One of the most beautiful Churches in my diocese is the home of the most unique stained glass windows I have ever seen. St. Francis Xavier Church in Winooski, Vermont was founded in 1870 to serve the French-Canadian population of the area. After entering the Church and approaching the altar, looking up into the left side of the sanctuary you see the stunning image of St. John, the beloved Apostle and Evangelist giving Holy Communion to the kneeling Blessed Virgin Mary. The image (included below) is striking, but the theological implications for reflection and meditation are mind-blowing.
I have recently been reading and pondering the works of St. Peter Julian Eymard, a French priest and contemporary with St. John Vianney. Eymard is known as the Apostle of the Eucharist, because his entire priestly life was spent in spreading devotion to and understanding of the Blessed Sacrament. In his first volume entitled, “The Real Presence,” Eymard writes:
Contemplate His sacramental state, the sacrifices He has made since its institution in the Cenacle in order to reach you, and the struggle He has had to undergo against His own glory in order to lower Himself to the very edge of nothingness and sacrifice His freedom, His body, His very self. He has done that without any condition as to time or place; and with no other protection than His love, He surrendered Himself to the love as well as to the hate of man.
Considering the utter poverty and total selflessness of our Lord causes me to stumble as it is particularly articulated in this passage. Imagine the tension experienced in the divine mind between His glory and His lowering Himself to “the very edge of nothingness and sacrifice His freedom.” When our God does something, He goes all out. When He forgives us our sins through the sacrament of Penance, they are gone forever. When God loves, He loves with everything He is and possesses, holding nothing back. And, when God empties Himself to embrace poverty, He goes all the way.
The Incarnation makes the reality of Christ’s poverty concrete. God did not have flesh of His own to become one of us, so He took flesh from Mary. Yet, that is not all that our Lord, in His own poverty, took from her. At the Annunciation, God proposed to Mary: “Hail, you have found favor with God. You will conceive and bear a son…” Mary responded, “Behold, let it be done unto me according to your word.” Mary, being totally free and pure from sin, offered her very self totally to God as a gift. She held nothing of herself back from God at all. In light of Mary’s total self-gift to God, consider then, that it was within Mary, within her womb, that Jesus was formed.
Christ’s formation within Mary led Him to Calvary. Our Lord so embraced poverty that He even took from Mary the way in which He would perfectly reveal God’s love to humanity. For what Mary did first at the Annunciation was echoed in what Christ did upon the Mount of Calvary. Isn’t another way of saying, “Behold, let it be done to me according to your word,” the same words that Christ uttered at the first Mass on Holy Thursday, “This is my body, given for you.” In fact, when Mary’s responded to Gabriel she could have spoken the words of Institution – this is my body given for you – and the meaning would remain intact.
It was as if in His poverty, Christ took flesh from Mary; and then took from her the method of responding to God in love by total self-gift; and then in divinizing and glorifying that flesh after the Resurrection, He would lower Himself even more to feed her with His flesh, the Bread of Life, as if not to be outdone in gratitude for all that Mary gave to Him. May poverty of Christ’s divinity draw you deeper into the mystery of His humanity.
Father Jon Schnobrich was ordained a priest for the diocese of Burlington, Vermont in 2007. He resides in Burlington where he is the Director of the Catholic Center at the University of Vermont and the Vocations Director for the Diocese of Burlington. He has attended three courses with the Institute as a student, and one course as a chaplain.