Our Brokeness and the Eucharist

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26)

Sadly, we live in a broken world. We can see this brokenness everywhere: In our bodies, our hearts, our relationships, our environment and our societies. One of the very first lessons children learn about this world is, in fact, its brokenness: Through the painful sensations of hunger, aches and ills, they first learn that their bodies are vulnerable and easily hurt. Then, as they interact with other human beings, they learn that their hearts are just as prone as their bodies to hurts, wounds, selfishness and injustice—these unfortunate traits of human nature will show themselves sooner or later in the form of an ignored need, a broken promise, a disdainful look, or even downright bullying and abuse.

As we grow up, we adopt various lifestyles and worldviews to deal with these innate fractures in ourselves and our societies. Some people seek wholeness through the pursuit of pleasure, opportunities and success. They reason that since life is so short and unpredictable, shouldn’t we use whatever time, enjoyment and good health that we have to enjoy ourselves while we still can? St. Paul summarized this epicurean approach in his first letter to the Corinthians:

If the dead are not raised,

“Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”[1]

While this approach has its merits, it eventually creates more problems than it solves. Human beings instinctively know that they’re not meant to be broken and disappointed over and over again, so whenever we are happy, we want it to last forever. Intuitively, we know that we are meant to enjoy eternal bliss and perfect communion with one another; that is why we long for it so intensely and give our everything to have that wonderful life we feel we deserve. When this doesn’t happen—when in spite of our best efforts, our relationships fail, our trust is betrayed, our hopes dashed and our life breaks down—our hearts and dreams are broken anew. We start to worry that these cumulative fractures will eventually take away our joy, our worth and dignity as human beings, and our usefulness to society. So, before that dreaded moment comes, why not leave this world gracefully and “with dignity”? This worldview was very common in the ancient world, and is becoming more common today.

Some people, shunning the aforementioned worldview as “immoral”, try to heal their brokenness by obeying certain rules and believing in a certain religious doctrine. “Believe in X and you’ll go to Heaven,” preachers of various faiths have claimed, “Refuse this faith, and you’re endangering your own immortal souls.” The problem with this approach is that it simplifies religion into some sort of “eternal life” insurance policy. Since preachers of various disparate (or even opposing) faiths can claim the same thing, this approach tends to create social tensions, religious bigotry and even violence. At best, religious followers feel a false sense of relief and self-righteousness, looking down on people of other faiths and unbelievers as “lost souls”. At worst, they may feel compelled to use aggressive methods to “convert” others for the sake of their religion. Growing up in Indonesia—a country filled with ethnic and religious tensions that often erupted in heinous riots and violence—I can sympathize with people who claim that religion is the root of all evil and violence. It is this “insurance policy” approach towards religions, however, that is the real culprit, and not the religions themselves. Anytime a certain ideology (not necessarily a religious one) is used to bolster the human tendency towards pride, arrogance, self-righteousness and thirst for power, violence and depravity tend to ensue.

In recent years, Eastern philosophies promoting self-awareness, meditation, karma and reincarnation have gained much popularity. At first glance, they seem to be a welcome antidote to the tensions and emotional devastation brought about by either plain hedonism or religious bigotry. But a closer look at these philosophies[2] reveals that their solution to all human problems is to eliminate all desires, including the desire for wholeness, eternal joy, infinite love and perfect communion with one another. Since doing this is no easy task, ridding oneself of all desires (and thus achieving perfection) is usually something that can only be accomplished after multiple “reincarnations”. And thus, the pervasive problem of brokenness remains, with each solution seemingly adding to our fractures and complicating them. If this brokenness is innate to our nature and our world, is there any way by which this brokenness can be linked to love[3], and joy, and glory, and the fulfillment of all our desires?

The Catholic Church boldly proclaims that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life[4]. How can that be so? Is this not just another religion hypocritically proclaiming itself to be the way to salvation, while chaining its adherents to outdated medieval rules? Indeed, this is the way many people see the Catholic church. But the Eucharist is indeed the source and summit of Christian life, for It alone can satisfy our deepest desires for eternal love, tenderness and wholeness. Let us see how this is so.

First of all, as most people probably have heard, the Christian God is Triune—one God in three Persons. This is how Scripture is able to proclaim: God is Love[5]. Many religions have deities, gods or avatars that are most loving or most merciful, but since these beings are not triune, there is always a distance separating them from mere mortals. At best, they can only be benevolent spectators, doling out rewards, help or punishment from the heavens. This is why many people, disappointed at the seeming heartlessness, powerlessness or indolence of such a heavenly Spectator, mock the existence of God. “He is either heartless or powerless,” so they claim, “otherwise there wouldn’t be so much brokenness in this world.”

The reason our Lord is the Way, the Truth and the Life[6] is because He is never, ever a mere spectator of our joys and sufferings! On that first Holy Thursday a long time ago, before He was betrayed and entered willingly into His Passion, He instituted the first Eucharist, thus proclaiming the Church to be His Body[7] and Bride[8]. He said:

“Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.”[9]

Do we understand what this means? Whatever it is we are experiencing at any moment, our Lord is also experiencing it. For how can the Head ever be separated from the Body? Through the Eucharist, our Lord has made Himself a willing partaker of our brokenness. He is, at every moment, being broken for us, and together with us! The reason the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life is because It is the Source and Summit of Love itself. In all earthly loves, there is always a distance threatening to separate the lover and the beloved. The source of this threat is manifold, but it always stems from our fallen nature and the brokenness of our world: Selfishness, misunderstanding, distrust, indifference, and loss of various kinds. It also goes without saying that in our fallen world, power tends to have a corrupting influence. People of great wealth and authority are often envied, and they in turn tend to spend a considerable amount of time and resources protecting their privacy and keeping a safe distance from others. Everywhere we go in this world, we see signs of a fractured communion between people—distance, coldness, indifference, prejudice, arrogance, discontent, unfulfilled longings and despair. These fractures are innate to our fallen humanity, and thus cannot be fixed through any kind of human reasoning or invention. The reason we call our Lord “Saviour and Redeemer” is not because He proclaimed a series of doctrines, or heads some sort of “eternal life” insurance policy. We call Him “Saviour” because He alone can take up our brokenness and make us whole.

At the bottom of each human heart is the desire to be fulfilled through Love, to be understood completely and to be loved perfectly, infinitely and eternally. Oftentimes, we are disappointed and angry at others’ failure to understand our brokenness and help us. We are angry at their helplessness, at the invisible distance that separates human beings from one another. In spite of our best intentions, we see these deep fractures lacerating our families, churches, communities and societies. How can we bear these hurts and still heed our Lord’s call to rejoice in Him always[10]? The answer, my dearest friends, lies in the Eucharist. For through it our Lord is broken together with us, and by His wounds we are healed[11] and made whole again. To make disciples of all nations[12], then, means remaining in Christ and sharing His love with others—the Love that saves, that heals and uplifts, and yes, the Love that is continually being broken for us.

St. Peter exhorted the early Christians, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have[13].” By these words it is implied that a Christian life well lived shall prompt others to ask us the reason for our hope. For while adherents of various religions often hope for Heaven and its supposed delights, the hope of the Christian is rooted in our heart’s deepest longings. It is, therefore, not farfetched or contrary to reason. Who, for example, doesn’t hope for a loving family? We put forth all our efforts to make our home a loving one. Sadly, the brokenness that marks our world also leaves deep scars in our families and home life. But Christ’s Love has made us beloved children of God[14], heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ[15]. And, just like all heirs who are going to inherit a Kingdom, we are currently being prepared for our eternal destinies[16]. In our thorny and often perilous earthly journeys, we have the aid, protection and companionship of the entire Heavenly Court: Our Lord, Mother Mary, the angels and the saints. Our hearts, so accustomed to the rejection, coldness and disdain of our fellow creatures, need to be constantly reminded of our true identities as God’s beloved children. I think one of the reasons why God has granted us His Mother and the whole heavenly court as our companions, protectors and intercessors is because He wants to make up for all the fractures, rejection and brokenness that we have to experience in this world. Through His all-consuming Love, He has also restored our dignity as His beloved, and given us glorious destinies in that everlasting Kingdom we call Home.

It is puzzling how some people can separate our Lord’s command to love one another from the command to preach the Gospel, saying, “Loving one another is much more important than preaching the Gospel.” And how, exactly, can we love one another without living and breathing the Eucharistic life? Sure, we can donate our goods and contribute our time to charitable causes. But these meager efforts will not be enough to satisfy the needs and longings of our broken world. We can give hungry people some bread, but they will be hungry again. We can heal their bodies and try to comfort them, but their bodies and hearts will be sick and broken again. But if we show them our Lord, who is broken for them and desires to commune with them for all eternity; if we show them that their brokenness can lead to communion and redemption instead of loss of worth and dignity; if we show them the Love that will bind their wounds and make them whole, then and only then can we say that we have loved others as ourselves.

As for the risk of religious bigotry and violence, I don’t see how that is possible with the Eucharist. The Eucharist is the epitome of love and tenderness, of the Salvation, power and healing that come from brokenness, love and humility. In fact, religious bigotry often happens when we take our eyes away from the meekness and humility of Christ[17], of which the Eucharist is a perfect representation.

Everyone in this world is looking for that perfect, tender love that will always understand and uplift, and that will last for all eternity. That Love has come, but often goes unrecognized and misunderstood. We often forget how ardently our Lord desires to love us and commune with us; He is not a distant spectator God, but rather a God who is consumed by Love for His creatures. How else could He have consented to call the Church—so stained by sin and fractured by ignorance and selfishness—His own Body and Bride? He longs for us with an ardent love. St Therése of Lisieux once wrote:

The same God, Who declares that He has no need to tell us if He be hungry, did not disdain to beg a little water from the Samaritan woman. He was athirst, but when He said: “Give me to drink,” He, the Creator of the Universe, asked for the love of His creature. He thirsted for love.[18]

And we also often forget, that beneath the seemingly unending human thirst for power, wealth, fame and success, beneath all human stubbornness, callousness and arrogance, there lies a broken, fragile heart that is dying for love. It longs for a Love that understands all its brokenness, that cares for it tenderly and will lead it to eternal bliss and glory.

Let us, therefore, continually remain and walk in His Love, so as to always be ready to share this Love with our fellowmen. Our Lord once said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me[19].” And what better gift can we give to our fellowmen than the Love of the Creator of the universe?

[1] 1 Corinthians 15:32b

[2] See, for example, Fr. John Hardon’s article on Buddhism: https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/religion-and-philosophy/other-religions/buddhism.html

[3] St. John Paul II wrote in Salvifici Doloris: Human suffering has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ. And at the same time it has entered into a completely new dimension and a new order: it has been linked to love, to that love of which Christ spoke to Nicodemus, to that love which creates good… (Salvifici Doloris IV.18)

[4] CCC 1324

[5] 1 John 4:8, 16

[6] John 14:6

[7] 1 Corinthians 12:27

[8] Ephesians 5:25-32, Revelation 21:2-7

[9] Matthew 26:26-29

[10] Philippians 4:4

[11] 1 Peter 2:24

[12] Matthew 28:18-20

[13] 1 Peter 3:15b

[14] 1 John 3:1-3

[15] Romans 8: 14-17

[16] Romans 8:18-21, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18

[17] Matthew 11:29

[18] Excerpt From: Saint de Lisieux Thérèse. “The Story of a Soul (L’Histoire d’une Âme): The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux/ With Additional Writings and Sayings of St. Thérèse.” iBooks.

[19] Matthew 25:40