Anyone who has recently gone to a place like Borders or Barnes & Noble might have noticed that a fairly large section of those bookstores is taken up by books and tapes that fall into the category of self-help.
The fact that so many self-help books are published, and that they sell so well, is proof of the fact that many people are not satisfied with the present quality of their life, and they want to begin to turn it all around, to make a fresh start, a clean slate. They sense within themselves a fundamental dissatisfaction, an unhappiness that never seems to go away. They must, or those self-help books wouldn't sell so well.
So where does that dissatisfaction come from? For starters, we know that the only thing, the only person, who can bring us ultimate happiness is God. But He has given us the freedom to accept Him or to reject Him. Rejecting Him is called sin and it's not done all at once - it comes in little increments that can pass us by almost unnoticed.
We live in a culture that denies the reality of sin. There's no such thing as sin anymore just bad choices or so our culture says. Thus, many people have decided that something other than God should have first place in their lives. Without recognizing what sin is, however, there results an emptiness, a fundamental unhappiness, that people try to fill and fix with everything but the only thing that can fill or fix it God Himself.
This is exactly what St Paul is talking about in his letter to the infant Church at Ephesus. In his Letter to the Ephesians, (4:22-24) he speaks of the old self and the new self. The old self, he says, is our former way of life, corrupted through deceitful desires. The new self, however, is created in God's way, in righteousness and holiness of truth.
Many people have not even heard that there can be a new beginning, a clean slate, a new self in Christ, and so they wander about, stuck in the old self of sinfulness and unhappiness, saying to themselves, is this all there is?
That is no way to live. That's not living it's merely existing.
How is it that we move from this old self to the new self that Christ offers us? We turn to the Gospel, specifically the tenth chapter of St John's Gospel, where Christ, speaking of Himself, says The bread of God is that which comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world. Christ came to earth so that we might have life, and have it to the full not merely an unsatisfying existence, but life.
Jesus said, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst. When He said this, He was not speaking symbolically. He is the bread of life. That's not a metaphor. Jesus gives us Himself under the mere appearances of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist.
Jesus Christ is the center of our faith and the most important person in our lives. The Holy Eucharist is Jesus Christ Himself. Therefore, the Holy Eucharist is the center of our faith and the most important thing in our lives.
Why does Jesus give Himself to us in the Eucharist? So that we might have life, and have it to the full, not only in this life, but also in the life to come.
That brings us back to the old self and the new self. Anyone who lives apart from Christ lives in the old self, where unbroken patterns of sin enslave them in an existence that ultimately is unsatisfying and lacks the joy and hope that only Christ can bring.
On the other hand, to put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth is to welcome Christ into every aspect of one's life, and to begin truly to live. Life in Christ is completely distinct from life apart from Him.
It all begins with recognizing our sinfulness, and turning it over to Christ. That we do by means of the Sacraments. We bring our sins to Christ who takes them out of existence in the Sacrament of Penance, and we receive Our Lord's most sacred Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist to strengthen us in our daily struggle to be faithful to Christ.
But the Holy Eucharist won't do us any good unless we receive Our Lord in a state of grace. The Holy Eucharist benefits us only insofar as our hearts are open to Christ. And sin closes our hearts to Him.
A practical step we can take is to ask God for an increase in self-knowledge. When we know ourselves, we can see the areas in our life that stand in need of Christ. When we recognize the things in our lives that keep us from God - our sins - we then bring those things to Christ, and receive His pardon and peace in the Sacrament of Penance.
Then, washed clean by Christ and strengthened by His very Body and Blood, we can begin to put on the new self and to know the joy and the peace that only Christ can give. Only then can we truly begin to live. Only then can we experience the fullness of life life in Christ, who said I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.
Indeed, the Eucharist is the ineffable sacrament
the essential commitment and, above all,
the visible grace and source of supernatural
strength for the Church.
- John Paul II
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