While teaching a group of small children, Sister Briege McKenna said, “When you receive your first Holy Communion, Jesus will come and live in your heart.” One little girl piped up and asked, “Oh, do you mean with his furniture and everything?” Well, there is no furniture involved, of course. But Jesus does come and live in our hearts when we receive Holy Communion.
A woman at my parish taught this truth to a non-verbal autistic boy who was preparing for his First Communion. She wanted to make sure that he could make a distinction between the normal food he ate at meals and the spiritual food he would receive in Holy Communion. So she drew a big picture of his body on a sheet of brown paper. Where the stomach would be she drew a big circle and filled it with samples of food he would often eat- Cheerios and things like that. Next she drew a picture of his heart and placed in it some unconsecrated communion wafers. Then, after completing the picture, she would ask the boy where the food he eats at meals goes. He would point to his own stomach, and then the stomach on the big picture. Finally, she would ask him where the spiritual food Jesus gives him goes, and he would touch his heart, and then the one on the picture with the wafers. He was ready for his first Holy Communion.
Jesus himself teaches us, in today’s gospel, that he comes to dwell in our hearts when we receive Holy Communion. The setting this teaching was the Last Supper, when Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. He explained to his disciples that after he had risen and ascended to heaven, he would send the Holy Spirit who would unite them with himself and God the Father in a very intimate way. “On that day,” Jesus said, “you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I am in you.” This communion with God begins when we receive the Holy Spirit at baptism, and it is nourished and strengthened whenever we receive Jesus in Holy Communion.
Pope John Paul II once said, “Even if all the physical hunger of the world were satisfied…the deepest hunger of man would still exist.” Indeed, we have several deep hungers that need to be fed. Bishop Robert Morneau of Green Bay proposes that we each have what he calls “five basic hungers of the heart.”
The first of these hungers, he says, is for meaning in life. Sometimes we wonder if life has any purpose. We ask “What’s it all about?” We look to the skies a and note that our tiny planet circles a sun that is only one of 100 billion stars in our galaxy, which in turn is only one of 100 billion galaxies in the universe, which is growing bigger as we speak. We see this, and wonder if there’s any purpose in it all.
Our second basic hunger, according to Bishop Morneau, is for commitment. We all search for someone or something to commit our lives to; we seek to give our talents and energies to something worthwhile. If we don’t commit ourselves, we’ll wind up bouncing from one relationship to another, moving from one job to the next, ceaselessly drifting and experimenting.
Our third basic hunger is for depth and quality in life. Morneau says that we long for deep encounters- with God, with others, and with ourselves. He gave the example of a Christmas party he once attended. In twenty minutes he was introduced to thirty people, but he concluded that he didn’t really meet anybody. The encounters were superficial, which is the experience of life for too many people today. They- we- hunger for more.
“Wholeness” is the fourth basic hunger of the heart. We’re all broken people, says Morneau. We’ve been hurt by life, by others, and we’ve hurt ourselves too. We struggle with our pain, our addictions, and our sinfulness. We need to be healed, to be made “whole” once again.
The fifth and final “basic hunger of the heart” is intimacy. We’re made for oneness, for communion, says Morneau. Nevertheless, we suffer from isolation, alienation, and loneliness. In a sense, this is kind of a “hell on earth.” What we want is closeness- with others, with God.
The only thing- the only person– who can feed the deepest hungers of our heart, is Jesus Christ. Only Jesus who can satisfy our need for meaning, commitment, depth, wholeness, and intimacy. This was learned by a woman I know who was fond of wearing a necklace with a heart-shaped pendant. The heart, however, wasn’t solid. It was only the outline of a heart. She said that this pendant was symbolic, as she felt as if she were going through life with an empty heart. At times she had tried to fill it with various things- some good, some bad. But it was only when Jesus broke into her life that the hunger of her heart really began to be fed.
St. Peter said to us in today’s second reading: “Sanctify Jesus in your hearts.” We can do this by letting Jesus come into our hearts and feed its hungers with the gift of himself in Holy Communion. So maybe the challenge for us today is to come prepared, and to come often. “Our hearts are restless until they rest in God,” wrote St. Augustine. But perhaps we can paraphrase him and say: Our hearts are hungry, until they are fed by Jesus.
Readings for today’s Mass: http://www.usccb.org/nab/052911.shtml