The Eucharist is an inestimable gift not to be taken for granted

Bishop Joseph Perry presents the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Shrine Mass, July 13, 2019.

by Most Rev. Joseph N. Perry, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago

St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, was known for the long hours he spent hearing confessions.  He lived during the aftermath of the French Revolution and tried to rekindle the faith of people that was ravaged by the murders, executions and war that tore France apart.  People had lost their sense of God.  He was the Cure’ of Ars, the great healer of the village of Ars. Thousands of people came to him from all over France to be healed of their hurts and sins, because seeing Father Vianney stirred something up in them.

Upon entering the little village church to go into his confessional, Father Vianney would see an elder man sitting in the front pew looking intently ahead. Day after day he was there, starting ahead at the sanctuary. At first, Father Vianney thought the man came to go to confession, but the man never went to confession.

One day, Father Vianney had the courage to ask him whether he wanted to go to confession, just in case the man couldn’t muster up the courage to go. “Oh no,” said the man.  “I just look at Him and He looks at me. And that’s all that matters.”

The old man found consolation just sitting and looking at Jesus in the tabernacle. 

Eucharistic Adoration provides an opportunity to sit with the Lord and speak to Him alone. It is a graced-filled opportunity we have as adults and children to enrich our prayer lives and find answers to life’s problems.  To know that the Lord Jesus is not simply locked in the tabernacle, but is there ‘exposed’ before us anytime we need Him.

Maybe you don’t need to talk to the Lord in such an intimate way as before the Sacred Host in the monstrance.  Maybe you prefer to deal with Jesus only on Sunday if you decide to get to church. But, we can afford to be more generous with God.

We Catholics, Eastern Rite Catholics and Orthodox Christians have a miraculous and inestimable gift of religion bar none. We cannot afford to take the Holy Eucharist for granted.

At an annual retreat for us regional bishops several years ago, we had a retreat master who is a priest from the Diocese of Mobile, Ala.  He teaches biblical theology at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. 

I was struck by one of his talks where he gave a short synopsis of his life and journey toward changing careers and becoming a priest. He was formerly a CIA agent and one of his last postings was as a courier for intelligence, making runs between Jordan and Baghdad.

He held everyone’s attention as he described how he used to be a passenger in a small truck that ran these intelligence errands at night.  The driver, always a Muslim, would race through the desert at 90 miles an hour without headlights on so as not to attract notice by night wanderers or the military, which could result in a tragic loss of life.  As CIA operative, you said nothing to the Muslim driver, nor he to you.  Dead silence was the norm throughout the long drive.

However, on one of these runs, as Father described, the Muslim driver broke the silence by asking a question:  “Is it true?”  “Is what true?” the CIA agent asked.  “Is it true you Catholics have Jesus?”  “What do you mean?” the CIA agent asked.  “Is it true when you pray, you Catholics can make Jesus?”  “Oh, you mean the Eucharist … Holy Communion?” the CIA agent replied.  “Yes, it is true, we have the Christ!”  “Then, I don’t understand,” said the Muslim driver. “I don’t understand. Why are you here?  If it is true that you have Jesus… if I had Jesus I would stop everything and spend every hour every day there with Jesus!”

One is reminded of the story in the Acts of the Apostles of the apostle Philip answering the searching questions of the Ethiopian eunuch.  It is marvelous to hear the seeds of possible faith by a non-Catholic in something so dear to us as the Eucharist that we so often take for granted.

Every Sunday and days in between we come together to celebrate the Eucharist, a holy meal, a sacrifice memorializing the Jesus we love and admire. We enter into and acknowledge the transformative power of God through the paschal mystery of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. We bring our bread and wine — wheat and grapes given to us through the abundance of God, changed by the work of human hands into the gifts we bring to the altar. We offer these to God along with all that we are.

Speaking the words of Jesus at the Last Supper and by the direct power of the Holy Spirit, the priest changes them into the Body and Blood of Jesus, His Soul and Divinity commingled with our human substance. This is the bread that has come down from heaven as St. John tells us in his Gospel. This is the bread that breathes and the wine that bleeds.

These gifts are transformed and given back to us so that we, too, are transformed and become what we eat — the Body of Christ.

So, then what?

We go out into the world to work in the fields of the Lord. We carry His presence everywhere we go. Our hands reach out to others in His service, our hearts full of His love and compassion.

And just think, an unbeliever, a non-Christian, a Muslim, had an inkling into the profound mystery this sacrament is for us. What should that say about us Catholics who receive the Holy Eucharist every day?

In his book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise (Ignatius Press, 2017), Cardinal Robert Sarah says this:

“For my part, I know that all the great moments of my day are found in the incomparable hours that I spend on my knees in darkness before the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I am so to speak swallowed up in God and surrounded on all sides by His presence.  I would like to belong now to God alone and to plunge into the purity of His love. And yet, I can tell how poor I am, how far from loving the Lord as He loved me to the point of giving Himself up for me.”

This article appears in the Summer 2019 issue of Soul magazine.

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  1. Such a beautiful article which makes my heart pour out for Jesus

  2. I go to communion everyday, yet I struggle making the experience come alive in my heart.
    The story of the Muslim reacting to the CIA operative, really hit home.
    Thank you.

  3. Awesome. Thank you.

  4. Thank you for sharing

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