I want results.
I want results. —Jesus
(see John 15:8, 16)
Effort and results really absorb us in certain areas of life. Weight loss, muscle building, 10,000 steps a day, cholesterol levels—are just some of the main candidates for close measuring and stat keeping. We are careful about calorie counting, protein intake, omega supplements, as we try to increase one thing and decrease another. It’s easy to be obsessed with the process: we want to see the results, the fruits, of our discipline.
Result seeking in the spiritual life, however, can be misplaced, as St Josemaría insists:
Results! Always looking for ‘results’! You ask me for photographs, for facts and figures.
I won’t send you what you ask, because (though I respect the opposite opinion), I would then think I had acted with a view to making good on earth, and where I want to make good is in heaven. (The Way, no. 649)
The saint objects to overemphasizing stats because the kingdom of God does not yield to the same measuring rod as earthly projects. Health, economics, or politics all come with observable signs, but “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Lk 17:20). Measuring has its place, but we are not to equate a netful of fish or a crowded banquet hall with gospel success and call it a day (cf. Mt 13:47-50; 22:1-14). Numbers are no more reliable than physical proximity in measuring the quality of one’s relationship with Jesus (cf. Lk 13:25-30).
Yet the Lord is clearly concerned not only that His kingdom grow, but that we grow as well, even demonstrably: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Mt 5:16), and “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples” (Jn 15:8). Even stronger is the parable of the talents: more than encouraging fruitfulness, it condemns unfruitfulness in the strongest terms (cf. Mt 25:14-30).
The foregoing raises a practical question: Are we as diligent or preoccupied with results when it comes to our reception of the Eucharist? If the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life,”1 then neglect or indifference will leave us both cut off from our life source and somewhere other than at the peak of the spiritual life. Put bluntly: dying and meandering.
I only half-facetiously attribute “I want results” to Jesus because fruit bearing in His name is undoubtedly something He wills for us, whether we use the biblical term “fruit” or the crasser term results. We tend to respond quicker to results than fruits for all the reasons given in paragraph one. And Holy Communion is the moment par excellence when we, as little branches or offshoots of the True Vine, are so connected to our source of grace and love that the best type of results can come to fruition.
“You see, the branches are full of fruit, because they share in the sap that comes from the stem” (Friends of God, no. 254).
If the Eucharist is mystical food and preparation for it requires some level of self-discipline and self-denial, then you have the same dynamic played out spiritually as you do physically in trying to produce good effects in health matters. So the question repeats itself: Is the same focus present in our spiritual, Eucharistic life as in our pursuit of physical wellbeing?
The parallel is not exact, of course. Here, we are not talking about diet and exercise, but the order of grace—which is, by definition, God’s gift and not something we can grab independent of God’s willingness to bestow it. And we know that He prefers to give His gifts to those disposed to receive them: “He shall scorn the scorners, and to the meek he will give grace” (Prv 3:34).2
Yet, both our Lord and St Paul do make the comparison between physical effort and spiritual progress. From “Strive to enter by the narrow door” (Lk 13:24), to “Run so as to win” (see 1 Cor 9:24-27), the proportion between personal determination and results is drawn. Now, no amount of effort on our part negates the fact that “Every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (Jas 1:17), and that “grace would no longer be grace” (Rm 11:6) if God gave to us just as we exchange goods and services in human affairs.
And this might very well nail the point on the head: We don’t treat holy communion with the same intensity of focus because reception and results is not automatic like a chemical or biological process. It is elusive to those who approach with that expectation or no expectation at all. It is a way of saying that when it comes to reception and results, a mystery separates the two. But a mystery also unites the two.
Between the good we do and the gifts of God lies the (often “mysterious”) surrender of the human will to the will of God. We don’t do good in a merely external way and expect God to be so impressed (or “fooled”) that He’ll continue to bless us. Rather, the Lord looks to what the heart is really after—why we do what we do, what we hope for, and what is the treasure on which we have set our desire. These are questions we can seldom answer for ourselves with any clarity owing to the mystery of grace and free will, which dilemma St Paul can only untangle with reference to the grace of Christ (cf. Romans 7:15-25).
We can be sure that our desire to receive grace and bear fruit is a sign of grace already present. When we desire higher things and dispose ourselves to receive more of them, we show that “from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16). When we show a willingness to change or repent, we “bear fruit that befits repentance” (see Mt 3:8), by demonstrating that our outward acts are not just for show.
That is how we should approach the communion rail, coming with an ardent desire to receive, to change, to bear fruit—recognizing that the opportunities to do so are always close at hand and often very ordinary. We should come even with urgent and insistent longings that the Lord not leave us as He found us. And we should be equally demanding of ourselves, that we not walk away unchanged.
I am not suggesting that the moment of Holy Communion should produce a dramatic experience in the soul. Returning to the diet and exercise comparison, the Eucharist is not an energy drink or a B-complex vitamin: it isn’t something that produces a burst of energy that inevitably wanes as the minutes pass. A hilarious coffee meme says: “Drink Coffee: Do Stupid Things Faster With More Energy,” which is a funny way of saying what coffee addicts know well: the restless energy caffeine produces often propels us to do random stuff, but once the effects wear off, it’s “What was I thinking?”
Pious busy work is not the kind of fruit communion with Christ produces. It is the meeting of hearts in the closest possible union. It is the feeding of our deepest hunger for love and happiness.
Consider what St Josemaría wrote in The Forge (likely about himself): “As he was giving out Holy Communion that priest felt like shouting out: this is Happiness I am giving to you!” (no. 267). If we communicate in kind, “This is Happiness I am receiving!”, then we receive with deeper hope and greater confidence that God means to do me good, and a lot of it. Jesus isn’t joking when He says, “a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap” (Lk 6:38), nor when He says that faith is the precondition for divine gifts, such as miracles. Nor when He invites a faith that uproots trees and moves mountains. It’s all true and as amazing and gracious as it sounds—and it all points to the right kind of desire (or hunger) we should cultivate in coming to communion.
No need to stir up feelings or create an experience for ourselves. What we need is the preparation of trust in God’s goodness to us so that we walk in this faith, confident in His love, and so bear the fruitful results that come from our abiding in Him and He in us (cf. Jn 6:56).
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324; Lumen Gentium, no. 11.
2 Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition