“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.”
If I were to write an entire book about the Holy Eucharist, rather than just an article like this one, I could not say anything more eloquent than the words of St. John Vianney, who on one occasion simply wept as he stood before the people to preach, while he pointed to the tabernacle and cried out, “He’s there! He’s there!”
The Eucharist is such a beautiful reality that we can be blinded both by its radiance and by its simplicity.
The Eucharist is a bit like the rising sun, which gives us the light by which we see everything else, and which dazzles us if we look directly at it, so intense is its beauty and spiritual light. The Eucharist is like the rising sun because it is the risen Son of God, who is unsurpassably radiant and glorious. That is the truth to which St. John Vianney, and countless saints throughout the centuries, have testified with their words and their lives.
That is why it is so shocking, sad, and appalling that recent Pew Research data tells us that approximately seven out of 10 Catholics do not fully believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. This news ought to trigger an alarm among those of us concerned with “unleashing the Gospel” here in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Renewing our own faith in and devotion to the Holy Eucharist, and sharing our faith in this tremendous gift persuasively with others, ought to be a top priority for all of us.
We tend to think that it’s difficult for people to believe in the Eucharist because of its simplicity, because Jesus makes Himself truly and fully present under the appearances of bread and wine — such ordinary elements. Many people wonder how God could do such a thing. But I think that what really astounds us, at a deeper level, is the dazzling truth Jesus Christ makes Himself present to us at all.
Yet Christ does become present to us! The Eucharist is the direct fulfillment of His promise in Matthew 28:20, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” That is why J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, could write this powerful testimony in a letter to his son Michael: “Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament ... There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth ... which every man's heart desires.”
Recent Pew Research data tells us that approximately seven out of 10 Catholics do not fully believe in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist. This news ought to trigger an alarm among those of us concerned with “unleashing the Gospel” here in the Archdiocese of Detroit.
Every time we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Son of God becomes present on our altars. And every day He waits for us in the tabernacle. God loves us so much that He not only took on human flesh, not only suffered and died to save us, but makes Himself available to us every day of our lives. The love of God, the power of God, the salvation God has won for us, are all there for the taking. But do we receive this Gift gratefully, or do we tend to complain and to cherish our perceived grievances against God?
Once, I received a letter from a married couple I had known for about five years. This couple sent me a letter concerning their son, who was serving as a soldier in Afghanistan, and his wife. My friends wrote about the difficulties of life as a soldier, and then pointed out how few Catholic chaplains there are in the armed services. Apparently, their son would most likely not see a Catholic priest for the entire nine months of his then-current deployment. No Mass. No preaching. No sacraments. The couple was asking for me (and I presume the letter was sent to other priests they know) to offer Mass for their son and his wife, and to pray for them, dealing with such difficult circumstances with no priest to offer them spiritual support. The line I remember most clearly from the letter was a rhetorical question that struck me pretty powerfully: “How long would you last without the sacraments?”
That is a good question for all of us to consider right now. We have such easy access to the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, that we can easily take these gifts of God for granted. And we see a lot of complaining about the Mass going on around us all the time. How many Catholics spend their Sundays at the so-called “mega-churches?” How many Catholics only attend Mass once or twice a month, or even once or twice a year? How many excuse themselves by saying they “don’t get anything out of the Mass?”
Now, sometimes this complaint signals a weakness on our part — that our preaching, our music, or our love and concern for our fellow parishioners is not all it should be. None of us is perfect. But there is no good reason for a Catholic to stay away from the Eucharist. There is no good reason to walk away from the Son of God just as He is doing so much to give Himself to us. Even someone who has committed serious sin is only one confession away from being able to receive Our Lord again. There is simply no excuse to turn away from the Bread of Life and to settle for anything less, and we need to work harder to help people see this truth, so that they would never want to turn away.
I was reminded earlier this week of the incredible power of the Holy Eucharist in bringing about conversions to the Catholic faith. Countless people have become Catholic precisely because of their experience of the Mass and the gift of the Eucharist. In giving us His Body and Blood, Christ fulfills the words He speaks in John 12:32, “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” We who are fortunate enough to believe in the Eucharist need to have confidence in the power of the Sacrament to attract many others to the Catholic Church. Christ is alive and He lives in His Church!
Finally, it is essential to know that Jesus is with us in the Eucharist even during the most difficult times of our lives. Sometimes we face troubles related to our relationships, our jobs or our families. We face personal betrayals, physical or mental illness, or intense spiritual darkness in the world or within ourselves. Sometimes we have troubles because we are faithful Catholics, in a world that is in many respects is turning against our way of life.
Especially at these times of struggle, we need to stay close to Jesus, who has come so close to us. We need to see that when we face suffering or even when we face death, He brings us life.
Jesus is the Bread of Life. He has died for us, He has conquered death, and gives Himself and His risen life to us without holding back. His love is our Food and our Drink.
Fr. Charles Fox is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit currently assigned to the theology faculty of Sacred Heart Major Seminary. He is also a weekend associate pastor at St. Therese of Lisieux Parish in Shelby Township and chaplain and a board member of St. Paul Evangelization Institute, headquartered in Warren.