With the celebration of Holy Thursday on the horizon, this brings to mind the institution of the Eucharist and the precious gift of the Mass in our spiritual life as Catholics. Recently, our archdiocese continued its ongoing revival of the essential role which the Mass plays in nurturing our faith with a special Lenten Mission on Wednesday, March 23. The theme of the Mission was “No Greater Love,” which highlighted the awesome generosity that God bestows upon us in the sacrificial offering, which manifests the saving presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in each and every Eucharistic Liturgy. I would like to share with you the homily I presented that evening. I consider it to be one of the most personal and heartfelt messages I ever have given, since it speaks of the grace-filled manner which God has revealed through my life experience the truth of the Doctrine of the Real Presence. The homily is simply entitled, “I believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because …”
I have come to the conviction that the most important things in life – like love, hope, honesty and trust – are not always visible to the eye.
I once heard a story about a president of a bank who became an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion who said that the experience was so profound that he could no longer treat those who worked for him as “mere laborers” because he had come to realize the presence of Christ in them.
On numerous occasions when I have shared the Body of Christ with parishioners who were patients in the hospital, they have gratefully exclaimed, “Father, I can’t thank you enough. I needed to receive this Holy Communion even more than the medicine they give me here.”
I read that St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest of all Catholic scholars, once had a revelation during the celebration of the Mass that was so powerful that he decided to discontinue his writing about theology, because he had come to realize that mere words were not capable of capturing the sacredness of that experience.
Nothing else could draw together people from such different and disparate backgrounds and unite them as fully as this sacred meal.
I still consider my First Communion to be the most awesome experience in my entire life – even more powerful than my Ordination to the Priesthood or my becoming a bishop.
I heard that Mother Teresa, the saint of Calcutta, once said the only things she needed in her convent were simple beds and a Tabernacle for the Blessed Sacrament – but, if there was not enough space for both, then they could take out the beds.
The same meal that Jesus instituted has been celebrated in an unbroken pattern day after day, year after year, decade after decade, century after century for nearly 2,000 years.
Whenever I hear songs like “I Am the Bread of Life,” “At that First Eucharist,” “Gift of Finest Wheat” and “Panis Angelicus,” tears of joy well up in my eyes.
I once heard a scientist say that the interconnectedness of being is such that all reality is present throughout time, so that there is no doubt about the presence of Christ in the Eucharist – the only variable is the degree to which we are aware of that presence.
When I used to watch the pastor of my home parish celebrate the Mass, this gruff and rough man would handle the sacred elements with a care and delicateness that normally was unimaginable for a person of his rugged temperament.
During the years of my former placement in West Bend, I was privileged to watch dedicated Catholics from the local parishes come at all hours of the day and night to pray in the 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration Chapel.
When I am at my lowest point and I hunger for compassion and understanding, receiving the Body and Blood of Christ gives me more peace than anything possible.
After many, many years of teaching children about making their First Holy Communion, I still get excited by the spark of anticipation and the innocent yearning to receive Jesus that I see in their eyes.
When my aunt and uncle once celebrated a lavish golden wedding anniversary party, they told me the Mass I celebrated for that occasion was what meant the most of all.
I am touched by the words of many senior priests who have related that the most difficult thing about aging is not the diminishment of their sight or hearing, the loss of mobility, the onset of diseases or the inability to drive a car. For them, the hardest thing is when they are not able to preside at the celebration of daily Mass.
When I was growing up, the reception of Holy Communion was one of the few times when my mischievous little brother Rick actually behaved.
The more reverently that I receive the Body and Blood of Christ, the more that I am aware of the presence of his spirit in the world around me.
I have come to the conviction that there are many things in life that are best understood, not with the mind, but with the heart.
I once spent an evening with a group of teenage youth who were willing to fast for 24 hours and spend hours of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament because they believed that the Eucharist is the motivating force for addressing the problem of world hunger.
I once heard my mom say to me that of all of the things that I ever have done for her, the greatest thing was to offer her – as a priest – the Body of Christ.
Some time ago, my dad, who had for many years been reluctant to share the Precious Blood for hygienic reasons came to the awareness that he could no longer “walk past the Lord” and not acknowledge him. And, after that, he regularly drank from the Cup of Salvation.
Each time that I attend a celebration of the Ordination to the Priesthood, I witness the candidates make a lifetime commitment to priestly service – relinquishing the possibility of marriage and family, as well as other attractive and more financially lucrative career options – because, more than all those things, they value the opportunity to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Although I have been to Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem and walked in the places where Jesus trod, I feel more close to him around the altar and the tabernacle than I did in the Holy Land.
Last and most important of all, I believe in the real presence because in the Gospel of John 6:51, Jesus proclaims, “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.” And, I trust in his promise.
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