot live without the Eucharist. I've always been moved by the testimony of the 49 martyrs of Abitene (Tunisia) who in 304 were warned that if they convened on Sunday they would, under orders of Diocletian be arrested, tried and executed. They still all showed up. When the magistrates asked why they risked their lives to worship, they famously replied, "Sine Dominico non possumus," without the Lord on Sunday they couldn't make it. They confessed that they would rather die physically with the Jesus in the Eucharist, than live physically without Jesus.
Can we live without Jesus in the Eucharist? Is communion with Jesus in the Eucharist the real fulcrum of our life or just a holy accessory? And if we're living a truly Eucharistic life, with communion with Jesus as our root and center, can we really go most days without receiving him?
I remember very well when this question struck me with all its practical consequences. It was September of my freshman year in college.
Up until then I had kept the Third Commandment faithfully, never missing on Sundays or Holy Days of Obligation and even occasionally going to daily Masses during the Summer when they were being offered for deceased relatives. But Mass was something I "did" once a week, even served as an altar boy, but was nowhere close to being central to my life or identity.
But one day, rejoicing both in the freedom of living on my own and growing in the mature responsibility that college years are meant to cultivate, I began to ask myself what I really wanted my priorities to be and what role God would play in my life. I knew that I wanted God to be God, not just part of my life but Lord.
That led to the next question. I asked, "If God is really God in my life, and if he comes down each day from heaven to earth to the altar, how can I not make him in the Eucharist the God of my Monday, my Tuesday, my Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday?"
I grasped that if I really believed that the Eucharist was Jesus Christ and truly loved him, I should at least hunger with all my being to receive him every day and make every effort to do so.
The next day I went to daily Mass. By God's grace, in the 26 years since, I have never once missed going to daily Mass (except on Good Friday when there is no Mass, but we still have the grace to receive Jesus in Holy Communion). I don't know where I would be without this daily Gift of Gifts.
We pray in the Our Father, "Give us this day our daily bread," and the word for daily in Greek is "epiousios," which means "supersubstantial," something the early saints of the Church interpreted to refer to the Eucharist. Just like God rained down manna for the Jews in the desert, so he gives us each day the supersubstantial Bread of his Son to nourish us on our pilgrimage to the eternal promised land.
When God answers our prayers to give us his Son each day, how do we respond?
The patron saint of priests, St. John Vianney, used to do everything he could to try to "upgrade" the Eucharistic practice of his parishioners from weekly communicants to daily. He sought to get them to Jesus each day so that Jesus could do his sanctifying work. He lamented how many good parishioners remained merely good: "What a shame!," he once exclaimed during a catechesis. "If they communicated more often, they would be saints!"
That truth obtains for most of us. If we communicated more often and with greater purity, love, and devotion, we would become holier, too.
It's of course not always possible for everyone to go to Mass every day, because of work, school and other responsibilities and occasional difficulties in daily Mass times. But every Catholic who seeks to grow in holiness should have a hunger to receive Jesus every day.
Now anyone can watch Mass on the CatholicTV or EWTN websites or apps at any time of day and make a spiritual communion, a spiritual practice we'll discuss next week. That will help us to live more intentionally a truly Eucharistic life, which is a truly Christian life.
The start of Lent next week is an opportunity for us to try to act on our faith in and love for Christ in the Eucharist and make daily Mass -- preferably in person or at least virtually -- the source and summit of our spiritual game plan.
Father Roger J. Landry is a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts, who works for the Holy See’s Permanent Observer Mission to the United Nations.