The deepest poverty is the inability of joy.* The experience of acutely feeling the tediousness of life, which leads to the belief that life is absurd and even times contradictory. This poverty is widespread today. The inability of joy presupposes and produces the inability to love, produces jealousy, greed—all defects that devastate the life of individuals and of the world. This is why we are in need of a new evangelization – a new fervor for spreading the Gospel message and for teaching people the art of living.
In His providence, God has raised up saints in every generation. Men and women who are radically united to Jesus Christ out of love and who model for us what it means to live the Christian life. One of the most endearing and memorable saints of the last twenty centuries is St. Francis of Assisi. His compelling story of leaving behind all his possession and following Christ in poverty still deeply moves us. Yet for all his sacrifice St. Francis was a man filled with the joy that can only come from God. In the midst of the Last Supper, Jesus announced that all his words were meant to instill joy. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” St. Francis took these words to heart; accepting his own cross, loving God with this whole mind, heart, and soul, treating his neighbors – the greatest and the least – as he would treat Christ himself. And, importantly, adoring Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
His first biographer wrote that St. Francis “burned with fervor to his very marrow, and with unbounded wonder of that loving condescension and condescending love” contained in the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharistic life of St. Francis was a a life rich in love, devotion, and ardour. He would repair damaged churches and sweep unclean ones. Whenever he spoke with priests he would remind them of the dignity of their office which brought them so close to the Eucharist. Speaking about Holy Mass to his fellow friars, St. Francis exclaimed, “Let everyone be struck with fear, let the whole world tremble, and let the heavens exalt when Christ, the Son of the living God, is present on the altar in the hands of a priest! The Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under an ordinary piece of bread!.” The ardent love of St. Francis for Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist drove him often to spend entire nights near the tabernacle in prayer. Suffice it to say, devotion to the Eucharist was a hallmark of his spirituality and a cause for his joy. In this he is an excellent model for us.
As we recall and celebrate the institution of the Most Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood on Holy Thursday, may our hearts burn with love for Jesus Christ. Having loved us to the very end, he willed that his sacrifice should be perpetuated on all the altars of the world until the end of time. So that the graces he won for us through his Redemption might be applied again and again through the ministry of priests. Jesus willed to leave us not only his blessed words contained in the Scriptures, but also his continuous presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament – love made visible – in every tabernacle, every monstrance, and at every Mass. “I am with you always” he told the disciples. This is indeed a great source of joy for us..
The Eucharist is – finally – transformative. We know this from the Divine words of Jesus in the Gospel of St. John, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” That is the meaning of Holy Communion – Jesus in me and I in Him. When we allow ourselves to be transformed by the Eucharistic presence of Jesus – like the apostles were at the last supper – we begin to look outward to the world as St. Francis did. To share what we have received and to love as we have been loved.
*Much of this paragraph is adapted from a talk delivered by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in 2000.