Sometime before the Christmas break, I had the pleasure of eating dinner with four Sisters of Life. In a very certain sense, these Sisters are an awful lot like crack cocaine: Any interaction with them, however brief, leaves me with a stupid smile, the belief that hey, maybe the world isn’t going to plunged into a fiery abyss after all, and a powerful feeling of happiness that lasts for the rest of the day. Their joy is as beautiful as it is infectious.
But I mention this only to mention something else, that our conversation centered around the idea of Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God. The baby lamb is meek and mild, yes, but far more important is this fact: The lamb is ready to die. Other animals struggle as they are being led to the slaughter, but the Sisters spoke of how the baby lamb offers the slaughterer its neck, how it nuzzles the hand of its killer. I watched a few videos of these lamb slaughterings, and they are remarkably heartbreaking affairs.
And yet, this is how God interacts with mankind. He kisses our hands and offers us his neck. He makes himself vulnerable to us. The idea of God that pervades our culture — God as a scary, old man and a monstrous rule-maker — becomes ridiculous when we realize that God came to us as a baby. He asks that we let him love us, and though I suppose that does take some amount of vulnerability on our part, he took the first step — he let us kill him. He exposed his flesh to our cruelty — we would do well to expose our hearts to his love. He was humiliated by our sins — it is no bad thing to be humbled in light of his greatness.
Truly, we should learn from the Lamb. His victory over the powers of sin and darkness did not come from his strength, but from his weakness, from his death on the cross. Is this not — in is own way — an example of the brilliance of our God? You cannot feel vindicated in murdering the man who offers you his life. There is no mean satisfaction in killing a baby lamb, not simply because of its beauty, but because of its compliance. If I were to truly offer my life to my enemies, what victory could they gain in taking it from me? They could no more enjoy a feeling of righteous vengeance than they could by taking a gift I wrapped for them. There is victory in weakness.
Look at the martyrs. It is a well known fact that if you detest a man for his ideas, the worst thing you can do is kill him, for you will only make those ideas immortal. Why? Because the martyr is the man who will lay down his life willingly for an idea. Thus to kill a man for his Christianity or his Atheism gives the man exactly what he wants — the ultimate affirmation of his idea, sealed in blood. Why did Rome convert to Christianity? The blood of the martyrs crucified, fed to lions and set ablaze in the arenas of Nero, the blood that sealed forever the immense worth of the idea of Christianity. The blood of lambs led to the slaughter. There is victory in weakness.
More than that, there is something immensely badass in weakness. When you’re watching a movie, and a man with a gun held to his head looks up at his assassin and says, “Go ahead. Do me the honor,” you know who the hero is.
But as Catholics, we know that the humility of our God is not limited to the past. If it was an immense humiliation for God to become Man, how much more humiliating must it be that God becomes bread? If it is weakness for the Divine to become walking, talking matter, how much weaker is it that he becomes inanimate substance? When Jesus Christ instituted the Eucharist saying “take and eat, for this is my Body,” he revealed the immensity of His plan. God became Man, and the God-man became food. The sacrifice of the cross is to be fulfilled for all of human history, on every altar, in every tabernacle.
The Catholic world was recently shocked and horrified by a bunch of YouTube videos blaspheming the Eucharist, in which the Body of Christ was nailed to a stick and flushed down a toilet. But in the midst of our anger over such offenses, let us not imagine that God is shocked. God is offended by such acts, beyond any doubt, but he is not surprised. He does not say, “How is this possible?” for He comes to us as bread, entirely vulnerable! This is Our God, the Lamb. We Catholics are given the opportunity to consume God, to take the fullness of the Divine into our bodies, to fill our temples with the Holy Spirit. But we are also given the opportunity to trample him underfoot.
This is what should make us tremble when we go up to receive Holy Communion. This is why we should reverence the Holy Eucharist with all our hearts and all our strength. The King of the Universe has come to us in the form of weakness, and by his weakness we are made strong. The Source of all Strength has become bread and wine for us, and the world is flipped onto its head. For the Great has become small, and now it is in smallness that we find our greatness.