A few months before his death Archbishop Fulton Sheen was asked in a television interview about who had been an inspiration to him. He replied that it was an eleven-year-old Chinese girl. When the Communists had taken over China they went into the girl’s parish (after locking up the priest in his house) and broke open the tabernacle and scattered the consecrated hosts on the floor. She’d witnessed it all, but the guards didn’t take notice of her. For thirty-two nights she came back to the parish, snuck past the guard, and, after praying for an hour before the consecrated hosts, took one with her tongue and received Communion. On the last night, having prayed for an hour and consumed the last consecrated host, the guard discovered her and killed her.
I was chatting with a couple parishioners the other night at dinner and one of them commented on how she as kind of shocked that by the fact that so many people have not returned to Mass – many who were previously “regulars”. She said many are “shopping around” looking at different churches – meaning denominations.
What is the difference between the 11-year old Chinese girl and those who left the Catholic church, looking around at other places? The Eucharist. Today, roughly 70% of Catholics, who consider themselves “regulars” do not believe in the Holy Eucharist… This is the reason for the gradual decline in religious practice over the last 50 years and why so many have not returned after COVID. The Eucharist.
Our faith hinges on this singular reality – that at the the Last Supper … which we commemorate this night – Jesus took bread and wine and said: this is my Body, this is my Blood … giving the command to the Apostles to “do this in memory of me…” He wasn’t kidding. He wasn’t making a suggestion… it was a command… it was and is an act of love.
I often think about, and have experienced myself, how our faith is tested but not threatened. How we, for a time, must suffer through trials but never have to suffer simply for going to Mass. It has created a casual attitude to the practice of our faith. It is something we recognize as good, but there is a piece missing … Perhaps with the fallout of Eucharistic devotions over the years, we have lost a sense of the mystery of God’s presence in us and among us… His presence in our everyday lives has been lost on our awareness. It is precisely this mystical presence of Christ in the Eucharist that opens us up to a whole other world… a world that lies beyond the sufferings and trials that come and go in life … a world that speaks of a love so great and so profound that it can only be described as divine and eternal … a world beyond our human reason yet not a fairytale, not a fantasy – because Truth itself, of God present in human form – said so… He left us His presence so that we would never be lost.
The ongoing proclamation and making Christ present happens in this ritualized setting – through the hands, the words, and gestures of the ordained priest. Pope St. John Paul II once noted that this is the chief duty of a priest – to celebrate the mystery of the Lord’s Sacrifice because it recalls the time when God intervened in the world the Apostles and so He intervenes in our as well.
As a church we may have lost something of this awareness … of His divine intervention in our world … but that doesn’t mean it can’t be found again … It is up to us to be enfolded in this mystery, to plug into the devotions, prayers, the sacraments at our disposal that serve as a catalyst into this other dimension … a more focused attention at Mass, spending time in adoration, making a visit to church during the day, confession, the rosary and daily prayer – all of these things serve to deepen our awareness of the Presence of God in our midst, of Him who once walked this earth as a man now walks within us as we participate in Holy Communion…
He intervenes in our lives … and what little we have to give speaks of our love for Him… a love worth sacrificing for, a love worth the risk … Just like that young Chinese girl who risked her very life, so we too must have the courage to take the same risk … we must show that even in the tiniest of efforts, in the weakest of devotions, that we still look for Him, that we still hunger for Him … that we still love Him. And in this exchange of love, it is there where He can be found … this we call the Eucharist.
Do you wish to draw closer to Him? Then let’s go with Him to the garden, follow Him to Calvary and rise with Him on Easter.