“As two pieces of wax fused together make one, so he who receives Holy Communion is so united with Christ that Christ is in him and he is in Christ.” —St. Cyril of Alexandria
I have to tell you, sadly, ever so sadly, the ubiquity, online at least, and I am sure in person mirrors exactly, of Catholics who are ever so quick and witty and apparently theologically gifted and well-trained living saints (you have to be a saint to be a doctor of the Church) and doctors of the Church and strident to judge another soul’s worthiness of receiving Him is scandalous to me as a life-long Catholic; you fellow sinners, you scribes and Pharisees. Grievously scandalous, it is. I pray upon my and their deaths, our Lord is not so quick to as they do note others’ unworthiness. I pray. Lord, have mercy on me, for I am a sinful man! Depart from me, Lord! For what sinner can remain in Your presence and live? Theresa Noble got the same treatment, you may read. Shame, shame, shame on you. None of us is ever worthy!!! Or, ever will be!! Domine!!! Non sum dignus!!!
–an excerpt from an article bySr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP, (Daughters of St Paul) a former atheist who, thanks to the grace of God, has returned to the faith she was raised in and now tries to help others bring their loved ones back to the faith. A few years after returning to the Church, she heard God calling her, so she left her job in Silicon Valley to join the Daughters of St. Paul. She now lives in Miami, where she prays, evangelizes, bakes bread, and blogs.
“…One day while I was wandering around, I noticed that the main church at the center of the campus was bustling with people. I saw a man with billowing white robes standing outside.*
I was intrigued. I knew he must be a priest of some sort but I had been away from the Church for too long to understand much else. (Isn’t it kind of funny how intelligent, educated people feel that learning even the most basic things about Catholicism are beneath them?) Anyway, I looked at his face.
He was young, handsome and really happy.
I stood there gaping at him for much longer than is socially acceptable. “Strange.” I thought. I stepped into the church, half expecting sirens to go off.
“Warning. Warning. Atheist in the church. Warning. Warning.”
But nothing happened. A lady smiled at me warmly.
I took a seat in the back of the Church, near the door. I figured I would stay just for a few minutes. But the moment I entered the Church, I felt a Presence. It was not the presence of the other people; I could physically locate this Presence. It overwhelmed everything else in the room. It was like a giant magnet drawing me toward the area of the altar. I kept looking in that direction. I saw the tabernacle and my formerly Catholic mind registered the fact that these people believed that God resided there. I pushed that thought away. But the Presence did not go away.
When it came time for Communion, I considered sitting in my seat. “I don’t believe this stuff,” I reasoned. But I went up.
All the while, my head and my heart were ferociously at war.
I received Communion and as I did I remembered a friend of mine who had told me about the time one of her friends went to a Catholic funeral and received Communion, not knowing what it was or what she was doing. When she got back to her seat, she thought, “I must not be meant to eat this, it tastes like cardboard!” So she took the Eucharist out of her mouth and put it on the bottom of her seat like a wad of gum.** I remember my friend laughing when she told me the story. I did not believe in God at the time so I should have found it funny. But I only felt sick to my stomach, terror, and a deep sadness. All of these memories rushed into my mind, overwhelming it for a moment.
When I got home my boyfriend asked me, “What were you doing?”
I told him I went to Mass.
He looked shocked.
My head responded, “The traditions soothe me, it is like a lullaby…but I don’t believe any of it.”
As I said this my heart began beating wildly.***
* Several years later I met the man I had seen with the billowing white robes outside the church that day. He is now a Dominican priest and we are godparents to a beautiful little girl named Theresa.
**This is hopefully motivation for any priests reading this to verbally instruct Mass goers on proper reception of the Eucharist at funerals and weddings and other similar events.
***It would be several years before I would do things right and formally return to the Church. But it would be just months before I began to believe in God again. I can only believe that my recognition of the Presence on that fateful day was a seed planted that would eventually break the hardened earth around my heart on the day of my conversion.
Love, and always praying for the grace to more fully realize His Presence,
“Any two-year-old will testify that while it may be possible to cobble together a few freshly acquired words in order to request a sippy-cup of milk, a tantrum will do the trick much faster. Meanwhile, frustrated parents may testify that while lullabies, rocking chairs, and bedtime stories eventually suffer that child to sleep, threats and spankings are more time efficient. Marriage counselors testify that even in a healthy relationship, it takes five compliments to undo one harsh criticism.
Negative energy has tremendous power, more power — it would seem — than the still small voice of charity, and when we affirm what is negative it only gets stronger. We affirm it, not by granting it approval, but rather by devoting to it our fear, our attention, our time, and our words. Whatever we commit ourselves to is a tacit affirmation.
Look at the Starbucks Christmas cup 2015. A few small people made a few disgruntled murmurs about its holiday decor, but in the crazy internet echo-chamber, those murmurs turned into posts and anti-posts, complaints, and anti-complaints, until a cultural phenomenon of anger and resentment was born. What we affirm grows stronger.
In a culture that feels, at the moment, overwhelmingly negative, how do we prevent this metastasis? We don’t want the shootings, the racism, the xenophobia, and the suppression of people of faith to get stronger. So how do we prevent that?
Prayer affirms what is positive, even those halfhearted “thoughts and prayers” going out all over the cosmos. They are not on par with the pious rebukes to which we’ve become accustomed: Christians admonishing other Christians, atheists admonishing Christians, cheeky editors admonishing God, everyone demanding a better performance out of everyone on earth but themselves.
Prayer is silencing the self, silencing the anger, all the things we negatively affirm with our time and attention, and affirming what is one, true, life giving, and good. What we affirm grows stronger. In the Words of St. John the Baptist, “He must increase, I must decrease” (John 3:30).
When the apostles first encountered Jesus, they became more than Christ-followers. They were spending time in the presence of the One True God. Rev. Jeanne-Pierre de Caussade, SJ (1675-1751) wrote, “The apostles are moved more by the guidance of His spirit than by imitating His works.” They weren’t “following” the Lord so much as basking, feasting on His presence. And still they were not exempt from temptation.
They sat at the table with Jesus as He instituted the Eucharist, and even in such precious company, they had the freedom to reject Him, as Judas did, taking the Heavenly Bread and then leaving to betray Him. We all depart from Jesus for small and piddling reasons, to argue with a stranger, or worse, with the people we love, diminishing their person as we magnify their faults.
Now is the hour of our visitation (Luke 19:44). We are in the presence of the Lord, and when we affirm His presence, when we affirm what is good in others, in the people we love, in our friendships and our environment, when we go around seeking what is true and good and beautiful, it gets stronger. As Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord!” (Luke 1:46) and His presence in her expanded, literally and figuratively.
I can feast on His presence not just in the Eucharist, but in the souls who surround me, in every moment that He has sanctified with His blood. I am not just a Christ-follower, I am a Christ-devourer. And I become the substance of what I eat. His flesh and blood becomes my flesh and blood. “Unless you eat My body and drink My blood there is no life in you” (John 6:53). The banquet is never-ending. I will not go hungry.”
I know what I am going to say is touchy. What isn’t these days except untruth which is universally palatable, but false, which is ostensibly why we like it so much. Lies are easier. Truth is hard.
I am musing on the concept of a fringe of Catholics who worship the Eucharist practically as an idol. It has no relation to them. It is so divine as to be totally, totally other. It goes far beyond reverence for the Real Presence. It is recognized when these Catholics USE the Eucharist as something to beat everyone else down who isn’t as holy as them or it. Feel me? To make others feel totally other.
I can find lots of non-Catholic critiques, but to say NO Catholic ever goes too far in the distance they put between their own sanctity and that of the Eucharist seems, at least, disingenuous to me, if not overly and falsely pious.
I revere the Blessed Sacrament, extremely. Sometimes, I encounter Catholics whose reverence for the Eucharist is so extreme, if that is possible, and while God dwells in unapproachable light, it seems to me moreso they are worshiping a thing rather than person? Feel me? Their reverence seems to lack the intimacy one may expect in having a personal relationship with Someone. God became man to become intimate. I just get this weird idolatry vibe from them.
I pray for myself and those Catholics who worship the Eucharist as idol rather than as personally intimate Savior, and who USE it to make others feel lesser. The Real Presence is a personal intimate relationship for me. Not a thing. Not a weapon. Not a reward. Medicine for we sinners. Not a thing, a person, with Whom I am in love. To make it too Divine is to separate man & God. A separation the Incarnation denies. It gets/got weird.
I, exquisitely, as a life-long Catholic have the privilege, too, of struggling with the literality of the Lord’s words, “This IS my body. This IS my blood.” Imho, I don’t think Jesus meant these specific words to be a “no-brainer”. I believe He wanted humanity to spend the rest of its existence intently contemplating them, more than anything else He ever said, the centrality of it is such. Recall the Catholic definition of mystery, infinitely knowable.
One of the most important and soothing, palliative things a Catholic can receive just before death is viaticum in the last rites. For as much critique as the Church may unjustly endure for not taking the Scriptures more literally, this she takes exquisitely literally.
“How could a reasonable person living in the 21st century actually believe that at the Catholic Mass, bread and wine are truly (like, not symbolically) changed into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ?
This was one of my biggest stumbling blocks when considering Catholicism. When I first heard that the Church still believes that the Mass makes Christ’s one sacrifice at Calvary present here and now, that on Holy Thursday the Lord made it possible that bread and wine could be turned into the flesh and blood of God himself, I prayerfully thought: “Are you kidding me?” I’d never heard a bolder, more audacious claim made by a modern religion.
There was a part of me that kept hoping I’d find that it was all a misunderstanding, that Catholics were only required to believe that the consecration of the Eucharist was a really, really, really important symbolic event. I was a lifelong atheist, after all. It was enough of a feat that I even came to believe in God in the first place. It was enough of a leap of faith for me to believe that some miracles might have happened a few times throughout history. But to ask a former militant atheist to believe that a miracle happens at every single Catholic Mass, that bread and wine are actually changed into the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ despite the fact that they look exactly the same… it seemed too much to ask.
It is surprising, then, that when I consider how much my life has changed since my husband and I both became Catholic at Easter Vigil in 2007, I find that there is really only one thing to talk about: the Eucharist.
I could try to pen a great ode proclaiming my joy at having come to know God on a level I never imagined possible for someone like me. I could write about the challenges we’ve faced, and the oasis that our newfound faith provided for us when we felt cast out into the desert. I could talk about the freeing power of Confession. I could say something about how my life is unrecognizable from what it was a decade ago. But when I started to write on each of those topics, I realized that each one of them — everything, really — comes back to the Eucharist.
By the time I received my first Communion I had come to accept that the teaching on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is true. Or, perhaps more accurately, I was willing to accept on faith that it was not false. I was undoubtedly being led to the Catholic Church, and found its defense of this teaching to be compelling, so I trusted that it was true in some mysterious way, even though I didn’t really get it. That was the best I could do, and I never expected to understand it any more than that.
Even as the years have rolled by, after receiving Communion week after week, I still don’t know how it works. I don’t often have a visceral reaction when I first see the consecrated host held above the altar, and don’t think I ever felt the Holy Spirit hit me like a ton of bricks the moment the consecrated host was placed on my tongue. Yet, despite the lack of immediate emotions, despite the fact that I can’t tell you exactly how it all works, I now believe with all my heart that it is true. I know that I eat the flesh and drink the blood of God at the Mass, and that it is the source of my strength.
I know it for the same reason a baby knows that its mother’s milk is the source of its nourishment: the baby can’t tell you how the milk is created by the release of prolactin and the cells in the alveoli. He can’t tell you about the importance of immunoglobulin IgA and fat-to-water ratios. He couldn’t even begin to understand how and why the milk nourishes him if you tried to explain it. He just knows how very much he needs it. He knows that the mysterious substance that his mother gives him is the source of his strength as much as he knows anything at all in his little life. And so it is with the Eucharist and me.
This belief in and love of the Eucharist is one of the most surprising things that’s ever happened to me. Never in my dreams would I have thought that I could believe such an outlandish claim. In the first months after my conversion, I would sometimes ask myself if this was all in my head, if perhaps I am eating bread and drinking wine at the Mass, but that its great symbolic value has led me to put myself in a different state of mind. And all I could come up with is this:
If this is a symbol, then I am insane.
It’s not a particularly eloquent defense of the Eucharist, but that’s about the best I can do. The way this Sacrament has slowly transformed my soul and given me a connection to God that I never knew before, the way I could easily move myself to tears at the thought of not being able to receive it, the strength I have drawn from having this direct communion with God – if these things are not real, then nothing is.
As I reflect back on my journey from atheism to Catholicism, the whole story of my life comes together in a very simple way: I realize now that my entire conversion process — really, my entire life — was one long search for the Eucharist.”
I must confess, though fear not, TMI is not looming! 🙂 I must confess the Mystery of the Real Presence is one I wrestle, I struggle with. An engineer looks for engineering answers. Divine mysteries certainly do not lend themselves typically to engineering answers. Neither must one ever be naively lulled into thinking God will not be direct. He has, on occasion, been very direct in my life. 🙂
The best answer I have come up with, proof if you like, at least one I am satisfied with, is to spend a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament in silence. Doesn’t matter, I believe, believer or non, young or old, male or female, saint or sinner, sit for one hour before the Blessed Sacrament, in silence, and then I will come to you, or lean towards you, quietly, and ask, “Now tell me it’s just a piece of bread.” That’s the best I’ve got. That’s it. That’s where I get my answer from. Believers would say not a bad place for an answer. If you come to the conclusion I believe you will, it certainly was the most well invested hour of your life? No? 🙂 Try it, if you dare. Be open to the possibility, I beg you. I implore you! 🙂
I also like:
“If it’s just a symbol, then the hell with it.”
“God in his omnipotence could not give more, in His wisdom He knew not how to give more, in His riches He had not more to give, than the Eucharist.” – Saint Augustine
I’ve also attached the audio file of a talk by Fr. Mike Schmitz, pastor of University of Minnesota-Duluth, Newman Center. Enjoy!
(Historical note: it is also interesting to note, however permissive ancient Romans were, they drew a hard line at cannibalism; also, Jewish prohibitions against blood-drinking, etc. The Lord was blowing it up socially with every word. KABOOM!!! And, then of course, He concluded with “just kid…” No, He didn’t.)
Today the Church marks the memorial of St. Peter Julian Eymard (1811-1868), whose name may not be familiar to you, but whose influence certainly is. If you have ever seen the work of the great French artist Auguste Rodin, such as his iconic sculptures “The Kiss” or “The Thinker”, then you have his friend St. Peter Eymard to thank for such work having been made at all. The relationship between Fr. Eymard and Rodin is further proof, if needed, that God can work through even the most hardened sinner, and why we must never give up on those who seem to be out of step with Christ.
French priest St. Peter Eymard founded the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament in 1856, to help promote the 40 Hours devotion to the Holy Eucharist. In 1862 the young Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) joined the Congregation as a novice, following the death of his sister Maria – an event which hit him very hard. Rodin gave up his career as a budding artist to seek spiritual comfort and direction, and probably would have remained in some sort of limbo and anguish, searching for meaning in his life, had it not been for Eymard’s counsel.
Fr. Eymard embraced, and in fact openly encouraged the creation of painting, sculpture, and architecture to honor the Blessed Sacrament. “For the Eucharist, nothing is too beautiful,” he once wrote to a friend. Yet he was also an experienced enough religious to know when someone was not suited to the consecrated life. While the Congregation might have benefited from having its own Fra Angelico, as did the Dominicans in early Renaissance Florence, it became clear to Fr. Eymard that Auguste Rodin was not going to be that person.
Following the counsel of Fr. Eymard, Rodin eventually left the Congregation and re-entered secular life, around the time he completed a bust of his friend and spiritual advisor. Fr. Eymard himself did not care for its overly showy, wavy hair, but it eventually came to be recognized as an early masterwork by the young artist. As the reader is well-aware, Rodin subsequently went on to become probably the greatest sculptor of the later 19th and early 20th centuries. And Fr. Eymard himself was later canonized, interestingly enough, on the 100th anniversary of Maria Rodin’s death.
Like all of us, Peter Julian Eymard [pronounced A-mard] was conditioned by his cultural background as well as by the sociopolitical milieu of his time. Life in France during the first half of the nineteenth century forms the backdrop against which to view the gradual unfolding of Peter Julian’s life story.
Years earlier, the French Revolution of 1789 had radically altered the political, legal, social and religious structures of the country. As a teenager, the industrial revolution was changing the face of Europe. As a young man Eymard witnessed the dawning of the Age of Romanticism in art, music, and literature.Peter Julian Eymard’s road to the priesthood, as well as his life as a priest,was marked by the cross. In French society, there was a strong anticlericalism. In addition, the Eymard family was poor and Peter Julian’s father was reluctant to give his blessing to his son’s choice of career. His first attempt toattain priesthood ended because of serious illness. He tried again. OnJuly 20, 1834, at 23 years of age, Eymard was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Grenoble.
In Eymard’s day there was a religious movement called Jansenism. This movement focused on the gravity of human sinfulness and as consequence stressed our unworthiness in the presence of a transcendent and perfect Divinity. In his early years as a seminarian and priest, Fr. Eymard was influenced by this reparation spirituality and he would struggle his whole life long to seek that inner perfection that would enable him to offer to God the gift of his entire self. Perhaps it was the intensification of this growing spiritual struggle along with Fr. Eymard’s desire to accomplish great things for God that led him to enter religious life. On August 20, 1839, Fr. Eymard became a member of the Marist Congregation by professing the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
His Eucharistic spirituality did not spring full grown from some mystical experience, but progressively. Eymard became familiar with the practice of sustained eucharistic worship during a visit to Paris in 1849, when he met with members of the Association of Nocturnal Adorers who had established exposition and perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the Basilica of Our Lady of Victories.
After praying at the shrine of Our Lady of Fourviere on 21 January 1851, Eymard moved to establish a Marist community dedicated to Eucharistic adoration. However, his desire to establish a separate fraternity promoting adoration of the Blessed Sacrament was not seen as part of the charism of the Marists. His superiors disapproved, transferring him to the Marist College at La Seyne-sur-Mer. Eventually, Eymard resolved to leave the Society of Mary to begin his new religious congregation with the diocesan priest Raymond de Cuers.
On 13 May 1856, the Paris bishops consented to Eymard’s plans for a ‘Society of the Blessed Sacrament’. After many trials, Eymard and de Cuers established public exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in Paris on 6 January 1857 in a run-down building at 114 rue d’Enfer (which literally meant ‘street of hell’). With the encouragement of the Cure of Ars, St John Vianney, (Aug 4) the nucleus of two communities of men and women were started in March 1858 in Paris.
The Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament began working with children in Paris to prepare them to receive their First Communion. It also reached out to non-practicing Catholics, inviting them to repent and begin receiving Communion again. Father Eymard established a common rule for the members of the society and worked toward papal approval, obtained in 1858 from Pope Pius IX. Eymard was a tireless proponent of frequent Holy Communion, an idea given more authoritative backing by Pope Pius X in 1905.
There is hope for me!!!!! 🙂 St Peter Julian Eymard, SSS, pray for us!
-bust of St Julian Eymard, by his dear friend Rodin
“We believe in the love of God for us. To believe in love is everything. It is not enough to believe in the Truth. We must believe in Love and Love is our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. That is the faith that makes our Lord loved. Ask for this pure and simple faith in the Eucharist. Men will teach you; but only Jesus will give you the grace to believe in Him. You have the Eucharist. What more do you want?” – Saint Peter Julian Eymard
“If the love of Jesus in the Most Blessed Sacrament does not win our hearts, Jesus is vanquished! Our ingratitude is greater than His Goodness our malice is more powerful than His Charity.” – Saint Peter Julian Eymard
“Every time we come into the presence of the Eucharist we may say: This precious Testament cost Jesus Christ His life. For the Eucharist is a testament, a legacy which becomes valid only at the death of the testator. Our Lord thereby shows us His boundless love, for He Himself said there is no greater proof of love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – Saint Peter Julian Eymard
“The Holy Eucharist is the perfect expression of the love of Jesus Christ for man, since It is the quintessence of all the mysteries of His Life.” – Saint Peter Julian Eymard
“He loves, He hopes, He waits. If He came down on our altars on certain days only, some sinner, on being moved to repentance, might have to look for Him, and not finding Him, might have to wait. Our Lord prefers to wait Himself for the sinner for years rather than keep him waiting one instant.” – Saint Peter Julian Eymard
“How kind is our Sacramental Jesus! He welcomes you at any hour of the day or night. His Love never knows rest. He is always most gentle towards you. When you visit Him, He forgets your sins and speaks only of His joy, His tenderness, and His Love. By the reception He gives to you, one would think He has need of you to make Him happy.” – Saint Peter Julian Eymard
“Love cannot triumph unless it becomes the one passion of our life. Without such passion we may produce isolated acts of love; but our life is not really won over or consecrated to an ideal. Until we have a passionate love for our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament we shall accomplish nothing.”– St Peter Julian Eymard
“The Eucharist is the work of a measureless love that has at its service an infinite power, the omnipotence of God.” – St Peter Julian Eymard
“He loved us personally … centuries before we were born.” -St. Peter Julian Eymard
“Have a great love for Jesus in his divine Sacrament of Love; that is the divine oasis of the desert. It is the heavenly manna of the traveller. It is the Holy Ark. It is the life and Paradise of love on earth.” -St Peter Julian Eymard
“Hear Mass daily; it will prosper the whole day. All your duties will be performed the better for it, and your soul will be stronger to bear its daily cross. The Mass is the most holy act of religion; you can do nothing that can give greater glory to God or be more profitable for your soul than to hear Mass both frequently and devoutly. It is the favorite devotion of the saints.” -St Peter Julian Eymard
Gracious God of our ancestors,
you led Peter Julian Eymard,
like Jacob in times past,
on a journey of faith.
Under the guidance of your gentle Spirit,
Peter Julian discovered the gift of love in the Eucharist
which Your Son Jesus offered for the hungers of humanity.
Grant that we may celebrate this mystery worthily,
adore Him profoundly, and proclaim it prophetically for Your greater glory. Amen.
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, “You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine