The Icon of Orthodoxy, the Bread of Life . . and the Salt of the Earth
”All the evils of the world are due to lukewarm Catholics” ~ Saint Pius V
As we continue to make our way through John’s account of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse both yesterday (John 6:35-40) and today (John 6:44-51), the quote I chose to kick off our Reflection ~ attributed to the great Pope-turned-Saint Pius V ~ resonates with the same power in the year 2020 as it did on the day he said it in 1569. More on that in a moment.
Saint Pius V was elected Pope in the year 1566 on the heels of the Council of Trent. The Counter-Reformation was so new that it didn’t even have a name yet. Muslim Turks were invading Europe from the East. Protestants occupied large swaths of Northern Europe and were methodically hacking away at the cohesiveness of the Church in France. Pope Pius V rose to each and every one of these challenges and then some, leaving an enduring legacy that was far disparate to his brief six year reign as the Vicar of Christ.
Pius V who would go on to become known as the “Icon of Orthodoxy,” and he viewed the devotion of the Blessed Mary, her desire to do God’s will, and her enduring faith in particular, as the hallmarks of the faithful when he said “in union with the perfect confidence and hope that the Holy and Blessed Virgin placed in Thee, do I hope O Lord.” In that respect, his April 30th Feast Day, which we celebrate today, is the perfect segue into the month of May, a time set aside in the Catholic Church for enhanced veneration and intercessory prayer offered up to the Mother of God.
“I am the bread of life.” Jesus declares in today’s Gospel. “Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world.”
These teachings had to be very difficult to understand for those to whom Jesus evangelized. The notion that Jesus took the ordinary substances of bread and wine into his hands during the Last Supper and transformed them into his body and blood. It would seem as though the same can be said in the year 2020, where the consecrated bread and wine that we receive at Mass really is the living Jesus. A recent study revealed that an alarming number of Catholics, 67% to be as exact (....exact as a poll of this nature can be) do not believe in the real presence of Jesus ~ body, blood, soul and divinity ~ in the Eucharistic Host. If relegated to a mere symbolic gesture, perhaps that’s why Mass attendance has steadily declined to the abysmally low levels we see today. Perhaps that’s why so few understand or believe in the healing power of the Eucharist, the power it has to make us more like the very Son of God Himself. As we reflect back on Saint Pius V’s quote regarding lukewarm Catholics, we begin to see that a lackadaisical attitude or flat-out disbelief in Jesus’ real presence in the Eucharist is at the root of this scourge of lukewarm Catholicism. Once we understand what we are in actuality receiving, everything changes, certainly our attitude towards the power of this great Sacrament.
I’d like to close with another quote from Saint Pius V, one which speaks to our vocation ~ everyone’s vocation ~ as Christians:
“You are the salt of the earth! You are the light of the world! See to it that the people are edified by your example, by the purity of your lives, by the moderation of your conduct, and the brilliance of your holiness! God does not ask of you mere ordinary virtue. He demands downright perfection!”
This divine perfection can only be accomplished by way of proper fortification and nourishment, the “food for the journey” that is the Bread of Life, Jesus himself.