Nourishment. We all need it — and in many ways. But where do we find it?
The stuff of life sometimes can seem to overwhelmingly weigh us down. Our fears. Our sufferings. Our failures. Thanks to Jesus Christ, though, we know what can fuel and define our authentic joy: our generosity and our charity.
But what can nourish us to truly give of ourselves, especially when it seems like we are running on empty?
While Scripture tells us that “Man does not live by bread alone,” (Dt 8:4; Mt 4:4), we know the answer to our hunger is the Eucharist — a very different kind of bread. “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst,” says the Lord (Jn 6:35). Talk about nourishment! By the grace of the Eucharist, we will never hunger or thirst again.
Why is that? As St. John recorded, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (6:53). As the “source and summit” of Christian life, the Eucharist offers the truest, most lasting nourishment we need.
This Eucharistic nourishment is the means for our advancement in holiness. “This growth in Christian life needs the nourishment of Eucharistic Communion” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1392).
How often, though, do we truly avail ourselves of this nourishment? Do we seek it out? Do we rely upon it to fill us up amid the many challenges that empty us?
There are, of course, countless models in the communion of saints for how to let the Eucharist nourish us in all the facets of our lives. One of them is St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, French missionary to the Louisiana Purchase, whose tomb I visited again recently. Philippine, as she was called, long desired to bring the Gospel to the American frontier in response to an 1806 supernatural vision while in Eucharistic adoration. She wrote: “All night long I was in the New World … I took possession of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Holding him close to my heart, I went forth to scatter my treasure everywhere, without fear that it would be exhausted … .” This vision compelled all she did henceforth. Great hardship, discouragement and suffering became her lot in pursuing that response to the Lord’s call.
As with anyone who finds life in Christ, Philippine poured herself into all she did, into whatever task was put before her. Quite often she believed she was a failure. This was especially true when — at nearly 80 — Philippine arrived among the Native Americans she long heard a call to serve. She couldn’t learn the language. She was weak and in frail health. What could she do?
Philippine was called “Quahkahkanumad”, or, “the woman who always prays,” by the Potawatomi she served. Biographers recall the image of Philippine regularly on her knees there, rapt in prayer before the Eucharistic Lord. She couldn’t talk to the Potawatomi with words. But she spoke something so powerful that those she served would kneel behind her and kiss the hem of her habit as she adored.
Although she could not engage in the kind of evangelical mission she desired, she found the source of sustaining nourishment and entrusted to him her entire life and work. Finding in that nourishment — a spiritual fuel provided not by things of this world but by Christ alone — Philippine taught volumes to her beloved Potawatomi. Anything but a failure.
Nevertheless, allowed only one year there, Philippine believed herself a washout as she settled back in St. Charles, Missouri. Aged and infirm, she found her final mission mostly in spending long days and nights in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.
If we could all experience a little bit of how the Eucharist nourished St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, what might our lives be like? How might Christ live in us more richly, and thereby the world around us? What’s stopping us?
Michael R. Heinlein is author of “Glorifying Christ: The Life of Cardinal Francis E. George, O.M.I.” (OSV, 2023) and a promised member of the Association of Pauline Cooperators.