June 7, 2012

The Eucharistic Heart of Christ - Torrent of Love

While he was imprisoned in Toledo in the silence of his dark cell, St. John of the Cross must have been able to hear the mighty Tagus river roar below the city.   He could not see the river, but his prison, so close to the edge of the city (and thus the river) reverberated with its power.  In his poem La Fonte, he uses this experience to help describe the power of Christ's presence that surrounds us even though we cannot see it.   The verses are filled with allusions to an unseen river and the words "I know" and "although it is dark" are almost a refrain.

The Tagus, the dark, and knowledge of this poem speak to us about the experience of faith.  The Tagus is like God's unseen presence in the world.  The dark is the dark pain of this world in which the love of God is hidden.  The dark knowledge of a lonely prisoner listening for consolation describes what it means to have faith in the power God to accomplish something beautiful in the midst of pain.

The message of our faith, the message of the love of God, is like a river we hear but we cannot see.  We hear the goodness with our ears and the power of grace enters us as deeply as we are able to believe in Him.   He lays claim to the innermost sanctuary of the deepest center of our being where we are vulnerable to ourselves and to Him.  The powerful torrent of His love enters to destroy all that threatens the truth about who we are.  He enters to raise up our dignity beyond anything we can understand.  His saving hand sets us free to love in a manner beyond all limits.  This overwhelming torrent which carries us beyond ourselves, all the while helping us become the creatures we were meant to be from all eternity.  We cannot see this grace, but we believe in its power to change and transform us in love, even when it seems love is impossible.

At the end of the poem, he reveals that the river he knows is the presence of Christ, especially as it is given to us in the Eucharist. Our eyes see bread and wine, but the Eternal Word, Truth Himself tells us, "This is my body, this is my blood."  The torrential presence of Love Incarnate in the Eucharist is meant to overflow the soul, to envelop it, to submerge it, to divinize it with heavenly gifts.  Jesus awaits us in love in the Eucharist, but to behold Him gazing at us in love in this supreme gift, we must go beyond what we can grasp by the mere power of reason and open our hearts to a reality higher than mere reason can know.  God is waiting where only faith filled love can take us, a love soaked silence which aches for a real union of hearts.  Love for Him takes us beyond our natural limits to this place of fruition.  St. John of the Cross speaks of a general loving knowledge which has its own kind of clarity - a clarity we can live by.  We access the transforming dynamism of Christ at work in the world and in our lives only by this kind of love imbued faith.  Through such living faith, the power of new creation surges in the appearance of bread and wine.  The last lines speak to the Eucharistic realty:

This eternal spring is hidden
in this living bread for our life's sake,
although it is night.

It is here calling out to creatures;
and they satisfy their thirst,
although in darkness,
because it is night.

This living spring that I long for,
I see in this bread of life,
although it is night.

Translation by Kieran Kavanaugh, O.C.D. and Otilio Rodriguez, O.C.D. as in Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Washington, D.C.: ICS (1991) 60.