After a brief digression with my Mother’s Day post, I’m back to my son’s challenge of explaining my Catholic beliefs. I have previously mentioned Theology of the Body and Humanae Vitae as two very important factors in my belief in our teaching on human dignity and sexuality. Now I would like to address a truth that many, including Catholics, find difficult to embrace: the Real Presence.
Christ’s presence in the bread and wine at Holy Communion is certainly a mystery. That is likely why so many people have such a difficult time accepting this teaching. It can’t be explained in specific theological or scientific language. It can’t be proven by tests and studies performed by scholars or scientists. One thing is certain; Jesus very plainly and without any accompanying parable or explanation stated the following:
“I myself am the bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he shall live forever. And now, what is this bread that I am to give? It is my flesh, given for the life of the world” (John 6:51-52)
And when his followers and disciples questioned if He could truly give them his flesh to eat, he continued:
“You can have no life in yourselves, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood. The man who eats my flesh and drinks my blood enjoys eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink. He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, lives continually in me, and I in him” (John 6:54-57)
Was Jesus crazy? Was He just trying to chase away people who up to this point had followed him faithfully? Or was He possibly showing us how He would be with us “to the end of the age”? (Matthew 28:20)
So yes, I believe the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. My husband, who struggled with this for years, finally had an epiphany (our favorite word!). He told our kids: If God could create the universe and everything in it, why is it so difficult to imagine He can transform the bread and wine into His body and blood? For a man who had such huge doubts for the majority of his life, this realization was life changing for him. And it changed our lives as we have watched him blossom into a strong, faithful man.
In Vatican II’s document Lumen gentium, (no. 11) the Eucharistis called “the source and summit of the Christian life.” We join with Christ, in communion with him when we celebrate the Mass. We also are in communion with our brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ. We take Him in and then take Him out into the world as living examples of His love.
I don’t believe this because any document said I must (although many important documents expound on the meaning of this mystery). I don’t believe this because my parents told me I had to, although they gave witness to us in their actions what an important part of our faith the Eucharist is. I believe it because Jesus eloquently told us He is flesh to eat and food to drink. I believe it because I have seen the visible results of Its power in the lives of so many men and women. But mostly, I believe it because of the strength and grace and love that overwhelms me when I partake.