Most people who will read this are probably not Catholic – and I am very much aware that some Catholic beliefs seem strange, like superstitious nonsense. Do we really believe that the consecrated bread and wine of Holy Communion has become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ? Yes, we do. Not symbolically. Really. Truly.
We don’t believe that we are eating an ear or a foot or anything, yes, crazy like that. Christ Jesus isn’t physically present, but he is substantially present. Sacramentally present, you could say spiritually present – but this does not mean symbolically present. We believe that we are eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man, just like Jesus tells us through the Gospel of John, chapter 6, and through what the Apostles have handed down to us in Scripture and Tradition. Now, this is a very difficult thing to believe – that the consecrated bread and wine is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate. And there are many Catholics who have to say, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24.) I’m not quite sure if I would have even said to God that I believe (for God sees the truth of my heart better than I do) if it weren’t for one blessed day…
My journey as a new Christian, a born-again Catholic, if you will, was still young and I was just beginning to go to Mass every Sunday that I was physically able. (I was nearly 30.) In fact, I had only begun attending Mass every week because our priest had just left due to personal difficulties and he had knelt down beside me on his last day and asked me to pray for him. I can’t tell you how many times people have looked at me in my wheelchair and asked me to pray for them. But, I knew he needed the prayers and so I made the decision to truly do something for this man. I would push myself to go to church every Sunday. On this particular Sunday, I had to sit in the very back of the church because the front pews were taken for First Communion recipients and their families. (I either have to sit in the very front, which I most always do, or in the very back because of my wheelchair.) So, when I returned to my place in the back after receiving Holy Communion, I was alone, with no one looking at me.
For once, I wasn’t self-conscious. Too many times in my life have I been beset by self-consciousness. But, that day, with the consecrated bread in my mouth, I was completely relaxed in the dim silence. Just me… and… and I remember biting into the Host with my teeth and being completely struck with the awareness of the Real Presence. Alone and silent, the core of my being took over and I was thinking of how God became human for me and how God Incarnate wanted me to “gnaw upon his flesh”. He wants to feed me with His very self, He wants to give Himself completely to me, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity…. My eyeteeth pierced through the Body of Christ as did the nails on the Cross and I was overwhelmed… I wept, unmindful of the tears.
God comes to me in the Most Blessed Sacrament so that I may consume Him… and in that moment, as I humbly received the Body of Christ into my own body, in wonder and awe, I was consumed by His love….
For almost a year afterward, I silently cried after receiving Christ in Holy Communion. I would always be embarrassed, but I was willing for God to do with me whatsoever He willed. And it was such a gift, those were such moments of grace, such blessings, for it is very rare when we experience a knowing of what we believe. They didn’t last. I knew they wouldn’t. It is not God’s will for us to always feel Him, to regularly experience, with the fullness of our bodies, minds, and senses, His Divine Presence. For, if we were forever in those deep and heightened moments of ecstasy, we could not function as creatures of this earth.
God put us here for a reason. And the reason is not to feel good. The reason is to be good. “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Jesus told this to Thomas because there is something more beautiful and powerful than physical experience or sure knowledge – and that is faith. Perhaps I am not weeping in peace and joyful love every time that I receive Christ in the Eucharist… But I – my mind, heart, and soul – am leaping in faith.
© 2014 Christina Chase
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