One of the great honors I have had since the ripe young age of 10 is to serve during many Masses, namely at my home parish of St. Anne in Oswego but also, since being at North Central, at Ss. Peter and Paul in Naperville. Becoming a seminarian has certainly given me plenty of opportunities to do this, as well. It’s nice, as a fellow seminarian once told me, to be “third in command” at the Altar of the Lord, behind the priest and deacon. As a server, I am one of the closest people as Jesus is made really and truly present there on the Altar. Francis Cardinal George described the moment as “being at the center of the cosmos.” Pretty cool, huh?
Well, I have another favorite part of Altar serving. Sitting up front provides the perfect point from which to people watch as the congregation moves through the Communion line. The results of this continue to amaze me and I am drawn to, typically, one of two conclusions: people are getting their scripture mixed up and are confused by what Jesus says He is or more and more people are choosing to ignore or do not believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. Neither one of these really needed in today’s already messed up society, but my guess is that the true situation is most likely a hybrid of both.
I’ll start first with my thoughts on the Real Presence. To be short, it’s true. Eucharistic miracles are recorded all the time, all over the world. Individuals have their own stories about what receiving the Eucharist has done for them on magnificent levels. So then why is it that people choose to reject this basic teaching of the Catholic faith? A Protestant friend explained to me that it “just doesn’t make sense” or “there’s nothing realistic about it.” Well, in a way, that’s true, isn’t it? The changing of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, realistically and logistically speaking, makes no sense…how is it possible? Man, by man’s standards, can’t figure it out. But my question revolves around why this is such a surprise to us. We are reminded in the Gospel of Matthew that “with man, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Mt. 19:26). The fact that Jesus not only humbled himself to die for our sins on the Cross is amazing in and of itself, but the fact that he would allow us to participate in that death again and again and again so that we might truly have Him with us and in us is even more amazing and is a great testament to the love which the Father, through the Son, has for us. If, then, we deny the Real Presence, are we further denying the love of God for us and His wish to be truly present to us?
“But, Ryan, I have so many doubts. It doesn’t seem earthly possible for this to be true. I think the Church should change her teaching on this matter.”
The Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ has bound the Church in communion since the Last Supper. The Real Presence is sign of Christ’s unity with this, the holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. Christ founded us and Christ remains with us both through the Holy Spirit but also physically through his presence on the Altars and in the tabernacles of the world. It easy to have doubts on this and many matters in the Church, but we cannot let this guide our actions. Once we let doubt win out over faith, we have chosen to see a self created dead-end as our goal rather than eternal life with Jesus. Imagine if I were on the track team and was a hurdle jumper; if all I saw were the hurdles rather than the finish line, I would never be able to jump and I would never reach the ultimate goal. It is healthy to acknowledge the hurdle as a thing to be jumped in order to reach the finish line. The same is true in matter of faith and doubt; doubt is very healthy when it comes to faith if we see the doubt as a stepping stone to strengthening our faith in hopes of reaching that Ultimate Goal. After all, faith without doubt is called certainty and that isn’t healthy at all.
My second point, about the confusion of scripture, is based on a phrase from the Gospel of John. When I people watch during Mass, I notice that about 40% treat the Eucharist with the great reverence of which it is deserving, while the remainder sort of throw the Host in their mouth and walk away, some begin a Sign of the Cross but then seem to forget how to finish once we’ve begun, or look as though (as Fr. Dan Stempora might say) we are “swatting flies.” Some people don’t say ‘Amen’ and just snatch the Host from the priest or minister as if it were a….(wait for it)…potato chip! Here’s where I think someone may have gotten confused. In the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, except for maybe in one of these “contemporary translations”, it does NOT say “I am the potato chip of Life.” No! Rather, John 6:35 clearly states “I am the BREAD OF LIFE.” Why are we eating the Eucharist as if it were a potato chip!? If that were true, would that make the Precious Blood French Onion Dip? Um, did somebody say heretical?
My friends, the Eucharist is the “Bread of Life” and if we ate a piece of bread like we do a potato chip, carelessly and quickly, we’d choke and die. Bread should be eaten slowly and savored. The Body of our Savior in the Eucharist is no different; it must be eaten slowly, reverently, and the majestic power of Christ should be savored with every bite. People often wonder why they are so spiritually hungry and thirsty or why they are never quite satisfied. Not surprisingly, you will probably come to find that many of these people do not believe that Jesus is truly present. Maybe they should continue reading from John 6: “He who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.”
So there you have it…that’s my theory. Like I said, a combination of both. If you or someone you know does not believe in the Presence in the Eucharist, remind them that just because the world says a thing, does not make that thing true. And even though we aren’t 110% convinced of something, if we have faith in it then we will be saved. As Jesus said to the centurion, “your faith has saved you” (Luke 7:50).
Let your undying love and gratitude for God through our Savior, Jesus Christ, be your source of grace and consolation; May the Real Presence of Jesus Christ become for us, one day, the only Bread we will ever need. May the Holy Spirit and the intercession of the Communion of the Saints provide you with unending, unfailing, and undying faith in what has been promised us not only by the Church but by our Father in Heaven.
Pray for me and for my brother seminarians. Remember, National Vocation Awareness week is January 9-14. May God bless you all during this new year.