The Eucharistic dimension of Evangelical counsels
The Hunger for God – 1
You are invited to recall a time you experienced hunger. How did you experience it in your body? If you can’t recall, skip a meal and see how it affects you. If you have addictions such as smoking, coffee, cookies etc., you will have the experience of the craving in your body. Be in touch with it and observe how your body lives the craving for something that satisfies it.
In this module we shall reflect on the hunger of humans and Eucharistic dimension of our life as consecrated persons.
Joyful consecrated persons testify to the strength they find in the Eucharist in order to live their consecration meaningfully. It is difficult for them to survive without the celebration of the Eucharist and the presence of the Eucharist in their community. We shall explore this lived experience more closely. How does the Eucharist nurture your consecrated life? How is the Eucharist related to the joyful living of Evangelical counsels and community life?
Jesus taught us to pray “Give us today our daily bead” and we pray it daily. It alludes to a food which only God can give. John presents it clearly in the Eucharistic discourse of Jesus,, “the bread of God is the bread which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…. I am the bread of life. No one who comes to me will ever hunger, no one who believes in me will ever thirst” (Jn 6: 33-35). Eucharist is the food of the soul.
Three bodies and three kinds of nourishment
Ancient wisdom testifies that we have at least three bodies. These three different bodies give concrete support for three kinds of consciousness. First, you have a gross body (physical body) which supports your wakeful state. Secondly you have a mental body to support subtle consciousness, the world of images and thoughts. Thirdly you have a causal body that support your spirit/soul. There are other subtle distinctions which we shall overlook here to keep focused on our theme. The causal body causes the subtle body and the subtle body causes the gross body. Without the soul and mind, body is a vegetative mass and it falls apart. We observe this when a person drops down dead. What we see is a body ready for decomposing!
If you want to be in touch with the source of your unique self, you need to climb these bodies back to their source, from gross to subtle to causal. It is at the causal level that you get back to your source and then to the ultimate ground of your being-God. Thus we are more than our physical meat body which we carry around which causes pleasure, pain and suffering and finally end up dying. We are also not just our mental body which suffers hurt from rejection, failure, loss of loved ones and many forms of mental torments as well as happiness, enjoyment, pride and so on. We have the soul, the inner being, the unique self, the subject of the mind and body. I have e a mind, but, I am not just my mind. It is at the spirit level that we discover that our true nature is love and joy is the natural aroma of our soul.
We need to keep all three bodies in functioning health. We take care of our physical health by taking food, doing exercises to be in good form. When body lacks energy, you feel tired and long for good. When body longs for food, you feel emptiness in the stomach, weakness of muscles and may even faint . Body can also suffer from toxic food and unhealthy food habits. Mind seeks the food of truth, seeks to understand reality. It can suffer due to ignorance, toxic thoughts and false ideas. Starvation of the spirit is less obvious and it takes time to manifest the effects on mind and body. Spiritual starvation leaves a person weak and susceptible to lust, gluttony, greed, laziness, wrath, envy and pride.
Body needs healthy integral food to keep vitality, mind needs the Word to nourish it and the food of the soul is God Himself.
When something goes wrong at the causal level , the dysfunction will move down to the subtle level and from there to the physical level and cause disease. In the same way, healing and health at the higher level can get down to the physical and cause healing. Similarly, a healthy body supports better mental functioning and awakened consciousness. For example, when you are sick or tired, meditation and prayer are very hard.
Food of the Soul
It is no wonder Jesus chose bread and wine and the context of a supper for the institution of the Eucharist in order to offer Himself as food and drink. The produce of nature provides nourishment for the physical body and we take care of it every day. We read, share information and prey on ideas and theories to fuel the mind. Modern technology has succeeded in producing and dumping lot of junk food in the already obese body and junk ideas and images in the already cluttered mind. The physical and mental over indulgence leaves very little time and space for the care of the soul and it leads to modern spiritual anorexia. How do you nourish your soul and take care of its hunger for truth, love and goodness? I have observed that persevering joyful consecrated persons are invariably persons of deep prayer life. They attend to the health of their soul.
Christians nurture their causal body by different spiritual dishes which include meditation, prayer and above all the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, “the Lord truly becomes food for us, to satisfy our hunger for truth and freedom”. Both the Word of God and the bread of life respond to the hunger of the soul. “From listening to the word of God, faith is born or strengthened (cf. Rom 10:17); in the Eucharist the Word made flesh gives himself to us as our spiritual food” . Ultimately, only God can satisfy the hunger of the human soul.
A Story to chew in your heart
Rabia’ Al Adawiya (muslim mystic)
Islam in general is not sympathetic to celibacy and poverty. Yet there are Muslim mystics, though few, whose experience of God’s love have satisfied their deeper longings. Some of them opted for a life of celibacy. Here is a story of a famous Sufi mystic, Rabia Al Adawiyya.
Rabia was born in Basra, Iraq, around the year 717 AD. Her father Ismail lived a poor life at the edge of the desert. When Rabia was born they did not have even a drop of oil to anoint the navel of the new-born child according to their custom. When Rabia was about 20 years old, her father died leaving behind his wife and four daughters in utter poverty. The mother took the daughters and left the desert to go to Basra. On the way bandits attacked them, killing her mother and each of the daughters was taken as a slave by the robbers.
Rabia’s master found her beautiful with a lovely voice. He taught her how to sing, play ‘oud, dance and entertain people so as to make money for himself. She was sent for weddings and celebrations to entertain people and he collected money for various kinds of favors given to men. She fell into bad ways until 36 years old.
One day while singing for a wedding, she had a mystical experience. Songs were coming from her heart for her Beloved, Allah whose Love had awakened her soul. She left her former ways and refused to sing or dance except for her Beloved God. One night her master caught sight of her absorbed in prayer; he was astonished to see a light miraculously appear over her head which illuminated the entire house. Terrified he went back to his room, where he sat in wonder till daybreak. At dawn he approached Rabi´a, told her what he had seen, and gave her her freedom. Once free, she moved to the desert where she devoted herself to prayer.
Rabia refused to marry anyone because she totally belonged to God. When a famous man asked for her hand, she replied, “The tie of marriage is for those who have being. But here being has disappeared for I have become as nothing to my self, and I exist only through Allah for I belong wholly to Him, and I live in the shadow of His control. You must ask for my hand from Him, and not from me.” She chose to be a spouse of God.
People used to challenge her choice of celibate life saying that she should enjoy the beautiful things of life. She replied that the created things are beautiful and worth enjoying, but the creater is more beautiful and when she had Him in her life, she did not need anything else.
Her sayings: Oh Healer of souls, the heart feeds upon its desire and its striving towards Union with You has healed my soul. You are my Joy and my Life to Eternity. You were the Source of my life; from You came my ecstasy. I have separated myself from all created beings, for my hope is for union with You; for that is the Goal of my searching.”
“The groaning and yearning of the lover of Allah will not be satisfied until it is satisfied in the Beloved.”
One day she was hurrying fast, carrying a brand of fire in one hand and a pitcher of water in the other. When people asked what she was doing and where she was going, she said, “I am going to burn off the paradise and put off the fire of hell so that humans will worship and obey Allah not for the desire for paradise, nor due to the fear of hell, but out of pure Love for God”.
As her holiness became more widely known, numerous individuals sought her spiritual direction. She died in 801 AD.
Intimacy wth God puts off the fire of all human cravings. Like Theresa of Avila, one could say “God is enough”. No wonder, when God is so close to us in Jesus Christ, there will be thausands of men and women who would find it natural to give up everything to radically belong to God. For me it explains why there are nearly a million consecrated persons in the catholic Church!
Watch a love song of Rabia
A Poem by Rabia’
Or they pray to You for the Garden,
But I do not pray to You like this,
But all I want is the Essence of Your Love,
Points to ponder
- What are the ways your inner world seeks to satisfy the hunger of your soul? Do you find yourself short-circuited in any of the addictions (things, attachments, affections) that substitute the food of your soul?
- How do you integrate the cravings of the different bodies (physical, mental and spiritual) so as to become yourself bread for the life of the world through authentic relationships?