VIATICUM – FOOD FOR THE JOURNEY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ DT 8:2-3, 14-16; 1 COR 10:16-17; JN 6:51-58]
Besides receiving the Sacrament of the Sick, a Catholic who is dying or in danger of death should also receive Holy Communion, also called Viaticum. Why is this strongly recommended? And why is the Eucharist called the Viaticum for those who are dying? The word, “Via” means the way. Viaticum means food for the journey. A Christian faithful who is on the way back to the Eternal Home in heaven would need to receive strength for the journey. Today, as we celebrate the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, let us ask ourselves how the Eucharist is food for our journey not only for those who are dying but also for us all who are in this long journey to the Father.
In the first reading, we are reminded of the Israelites who, after being set free from the slavery of the Egyptians, were wandering in the desert for forty years. Often they were without water and without food. They faced dangers from every side. They had to contend with enemies attacking them as well. Like them, we too are also pilgrims, wondering in our desert, not just for forty years but often throughout our lives! Our lives are fraught with difficulties, tribulations and trials. We are worried about our job, financial position and our health, about our children’s studies and their future. Nothing is predictable in life, be it our job, health or the stock market.
What is the reason for this long pilgrimage to heaven? Our whole life on earth is pedagogy. As Moses said to the people, “the Lord wants to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart.” So our life here too, is but a long pilgrimage, from the womb to the tomb. This is where we learn how to love, live and die to our selfishness and self-centeredness, just like the Israelites. By recognizing that all things are transient, including this life on earth, we are called to learn how to let go of all that is earthly and cling to what is eternal. Moses explained why they were in the desert. “He humbled you, he made you feel hunger, and he fed you with manna which neither you nor your fathers had known, to make you understand that man does not live on bread alone but that man lives on everything that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
Most of all, this is where we learn to realize that we are not all powerful and we are not gods! This is the arrogance of the world we live in today. Man has become so proud of their knowledge, skills and technology. They think the world is in their hands and all problems can be solved by power and knowledge. This is the perennial mistake of humanity. When they achieve something through their hard work, they think it is solely by their ingenuity and intelligence. They fail to realize that there are many things not within their control and that there is a power beyond man and our limited abilities. We are called to rely on God. God wants us to rely on Him and love Him totally. He wants us to know that there is no God other than Him alone.
The real problem is forgetfulness leading to ingratitude. When we are in trouble, we turn to God. But when we become successful, we forget about Him. This is another mistake of humanity. When we were poor, people helped us to become successful. When we were young, we were dependent on our parents, friends and teachers for help. But once we are able to stand on our own, we fail to be grateful to those who have made it possible for us. We only think of ourselves and our success, not realizing that much of who we are today is the work of many people who have contributed to our success.
For this reason, Moses reminded the people to remember what the Lord had done for them. “Do not then forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Forgetfulness is the cause of much ingratitude and selfishness. When we forget what the Lord has done for us, we begin to glorify ourselves until one day, when tragedy strikes and we are rendered helpless, we will come to know once again that we are not gods but that the Lord is God.
In the same vein, the Eucharist is called a thanksgiving and a memorial. The Eucharist is celebrated in memory of what the Lord has done for us, especially His passion, death and resurrection. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, we remember how much He loved us even unto death. By so doing, we in turn are moved by His sacrificial love and in thanksgiving give praise to God by sharing in His sacrificial love. St Paul wrote, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:26)
To keep us focused in life, we need Jesus with us in our journey. Just as Jesus drew life from the Father, we too must draw life from Jesus. “As I, who am sent by the living Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.” Even Jesus, the Son of God, did not depend on Himself. In His ministry, He would consciously go to the desert or a deserted place to speak to His Father. He continuously drew strength, wisdom and courage from the Father. What about us? How can we undertake this journey using our own strength, relying only on ourselves?
But how do we draw life from Jesus if not through the Eucharist, His Body and Blood? Again, St Paul wrote, “The blessing-cup that we bless is a communion with the blood of Christ, and the bread that we break is a communion with the body of Christ.” In the gospel, Jesus made it clear, “I tell you most solemnly, if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in you.” Through the reception of the Eucharist, Christ lives in us through His Spirit. Jesus said, “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in him.”
But how can we be strengthened just by eating of His body and blood? Is it magic? Do we do it superstitiously as many Catholics do? Does it mean that by merely receiving communion, we become closer to Christ? If a mouse were to eat the sacred host that falls on the ground, will it become a holy mouse? So too, many Catholics receive Holy Communion regardless whether they are spiritually prepared or not; some even in a state of serious sin, whilst others are totally distracted even when receiving communion. Would they really be strengthened?
The truth is that they do not know what they are receiving! They do not have the right disposition. If we are not spiritually disposed and our hearts are not in union with the Lord, we can receive the Eucharist a thousand times, but there will be no change in our lives. For them, it is merely a ritual or a superstitious act. Whilst it is true that what we receive is truly the Body and Blood of Christ, without our cooperation, the grace of the Eucharist cannot work on a soul that is not docile and disposed to the Lord. For a person who is undisposed, it is just a piece of wafer, but for a person who is prepared spiritually, he or she will experience the full effects of the transformative power of the Eucharist. It is not sufficient to believe that the Eucharist is truly the real presence of our Lord; it is equally important that we want to be transformed into what we receive, that is, to become like Jesus in our lives.
Hence, it is important that we prepare our mind and heart to receive the Lord in the Eucharist; otherwise we cannot recognize His real presence in the bread and wine. How do we prepare ourselves if not first and foremost to listen to the Word of God attentively? The Liturgy of the Word gives us the opportunity to listen to the Word of God with faith and, together with the homily, be inspired in faith. Of course, we should also prepare ourselves for mass by reading and meditating on the scripture readings for the mass in advance. We further interiorize the Word of God by observing moments of silence before mass and during the Eucharistic celebration. In this way, our minds our nurtured, enlightened and our hearts are inspired to place our faith in Christ.
Secondly, through the reception of the Eucharist, we are brought closer to the Lord whom we receive in faith as the real presence of Jesus. More importantly, the Eucharist reminds us of His sacrificial love for us on the cross and His resurrection. By receiving Him, we too want to remember Him by offering ourselves for the service of God and humanity. In this way, by dying to ourselves and our selfishness, we find life in Him. Above all, the reception of the Eucharist reminds us that we are ultimately called to share the love of the Father in heaven when we are one in Him and with the communion of saints in perfect and complete love. The Eucharist gives us a foretaste of the eternal life that is to come because it is a share in His resurrection and not just in His death. Thus, for those dying or sick, they live with the hope that eternal life and the joy of being reunited with their heavenly Father and their loved ones await them; not annihilation.
Thirdly, as we receive the Eucharist, we become more incorporated into the Body of Christ, His Church. Through the Eucharist we are not only in union with Jesus but also with the Church, the Body of Christ. This means that we do not journey alone. By being incorporated into the Body of Christ, we receive support from the Christian community, especially in times of trials and sickness. Indeed, this is how the Lord strengthens us and gives us the strength to go through this pilgrimage of life. Most of all, the Eucharist as Viaticum, together with the Sacraments of Penance and the Anointing of the Sick, prepare us for our heavenly home and enable us to complete our earthly pilgrimage in peace and joy.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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